Friday, June 14, 2019

Conversational computing

strategy+business, June 13, 2019

by Theodore Kinni

Steve Jobs could be relentless when he wanted something. In early 2010, he wanted a small startup in San Jose, Calif. CEO Dag Kittlaus and his cofounders had just raised a second round of funding and didn’t want to sell. Jobs called Kittlaus for 37 days straight, until he wrangled and wheedled a deal to buy the two-year-old venture for Apple at a price reportedly between US$150 million and $200 million. The company was Siri Inc.

Wired contributor James Vlahos tells the story of how Siri took up permanent residence in the iPhone in his new book, Talk to Me. It’s the first nontechnical book on voice computing that I’ve seen and a must-read if you have any interest in the topic.

Vlahos spends the first third of Talk to Me describing the platform war currently raging in voice computing. It details the race among the big players, including Amazon, Google, and Apple, to embed AI-driven voices in as many different devices as possible, as they seek to dominate the emerging ecosystem. The fact that Amazon now has more than 10,000 employees working on Alexa provides a good sense of the dimensions of that race.

But voice computing is more than a platform play. It is likely to have ramifications and applications for every company, especially if Vlahos’s contention that “the advent of voice computing is a watershed moment in human history” turns out to be right.

“Voice is becoming the universal remote to reality, a means to control any and every piece of technology,” he writes. “Voice allows us to command an army of digital helpers — administrative assistants, concierges, housekeepers, butlers, advisors, babysitters, librarians, and entertainers.” Voice will disrupt the business models of powerful companies — and create new opportunities for upstarts — in part because it will put AI directly in the control of consumers, Vlahos argues. “And voice introduces the world to relationships long prophesied by science fiction — ones in which personified AIs become our helpers, watchdogs, oracles, and friends.” Read the rest here.

Transformation in energy, utilities and resources

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

PwC, June 13, 2019

The world is at the midpoint of a massive energy-related transformation. By 2040, the global demand for all forms of fuel and power will be four times what it was in 1990. During the same 50 years, the issue of global climate change will have moved from the margins to the centre. Institutions everywhere will be striving to address climate-related problems by dramatically decreasing and mitigating carbon use.

In the energy, utilities and resources (EU&R) industries, the relationship between these two dynamics — the rise in demand and the recognition of carbon use as a climate threat — is already determining basic strategic choices. And it will continue to do so for years to come. This development will profoundly affect a wide range of companies: producers of all forms of energy; disseminators and sellers of electric power, gas and oil; energybased process industries such as chemicals and steel; and producers of other extracted commodities. Leaders in all those businesses will need the acumen to make and execute decisions that combine growth with environmental sustainability, often in novel ways.

The ability to take this new approach to management, especially for companies that have been successful in the past, is not guaranteed. Thus, transformation — the ability to make fundamental shifts in strategy, operating model and day-to-day activity — is on the agenda for EU&R companies this year, with a stronger sense of urgency than before. Fortunately, because of the rise of digital technology, the growing use of interoperable platforms and an emerging consensus about the value of renewable energy, EU&R companies have more tools and opportunities than ever before for thriving through this disruption. 

The urgency became clear in the results of a number of surveys conducted recently by PwC — including those of chemical company CEOs, oil and gas company CEOs, and power and utilities companies — and it is especially pressing in the utilities sector. For instance, when we surveyed senior executives in Germany’s energy sector in 2018, 77% said that the bulk of their company’s revenues would continue to come from their core businesses over the next five years, yet 57% of them expected those revenues to fall over the same period. Likewise, in chemicals, according to our 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey trends series, the next decade is likely to see the sector come under increasing pressure on a range of sustainability measures. In short, although the demand for EU&R’s elemental commodities will grow and its essentially extractive, capital-intensive nature will not change, business as usual will not be a viable alternative for many companies. Read the rest here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Using AI to Enhance Business Operations

Learned a lot lending an editorial hand here:

MIT Sloan Management Review, June 11, 2019

by Monideepa Tarafdar, Cynthia M. Beath, and Jeanne W. Ross

Artificial intelligence invariably conjures up visions of self-driving vehicles, obliging personal assistants, and intelligent robots. But AI’s effect on how companies operate is no less transformational than its impact on such products.

Image result for mit sloan reviewEnterprise cognitive computing — the use of AI to enhance business operations — involves embedding algorithms into applications that support organizational processes. ECC applications can automate repetitive, formulaic tasks and, in doing so, deliver orders-of-magnitude improvements in the speed of information analysis and in the reliability and accuracy of outputs. For example, ECC call center applications can answer customer calls within 5 seconds on a 24-7-365 basis, accurately address their issues on the first call 90% of the time, and transfer complex issues to employees, with less than half of the customers knowing that they are interacting with a machine. The power of ECC applications stems from their ability to reduce search time and process more data to inform decisions. That’s how they enhance productivity and free employees to perform higher-level work — specifically, work that requires human adaptability and creativity. Ultimately, ECC applications can enhance operational excellence, customer satisfaction, and employee experience.

ECC applications come in many flavors. For instance, in addition to call center applications, they include banking applications for processing loan requests and identifying potential fraud, legal applications for identifying relevant case precedents, investment applications for developing buy/sell predictions and recommendations, manufacturing applications for scheduling equipment maintenance, and pharmaceutical R&D applications for predicting the success of drugs under development.

Not surprisingly, most business and technology leaders are optimistic about ECC’s value-creating potential. In a 2017 survey of 3,000 senior executives across industries, company sizes, and countries, 63% said that ECC applications would have a large effect on their organization’s offerings within five years. However, the actual rate of adoption is low, and benefits have proved elusive for most organizations. In 2017, when we conducted our own survey of senior executives at 106 companies, half of the respondents reported that their company had no ECC applications in place. Moreover, only half of the respondents whose companies had applications believed they had produced measurable business outcomes. Other studies report similar results.

This suggests that generating value from ECC applications is not easy — and that reality has caught many business leaders off guard. Indeed, we found that some of the excitement around ECC resulted from unrealistic expectations about the powers of “intelligent machines.” In addition, we observed that many companies that hoped to benefit from ECC but failed to do so had not developed the necessary organizational capabilities. To help address that problem, we undertook a program of research aimed at identifying the foundations of ECC competence. We found five capabilities and four practices that companies need to splice the ECC gene into their organization’s DNA. Read the rest here.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Managerial hubris brought down MacArthur

strategy & business, May 29, 2019

by Theodore Kinni

Photograph by Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

I find hubris to be a fascinating cognitive flaw. Perhaps the spectacle of arrogance leading to a fall from grace provides a socially acceptable outlet for my predilection for schadenfreude — another obnoxious personality glitch. But my flaws don’t matter all that much. I’m not a leader.

For leaders, the consequences of cognitive flaws like hubris are magnified. And nowhere is the danger of managerial hubris more evident than in the career of General Douglas MacArthur, whose life and career I studied for my book No Substitute for Victory: Lessons in Strategy and Leadership from General Douglas MacArthur. In June 1950, when President Harry Truman appointed him to head the United Nations Command at the start of the Korean War, MacArthur was already a prime candidate for hubris. He had served as commander of the U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific in WWII and was still, at age 70, serving as the de facto leader of postwar Japan and its more than 80 million citizens. He was, as biographer William Manchester put it, an “American Caesar.” It is unlikely that MacArthur would have objected to the characterization, had he been alive to hear it.

If MacArthur had an elevated sense of ego and invincibility by 1950, his initial success in prosecuting the Korean War surely reinforced the feeling. As the UN forces fought to hang on at Pusan, their last foothold on the Korean Peninsula, MacArthur mounted an audacious, large-scale amphibious attack well behind enemy lines at the port city of Inchon. The plan was risky, if not foolhardy: Inchon’s 30-foot tides are so extreme that the window for making the assault was limited to two days in September. Moreover, if the landing forces had been unable to take the port, they would have been trapped.

As it turned out, the Inchon invasion was a complete success. The North Korean Army reeled in surprise, and a day later, the UN forces at Pusan broke out. Within two weeks, the invaders had been expelled from South Korea and the UN forces crossed the 38th Parallel, heading north to the Chinese border. The stage was set for one of the 20th century’s most dramatic exhibitions of hubris. Read the rest here.