Innovation strategies redrawing the corporate landscape
“Digital transformation is progressing rapidly. But not rapidly enough at some companies and in some markets.” That was the blunt assessment of Fujitsu’s CTO for EMEIA Dr Joseph Reger as he kicked off the fifth annual gathering of the company’s top technologists in London last month. And Reger was not alone in sending that message to the more than 200 Fujitsu Distinguished Engineers and colleagues who he says need to be accelerators of digital transformation.
Chief among those keynoting, Mark van Rijmenam, founder of big data consultancy Datafloq, stressed how business and technology leaders need to grasp the exponential nature of the changes underway — if their organizations and careers are to prosper or even survive.
“Simply having a digital strategy focused on continuous innovation is no longer enough to thrive. In order to transform an organization and contribute to building a secure and rewarding networked society, collaboration among employees, customers, business units and even machines is increasingly becoming key. Organizations now need, more than ever before, to focus on bringing together the different stakeholders in order to co-create the future,” he said.
And three game-changing technologies will determine the shape of that future, according to Van Rijmenam: big data, blockchain and artificial intelligence, with data as the common denominator of all three.
“Nowadays every organization needs to be a data organization, completely changing its processes, mindset and customer touch-points to revolve around data,” said Van Rijmenam. “So a car company, for example, is no longer a business that makes cars but a data company that transports people from A to B, whether through autonomous vehicles, shared cars or any other means.”
Tech trinityFor Van Rijmenam, the mix of big data AI and blockchain is “the Holy Grail for organizations of tomorrow, determining the success or failure of your organization.”
Big data ensures employers and employees are empowered to make the right decisions for their company and its customers, he said. Rather than relying on intuition and experience they can now draw on petabytes or exabytes of data — and that amount of data is about to explode. “It may seem far-fetched to be talking about dealing with zettabytes and yottabytes, or even brontobytes but when you consider that the deployment of IoT will connect 20 billion devices by 2020 and establish 100 trillion connections by 2030, it doesn’t really seem that far away,” he said.
To achieve real-time insight, organizations have to open themselves to more sources of data — as much as they can take — by breaking down internal data silos and combining internal and external data. “When you have data coming from everywhere you strengthen the collaboration between employees and customers, empowering them to co-create new products and services,” said Rijmenam.
Moreover, he says the analytics side is moving rapidly from descriptive analytics and insight to prescriptive analytics “that not only recommend the best choices to make but even make those choices for you. When we have algorithms making decisions for us that changes the game,” he said.
Big data is also a catalyst for ‘open strategy,’ which involves drawing in company guidance from previously excluded stakeholders — customers, employees, smart machines and connected devices. “With big data informing open strategy you can create a collective intelligence that inspires better decisions that could never have come solely from those at the top of the company,” he said.
By creating the opportunity for true peer-to-peer collaboration, blockchain will have a massive impact — though too few organizations today appreciate the nature of the paradigm shift underway and how it will impact their sector, said Rijmenam.
“Blockchain allows you to trust someone you don’t trust. As a single, shared source of the truth in a verifiable, immutable and traceable database, it changes the game. Trust is established mathematically and so we don’t need a bank, an auditor, a government department or whatever as an intermediary.”
Blockchain will also be a force for social good, said Van Rijmenam. It will be used to combat fraud, manage climate change, help refugees establish their identities and ensure accuracy and transparency in elections.
Van Rijmenam does not shy away from hyperbole that says blockchain’s impact will be as great as the development of the limited liability company, the steam engine and the internet.
The exponential rise in artificial intelligence is ushering in a new world in which people will increasingly collaborate with machines. “Because of technologies such as machine learning, deep learning and neural networks, what we will see in coming years is AI and robotics taking over large portions of our jobs, becoming our boss, assistant, driver, customer service agent and much more. So we will need to work out how we want to collaborate with machines.”
He predicted that “algorithms are coming for our jobs, whether they are making better judgments on investments, gauging the state of our health or merely flipping burgers in a fast food restaurant.
“What does it mean to you if your boss is an algorithm or if you call a bank and chat with a machine? But artificial intelligence also has the potential to solve many of our big problems such as climate change and poverty. So we need responsible AI.”
In building algorithmic models we need three things, he said: “AI that can explain its own actions to us; safety engineering so that there is a control method or a kill switch to use if AI breaches certain rules; and ‘machine ethics’ so that machines appreciate what we mean by good and bad.”Transformation hurdles
While echoing Van Rijmenam’s theme that data needs to sit at the center of organizations, Fujitsu’s Dr Reger highlighted one aspect that is slowing the pace of digital transformation.
“One of the big problems of digital transformation — whether the application is IoT or AI — starts with data gathering. We all pretend that data is not a big issue but it most certainly is. Problems range from projects that don’t have access to enough data, to the loss of data, to an inability to manage and understand it because of a lack of skills. And in the public sector, for example, different government departments are often not allowed to exchange data so their access to data stops at the boundaries of their own repositories,” said Reger.
The fuel of business transformation is not just data — it’s also cutting-edge technology. However, with so many new and powerful technologies coming to market, a real testing issue for IT vendors is to ensure their technologies can be readily integrated.
“It is relatively easy to build a solution in isolation,” said Reger. “It is the integration of systems that is a real challenge. Not many companies are willing to pay for runaway technology costs where 20% of the expenditure is on tech and 80% on solution integration. Look at many of today’s AI and IoT projects and you will see that kind of split. We have to turn that around so IT leaders have a clear business outcome from technology investment, can show that to their own management and so get further funding,” said Reger.
As the breakout sessions at the Fujitsu Distinguished Engineers conference demonstrated, such higher-level thinking is far from theoretical. Among an array of developments under discussion, Fujitsu technology teams showcased:
• the use of robotic process automation to deploy chatbots in service desk applications
• co-creating solutions for the Industrial Internet using the company’s GlobeRanger IoT platform
• supporting automated software delivery through continuous integration/continuous deployments
• creating structured approaches to the monitoring and management of workloads across multiple clouds to enhance control and visibility of the platforms.