Artificial Intelligence (AI) topped the list of technologies organizations are investing in according to a 2020 global study. The majority of survey respondents identified it as a technology that will be dominant over the next two years. AI was closely followed by related technologies like machine learning, cognitive services and predictive analytics as business technology continues to make an increasing number of decisions and advise decision-making human managers and executives.
In the spring of 2020, IFS conducted a global study of 3,000 IT decision-makers, C-suite executives and individuals working in operations in six markets. The survey instrument solicited insights about the digital transformation projects they have planned and those they have completed. It revealed that a slight majority plan to increase spending on digital transformation despite the fact the sample was gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also looked at the technologies they plan to invest in.
To drive additional insights, these technologies can be classified as:
- Intelligent (AI, machine learning, predictive analytics and cognitive services)
- Cloud (cloud disaggregation, ARC cloud)
- Big data (blockchain, digital twins, Internet of Things and 5G)
- Augmented reality/virtual reality.
Intelligent technologies won the day, with 64 percent of respondents identifying it as important, followed closely by 57 percent for data technologies. Cloud technologies brought up the rear with 31 percent, although one interpretation could be that respondents were far enough along on their cloud journeys they take this technology for granted, without perhaps thinking of the remaining transformational potential.
Intelligent Technology is making more decisions
The way people think and talk about the transformational potential of AI is changing rapidly. When I joined IFS in January of 2019 the focus was very much on the technology itself. We then saw a shift towards our customers taking a business process first approach, thinking about how combining AI with tools such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) could help them automate repetitive, time-consuming parts of their business.
Now, we see AI and other technologies converging together to solve more complex problems under the banner of intelligent process automation, which can take place within business processes in the business software system of record just like they can take place in industrial machinery. In essence, these technologies such as machine learning, RPA, IoT and cognitive services just provide ways for our customers to ensure their equipment, processes and even their people become more intelligent so they can create more value in new ways and drive the business.
As my colleague, Steve Treagust describes, “At the heart of this, what we really have is data. All these different methods are trying to speed up doing things with data. Can we use AI to achieve financial close more quickly? That depends on what you need to do to close the books.
You of course need to close the registers and move into the next period, but it is not the automation of the process that is important as much as the completeness and quality of the data. Accounts payables may for instance have outstanding invoices. What happens then? Do you accrue that balance within the month? Or is it allowable and advantageous to move that expense to the next month in the interest of closing the books?
Complete automation may require you to change your processes to accommodate an intelligent approach. What we will probably see more of in the immediate term is RPA acting as a guide on the side, using intelligence to review thousands and thousands of rows of data and providing insight into what you might accrue. But for RPA or any intelligent technology to work, you need to first have a large enough data set to train those intelligent algorithms.
You also need a data set that exhibits patterns, even subtle or complex ones, that algorithms can identify. So really, at first intelligent enterprise technology will help you drive value from the data your business already possesses and help your people make intelligent decisions. Over time, use cases will emerge for full automation.”
In the face of a global pandemic, business technology decision-makers are still planning investments in transformational technology—with a special emphasis on technologies that add intelligence and automation to business processes or productive assets.
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