Artificial Intelligence: Innovating Applications and Related IT-Services

The foundations for artificial intelligence (AI) have been around for quite some time, however only over the last few years has there been a broader adoption of these technologies, with a steep acceleration this year. With the result that today we see a proliferation of artificial intelligence in various areas. One fast-moving segment is the combination of AI with business application software in fields such as digital customer experience, analytics, supply chain management and human resources.

Our definition of AI

Artificial Intelligence is, without a doubt, the buzzword of 2017 even though it remains nebulous for most people and companies. Since it involves many different solutions and impacts all sectors, it is difficult to define precisely what AI really is.

Within PAC, we see AI as the combined use of algorithms, knowledge bases (big data sets) and neural networks/deep learning techniques to mimic human beings as well as complement abilities in a variety of domains, including:

  • perception and understanding
  • reasoning and problem-solving
  • learning and training
  • interaction with the environment and people

A growing number of applications and SaaS vendors are integrating AI into their technology stacks – either by means of developing and acquiring tools and platforms or by entering into partnerships with specialists. Examples are IBM, Google, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, Adobe, Salesforce, Unit4 and many more.

AI and the user interface

One use case is that of a digital assistant for complex software. The idea here is to provide a new interface (voice and/or text messages) for applications to automate repetitive tasks and to suggest possible next steps. The digital assistant “learns” what the user is doing and is able to foresee what action should be taken next, based on the analysis of available data and on the specifics of the user’s context.

SAP, for instance, unveiled “CoPilot” last year, a digital assistant that understands natural language. The idea is to enable ERP users to interact with the system as they are used to from tools such as Apple's “Siri”, “Google Now” or Amazon's “Alexa”.

In a comparable move, business software maker Unit4 has recently integrated a digital assistant for users of its ERP software. The Wanda Bot can be used to interact with the ERP system via chat messages in order to automate tasks, increase the productivity of employees and provide assistance. Adobe integrates its Sensei technology as a “virtual assistant” to help CMOs target the right people at the right time with the right message.

According to Accenture’s Chief Technology & Innovation Officer Paul Daugherty, there is much more to come. His expectation is that “AI will become the new user interface”.

Automation of business processes

Business process management specialist Pegasystems offers AI technology that can help automate repetitive tasks within business applications. Robotic process automation (RPA) technology can perform repetitive tasks within business IT systems instead of a human user. This can, for example, include tasks needed to on-board new employees.

Customer experience

We are currently seeing a number of developments in the field of digital customer experience. AI technology analyzes customer requests, categorizes them, answers them if possible or passes them on to an expert. Chatbots can now handle the first steps of any call.

Also companies such as Salesforce are building AI features that support sales people in evaluating their leads and provide a scoring for the most promising ones.

Microsoft uses Azure-based Cortana AI features within its Dynamics 365 solution to automate customer data updates and provide insights as well as recommendations on how to improve the relationship with customers.

Customer analytics is anything but new. However, AI provides many more opportunities of analyzing different data formats and respond to them. This data may include all internal data about a customer, campaign-related data and social media input. One example in this area is IBM with Watson Customer Experience Analytics. A French bank leveraged IBM’s Watson to help salespeople propose the right products out of a huge portfolio inducing a highly complex combination.

AI to augment SCM applications

There are a number of business processes that can be enhanced by the use of AI. We think that supply chain management can be one of them. Given that SCM has to deal with complex supplier networks, uncertainties and the need for sophisticated demand planning, AI technology can provide value by making supply chains visible, supporting the forecasting of demands and required stock as well as keeping track of activities such as moving goods within logistics processes while taking into account factors such as weather conditions and traffic situations.

Oracle, for example, is developing its Adaptive Intelligent Applications for SCM, to be used by companies that run the vendor’s SCM applications. IBM’s Watson Supply Chain solution provides managers with recommendations on how to react to problems. According to Oracle, the tool acts like an SCM expert based on cognitive learning capabilities.

AI-enabled application management services

Not only can AI innovate business applications – it is also being used in managing the lifecycle of applications. Large providers of application management services leverage AI technology to automate problem-solving, perform health checks and manage patches and updates for their customers’ applications. Wipro, for example, is using its “Wipro Holmes” AI platform for this, as is Infosys with Mana. IPSoft, a specialist in this field, has already sold its automation system to numerous services companies, including IBM, CGI and T-Systems.

Another interesting player in this area is Accenture with the “myWizard Intelligent Automation Platform” it launched in spring 2016. The cloud-based platform integrates a number of AI technologies and application lifecycle management tools from different vendors as well as industry assets to support software development, testing and deployment, as well as management of software-related projects. At a recent analyst event in Paris, Accenture illustrated that this platform, which is part of Accenture’s "rotation to the new" plan for innovation-led application services, provides intelligent automation through the use of 6 virtual agents with machine learning capabilities and intuition intelligence to analyze data and identify patterns that support judgment-based decision-making. The objective is to drive business performance improvements in application quality, cost reduction and the speed to market. Accenture claims having 2,300+ engagements for its platform so far.

PAC research on the topic

Our analyst team, too, is working on AI-related topics. For example, in mid-2017 our group's lead analysts for this subject will publish a market insight on AI. Besides, we are evaluating the market size of the AI market as well as the dynamics behind.

In addition, we are planning a European multi-client study titled “What Artificial Intelligence can bring to Enterprise Applications”. The study will explore how AI-based applications can support lines of businesses in their day-to-day work and help human workers. As a result of this project, we plan to provide a guide for CIOs and line of business managers, which will look at how AI can innovate processes in sales, marketing, digital CX, financials, HCM, logistics & application management services. This also includes the intelligent automation of processes to make them faster and more accurate. For more information on this, please get in touch with Matthieu Page (m.page@pac-online.com).