By Michael Hickins
NEW YORK—Technology may be changing faster than even the most progressive organizations can absorb, if speakers at a recent Zebra Technology-sponsored event here at TED Talk headquarters have correct insight.
Businesses are busily trying to build capabilities around artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies in a bid to grow market share, but time is definitely not on their side.
If Industry 1.0 was marked by the widespread adoption of the steam engine, Industry 2.0 the industrial adoption of electricity, Industry 3.0 the use of the Internet, Industry 4.0 is the use of technologies like AI that rely on cloud computing.
“Industry 4.0 is the scaling out of Industry 3.0, which enables cognitive intelligent apps to go mainstream,” noted Chris Preimesberger, Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK, who presided over the panel discussion.
AI Market Will Grow 50 Percent CAGR by 2021
According to Tom Bianculli, CTO of Zebra Technologies, the market for AI is expected to grow by 50 percent CAGR to $58 billion by 2021, marking the maturation of Industry 4.0. Companies that are able to leverage AI and other emerging technologies to provide extraordinary experiences will have an almost insurmountable advantage over those who can’t.
Once consumers come across an experience that wows them, he said, they not only pick a winner in that category, but expect all businesses to provide the same level of convenience and excitement. “Convenience is a competitive advantage,” he said.
But the impact of this capability goes well beyond one single category of experience. If customers can order and pay for a cup of coffee through a mobile app, the only experience they really associate with that brand is the pleasure of picking up that coffee from the counter and enjoying its flavor, noted Bianculli.
“Each amazing experience becomes the new standard to which all others are compared,” he said. “If I can have that experience buying coffee, why can’t have it at my doctor’s office?”
Unfortunately, by their own admission, many companies are still on the low end of the scale when it comes to adopting technologies that can help them provide those kind of transformative experiences.
Companies Generally Have a Long Way to Go for Digital Changeover
Executives participating on a panel discussion that followed Bianculli’s presentation rated their companies’ respective efforts at between one and five on a scale of one to ten, in terms of adoption of transformative technologies, notably AI.
Health care could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of AI, according to Keith Washington, CEO of pCare, which provides entertainment, information and education options for patients at more than 140 US hospitals.
Noting that medical error is currently the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, Washington said care givers could drastically improve results if they had AI helping them on the back end. For example, AI would allow them to focus on patients instead of paperwork by eliminating rote bureaucratic tasks—“the tyranny of measurables”—such as the hundreds of reimbursement metrics they need to remember, he said.
But the old expression about the best-laid plans could apply in this case as well. We all remember a time when 3G bandwidth seemed almost excessive based on our needs at the time. Then came Facebook and other social media, an explosion of photographs and video, and 5G now looks like a bare minimum requirement.
Convergence of Factors in Last Decade Has Changed the Landscape
“History tells us we could be way off; something comes out of nowhere that undermines everything we’ve done and makes it insufficient,” noted Rohit Bhanot, head of the public sector practice for Nokia, which now bills itself as a connectivity company.
Preimesberger reminded the audience—and his panelists—that the last few years have seen remarkable improvements in and convergence of foundational technologies such as unlimited storage, processing speeds, wide-pipe networks, lean and efficient software, sensor presence and natural language processing.
“The trend is always towards scale, speed and solutions that satisfy customers,” Preimesberger said. "IT is all about CX: the customer experience, whether for business or consumer customers. The convergence of all these factors has made heavy apps like 'AI everywhere' possible."
Now it’s up to companies to put those foundational technologies to use, implementing more cutting-edge technologies to create indelible customer experiences that set new standards their competitors—and others—have to meet.
Image: L-R: Rohit Bhanot, Nokia; Keith Washington, pCare; Kevin Sterneckert, JDA Software; Chris Preimesberger, eWEEK.
Michael Hickins is a former eWEEK and Wall Street Journal editor and reporter. This report is special to eWEEK.