Rise of the Cognitive Enterprise in a Post-Digital Transformation World

Why executives must look beyond modernization toward AI, machine learning and other emergent technologies that are already starting to shape next-generation enterprises.

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Dear C-Suite member, I have to ask: How do you define digital transformation, and what does it look like once you’ve digitally transformed? The truth is that everyone defines digital transformation differently, and as such, the end states are difficult to define.

But what if I told you that most digital transformation roadmaps were no longer enough to compete for the future? In reality, digital transformation has become foundational. It’s necessary that every organization embrace digital transformation to modernize infrastructure, operations and most importantly, performance. There is no end state, however. It’s an endless process. To compete for the future now, enterprises must start to plan for a post digital transformation world.  

We are entering a new decade and with it, a new era of enterprise evolution. Digital transformation is still vital to modernization. But to innovate, to continually respond to market dynamics and even influence them, executives must look beyond modernization toward AI, machine learning and other emergent technologies that are already starting to shape next-generation enterprises.

Cognitive Technology Already Automating Businesses

Even though the idea of the cognitive enterprise is not new, it is quickly becoming a reality. Cognitive technologies are already automating marketing, service and other business processes, but this is just the beginning. Intelligent layers will exist across every business function to understand, improve and predict needs and capabilities. More so, cognitive systems will learn to anticipate customer and employee needs, before they have a chance to formulate expectations. Essentially, future experiences will be defined in advance, becoming new CX (customer experience) and EX (employee experience) standards in real-time.

The cognitive enterprise landscape is starting to take shape. For example, IBM has long championed the cognitive enterprise as a new era of business reinvention. Salesforce recently announced Einstein Voice, an AI-powered backend to its robust CRM system with a voice command UI, a la Alexa, on the front end. Aera Technology introduced what it calls “the self-driving enterprise,” which adds a layer of cognitive intelligence on top of ERP systems to crawl, index and analyze data to make real-time recommendations, predict outcomes, and even take action autonomously. Numerous marketing and CX clouds are promoting AI’s ability to help brands deliver the right message at the right time on the right device.

Architects can further develop unique “skills,” again like Alexa, to improve and customize capabilities to continually enhance enterprise performance.

Data, Intelligence: Differentiators Between Levels of Cognitive Enterprise

At the heart of the cognitive enterprise are data and insights. But there’s work to be done in the shift from digital transformation to enterprise cognition.

IBM once reported that up to 90% of stored business data goes unused. It’s common knowledge that in most cases, data is siloed and incomplete. This means that to thrive in a post digital transformation world, data is the answer. Data then becomes strategic in its input and output, ensuring that cognitive systems produce meaningful results that drive more significant business outcomes.

The collection of data also becomes paramount. Emerging platforms such as 5G, mixed reality, voice platforms, etc., are yielding unparalleled volumes of data and new insights. Data infrastructures now must not only contend with existing data systems, but also plan to unify it with the influx of new inputs. Doing so allows for cognitive systems to produce deep and increasingly accurate context, insights and predictions.

Architecture of Cognitive Enterprise is Evolving

Like digital transformation, the cognitive enterprise is an endless evolution, one where an agile methodology, mindset and leadership team are fundamental. AI layers will only become more capable. New skills will require leaders to think differently about solving existing problems and also how to ask different questions that address problems and opportunities that had not yet been identified or considered.

The cognitive enterprise is powered by a new digital brain or cognitive business operating system, as Aera Technology CEO and founder Frederic Laluyaux refers to it. Architects of the cognitive enterprise now must rethink work, sales, service and support, marketing, supply chain, workflows skills and corporate knowledge/IP.

What makes this so groundbreaking for enterprise reinvention, scale and growth is the permanence of the OS or digital brain and its ability to get smarter, more adept and efficient over time. To date, human capital was either the strength or the Achilles heel of corporate IP and decision-making. People were the keepers of current processes and shortcuts, insider insights and best practices. As employees left, that experience and resulting skills would follow. But with a cognitive operating system, organizations cultivate a growing volume of AI-driven IP and insights across critical business functions while fostering more informed and proficient human and machine decision-making.

While digital transformation continues to modernize legacy systems and operations, the cognitive enterprise represents the next phase of enterprise evolution. Combined, organizations upgrade and future-proof the business while gaining access to unprecedented intelligence and capabilities.

eWEEK contributor Brian Solis is a world-renowned digital analyst, anthropologist and futurist. Brian is also a global keynote speaker and an award-winning author of eight best-selling books. Through his research, keynotes, and work, he humanizes technology trends to help people shape the future they want to see.