If business organizations are not thinking about the experience customers have with their respective organizations, they run the risk of becoming another casualty of disruptive business models. In this age of the digital enterprise, customers have extremely high expectations regarding their encounters with your products or services, and a transition is underway — from digital to the cognitive enterprise — that will take those expectations into the stratosphere.
Rick Davidson, president and CEO of Cimphoni, a Wisconsin-based business technology company, spoke on this transition during the 2016 Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium produced by WTN Media. While customers in the digital age already expect a well choreographed experience across all communications channels, the cognitive enterprise already underway is driven by a proliferation of data and will be marked by its ability to anticipate customer behaviors in ways that improve the human condition. In this Take Five interview, Davidson explains why businesses should begin making the transition to a cognitive enterprise.
IB: You’ve described the analog enterprise as a poll, digital as a pull, and cognitive as a push. Is it an easier transition from digital to cognitive than it was from analog to digital?
Davidson: I don’t think so. It’s certainly going to happen faster than the transition from analog to digital. Some companies are even struggling with being digital companies today using the information they have on their customers, whether that’s information they have collected or purchased from third parties.
The real challenge that will set the stage of moving from digital to cognitive is probably two- or three-fold. One is the availability of platforms — machine-learning types of platforms, artificial intelligence (AI). There is really only one that is commercially out there today that I’m aware of, and IBM’s Watson is the platform. IBM has commercialized Watson in essence to open up Watson to third parties, to APIs, to use the Watson platform. But I think there will be more tools like Watson over time that will allow companies to leverage the power of machine learning and AI platforms.
So that’s one factor. Another factor is the level of sophistication that companies will need to develop, the capabilities they will need to develop. Everybody knows STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math. Because the world we’re playing in now has elements of all of those, currently machine learning is a lot about science and it’s a lot about math. But there are two other areas we don’t talk about much and that we need to consider because it will set the pace, as well.
One is ethics. We have all this information and insights about customer behaviors and patterns. What do we do with it and what do we do with it in a way that’s benevolent and treats customers they way they want to be treated and not nefariously? By that, I mean not gaining information that could be harmful or coercive in various ways to customers. So there is an ethical component to it.
You heard the one question from a millennial (conference attendee) who asked about privacy and government and do we trust the government or even enterprises to have this information? We’re going to need to work through that. The technology is way ahead of the ethics and the law, definitely the law. Just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean we should.
With the pace of adoption, companies will have to convince customers that they are ‘doing good’ with this. It’s like the chicken and the egg, and that’s going to dictate the pace. It’s not going to be the technology. It won’t even be the platforms. The platforms will be developed pretty quickly. It will be how quickly, as a society, will we be willing to have tools like Amazon’s Echo, and that’s just a first generation tool, but tools like that to learn who we are, learn our behaviors, and start suggesting things to us. It’s a little creepy now but maybe over the next five to 10 years, it will be less creepy and it will become the norm.
IB: Can you get your mind wrapped around cognitive if you still haven’t got it wrapped around digital?
Davidson: I think you can go through digital pretty fast. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and expertise that you need to develop around how to manage and manipulate data. Even the cultural element of that, accepting within the enterprise that you will be a company that uses facts and data rather than anecdotes or intuition, being ready as a corporation to use information to make decisions, you’ve got to go through that before you can trust the computer to make decisions and suggestions. But you can go through that pretty fast. You can probably get through that in two or three years.
The larger the organization, the longer probably it will take, but you can go through it very, very fast. We’re already in the era of cognitive enterprise. Leading companies are, like everywhere else, jumping on it right now. I spoke to an individual earlier today [March 10] who was talking about a Google app. It makes suggestions about things in his life that he needs to do or not do because it’s learning who he is. Amazon is not going to take over and own this with Echo [aka Alexa]. The big players are going to jump on this. Microsoft is going to start developing the ability to learn from the experiences and activities and transactions you conduct in your daily life, and learn from that and make suggestions about how to improve your productivity.
IB: Was this push aspect of cognitive really started by Steve Jobs when he developed Apple products he believed people would want?
Davidson: Steve Jobs was a miracle worker in terms of seeing the magic in technology and the potential for technology and allowing us to embrace technology in our lives. Who could have imagined the phone would be reinvented when the iPhone came to market? Who can imagine living without it now? That’s the gift he gave us — the belief that technology could make our lives better. There is a next Steve Jobs out there somewhere that will show us how to embrace technology to make our lives more productive, more fulfilling, to eliminate what I call the ‘administrivia’ in our lives, the things nobody wants to spend any time doing like expense reports and taxes and whatever else, so we can do the things we really enjoy.
The next Steve Jobs will introduce us to that, and it will be as transformative as the iPhone was in terms of having information at our fingertips. The next Steve Jobs will help us understand that technology can make our lives better and more productive, and by sharing our personal information with companies in a very benevolent way, we can actually achieve those goals. I hope that happens. That’s aspirational.
IB: Is the importance of customer engagement growing because Generation Z that’s now in college has been immersed in technology since birth and will drive customer expectations even higher?
Davidson: You heard me talk about the impatient narcissist. They are totally marinated in technology. What we consider technology, as we’re a little bit older now, is just life to them. That’s just normal. They have no patience for technology that doesn’t work, that is slow, or that behind it is a really broken business process that’s frustrating. They just shut it down and don’t want to deal with it.
It’s hard to speak in cohorts or generational terms because I don’t want to broad brush everybody because even I’m impatient. I’m 57 and I’m an impatient narcissist. They see technology completely different than you or I saw it. They will have their own set of challenges that they will deal with and privacy is going to be one of them.
Writer Joe Vanden Plas, editorial director for In Business magazine, covered Fusion 2016 for WTN Media and In Business.