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What will enterprise AI look like in 2018? In SearchCIO interviews with IT leaders at DBS Bank, Dun & Bradstreet, State Street and the city of Boston on 2018 plans, the strong consensus was for more, not less, investment in AI projects, suggesting AI's enterprise trajectory is still on an upward slope.
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Recent research from Gartner backs up the trend. The consulting firm predicts that in just two years, 85% of CIOs will be piloting AI projects through a combination of buy, build and outsource efforts. Indeed, the big AI story for 2018 may not be who is or isn't investing in AI, but which companies have effective strategies for handling AI's proliferation.
Gartner believes that will be a hurdle for CIOs in the coming year. In "Predicts 2018: Artificial Intelligence," Gartner identified the lack of AI skills at enterprises and the ability to plot an effective AI strategy as a classic chicken-and-egg problem for CIOs.
"The challenge of creating an AI strategic development plan parallels the staffing challenge, as having AI-savvy workers and executives benefit organizations actively working to set strategy," the report explained. "Actions to grapple with both constraints will reveal the organizations that are striving to improve their understanding of what AI is best-suited for and how to employ it."
Anthony Scriffignano, chief data scientist at Dun & Bradstreet Inc., agreed that a big part of setting AI strategy in 2018 will be figuring out how the technologies will be employed across the enterprise -- and who decides that. "[You can't] think about the future of AI without thinking about the federation of AI -- the fact that these tools and capabilities are becoming available to all parts of the organization," he said.
Here are three IT executives who already have a plan in place for 2018.
City of Boston CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge said his AI strategy for the coming year focuses on identifying what AI can do for municipal employees and constituents. Rather than find ways to reduce its employee head count, the objective is to use AI as a tool "for making superhumans instead of replacing humans," said Franklin-Hodge, who will step down from his post at the end of the month.
Franklin-Hodge's IT team is helping the city use machine learning to automate processes such as classifying incoming 311 calls. The team is also exploring how AI can help the city get a better handle on serious urban issues, including: finding the person in a group of opioid users who might be most responsive to an intervention; identifying where a food safety violation is most likely to occur; predicting where and when traffic accidents are likely to happen. These AI projects generate the sort of data that could be used by city employees to plan and prioritize the work they're doing, Franklin-Hodge said.
"The goal is to say, 'Look, we're a complex city with a lot of intersections.' But how can we better understand where there is the highest risk for injury so we can target our interventions more effectively?" he said.
RPA in action
Other companies such as DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore are determined to push the AI envelope. David Gledhill, CIO and head of technology and operations at DBS, is a driving force for emerging tech, having helped pioneer the company's "digibank" in India, a mobile-only bank where accounts can be opened at one of 600 Café Coffee Day locations and managed by a mobile app.
One of the signature features of the digibank is the AI-powered virtual assistant that provides 24-hour customer service. In 2018, DBS will continue to integrate AI into its IT roadmap, building out its voice biometrics program, where a human's unique voice print is used to identify a customer, and developing an enterprise-wide center of excellence in robotic process automation (RPA) in partnership with IBM.
"It is the first large-scale implementation in the financial services sector in Singapore and the region," Gledhill said. "Through this program, mundane and repetitive tasks are automated, freeing up our employees' time to do more high-value work."
Three AI buckets and beyond
State Street Corp. is also advancing its artificial intelligence practice. The Boston-based financial institution is working on "very specific business problems that need to have machine learning capabilities to enhance results and provide better intelligence," said Moiz Kohari, senior vice president and chief technology architect.
State Street categorizes AI into three buckets: natural language processing, anomaly detection and predictive analytics. Kohari didn't want to mention specific AI projects his team will be taking on in 2018 but said they will fall into one of the three buckets.
"You can imagine the types of problems the bank deals with on a daily basis: We have millions of trades coming in; they propagate through hundreds of systems. We are constantly reconciling these systems, so what can I do to assist with that," he said.
The company has assembled a team of "100-odd industry veterans" to assist in its AI efforts, including blockchain experts, contributors to the Spark machine learning libraries and experts from specific industries such as former IBM Watson employees. In 2018, Kohari said he's looking to bring in even more data science talent as well as quantum computing resources "so we can best position ourselves in this emerging world of quantum security and other things like that."