The 'cognitive enterprise' is the CIO's next frontier

While CIOs are in the midst of transforming their companies into digital enterprises, experts have begun to sound a new alarm bell: The next wave of disruption has already started.

Rick Davidson, founder and CEO at Cimphoni, a consultancy focused on the intersection of business and IT, is one such expert. He calls the next wave "the cognitive enterprise," where technology systems that can understand, learn and even reason will be able to meet customer expectations before customers know they have an expectation that needs to be met. He pointed to technologies such as Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon Echo -- the first generation of virtual concierges -- as examples.

"We're going to move through the digital enterprise pretty fast," Davidson said during his presentation on the cognitive enterprise at the recent Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wis. How fast? He estimated that in two to three years, talk of going digital will be a thing of the past.

SearchCIO's senior news writer, Nicole Laskowski, sat down with Davidson at Fusion to talk about how CIOs can prepare for the cognitive enterprise. The good news? The digital technology hurdles CIOs are solving today will play an instrumental role in how companies succeed as cognitive enterprises tomorrow.

You've talked about 'vectors' that CIOs can focus on to prepare for the cognitive enterprise. What are those vectors?

Rick Davidson: Understand what the customer is about. The interesting thing about us, as people, is that we are creatures of habit, so we have predictable behaviors and patterns that can be learned over time. The first vector is to get a true and deep understanding of who the customer is and understand those patterns and behaviors.

The second vector is to understand the technology we can use to develop those insights, whether it's big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning -- tools that are out there today, or evolving tools such as IBM Watson and the AlchemyAPI that will allow companies to plug into Watson and use the capabilities of Watson.

The third is about a company's organizational culture. The point here is that data analytics and understanding, engineering and math and science [are] the world[s] of geekdom, or have been in the past. Companies need to move toward accepting that level of knowledge, sophistication and understanding. In other words, it's OK to be a geek and [CIOs should] recognize those who have these technical skills. Ten years ago, if someone said, 'Hey, you need a data scientist,' most people would have said no. Today, they're in high demand. And so the age of the geek is here, and corporations need to accept that.

The fourth has to do with ethics and making sure that, as we think about how to use the information we get on customers, there's an ethical component to it -- and that we're more benevolent than we are nefarious in terms of how we use that information.

And maybe there's a fifth one when I think about the role of IT. In the past, we thought of IT as an organization in the company -- as a homogenous, centralized group. But IT is also a function. As we look at IT as a function and think about it being distributed and pushed out into the enterprise and closer to where business is transacted, that's how IT can better serve the needs of the business and be more agile and flexible. And that's the role the CIO can play when thinking about how technology is delivered -- to think of IT not so much as an organization, but as a function that needs to be delivered within an organization.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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Is cognitive computing the next frontier for IT? Why or why not?

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