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Shell, Halliburton, Unibap AB execs share real-world AI strategies

Technology advances like quantum computing mean AI's best years are still to come, but that doesn't mean companies aren't already generating considerable benefit from AI today.

HALF MOON BAY, CALIF. -- IT executives across a range of different companies shared how they're implementing AI strategies to improve operations, analyze complex problems and realize bottom-line benefits in their organizations. The executives spoke on panels at Constellation's Connected Enterprise 2019 conference, detailing how AI has helped their companies transform business models.

Halliburton is a 100-year-old company and one of the world's largest providers of products and services to the energy industry. Halliburton's chief data scientist, Satyam Priyadarshy, said the company has been using AI for the past 20 years but only recently has it advanced to the point where AI strategies can be applied to more multifaceted problems. "We can now apply [AI] to make this industry sustainable with open access platforms that help people develop solutions faster," he said.

Like other big firms, Halliburton has an ongoing digital transformation agenda designed to make information more accessible throughout the organization. "A lot of knowledge gets retired when people leave, and you have to have ways to capture that," Priyadarshy said. As more information is captured, it becomes available for analysis and retrieval with the use of AI.

Shell: Using AI for preventative maintenance

Shell is a company Halliburton works with, but it also has its own investment in AI strategies. Deval Pandya, the data science lead at Shell, said one of the larger areas where AI has come into play has been preventive maintenance -- helping to figure out when parts in oil rigs and other systems need replacement.

As one of the largest retailers in the world -- think of all the Shell gas stations there are -- it has collected over a hundred billion data points on customer behavior and trends to work with. The company is implementing AI strategies to make better use of all the data, but it required going through a cultural shift first.

"The culture of failing fast and learning from our mistakes is something we now champion," Pandya said. "That's a huge change in the company's mindset when billions of dollars are at stake, but seeing what we can do with AI has helped change that mindset."

Mining the moon

Perhaps the greatest potential for AI will come from companies built to take advantage of the technology from the start. Swedish company Unibap AB has utilized AI strategies from the beginning to develop autonomous manufacturing and "smart plant" automatic painting and coating solutions.

Dr. Fredrik Bruhn, CEO of Unibap AB, said the company is working on satellites used by NASA and eventually expects to help with mining operations on the moon in approximately 15 years.

"Today we use AI for automation in factories -- in the future it will be for mining operations on the moon," Bruhn said.

The intelligent enterprise is coming

In a session on "Intelligent Enterprise," one speaker mentioned that AI has brought more insights to business, but it needs to be easier. "Software needs to be easy and we have to make that happen at the starting point if we're going to bring business processes to the next level," said Marcell Vollmer, CIO of Celonis, a provider of enterprise acceleration performance software whose customer list includes Airbus, Siemens, Uber and Vodafone.

Software needs to be easy and we have to make that happen at the starting point if we're going to bring business processes to the next level.
Marcell Vollmer CEO, Celonis

Compared to where things are headed, Vollmer said the intelligence of AI systems in the enterprise today is quite limited. Customers want actionable insights. "In the future, it will be so simple that you simply ask the right question to the system or even to a bot to help you automate a process," Vollmer said.

Melissa Boxer, vice president of adaptive intelligence at Oracle, also warned that not every problem requires complex AI strategies. "We all want to think our businesses are unique, but there are also common challenges in some areas where a pre-built solution is appropriate," she said. "Save your data scientists for the things you think are truly unique to your business."

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