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The Digital Enterprise and Boring AI

November 14, 2023


Most, if not all, business leaders understand that the corporate landscape changed dramatically when the world entered the Digital Age and data became the lifeblood of most enterprises. Yossi Sheffi, Director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, insists, “The well-worn adage that a company’s most valuable asset is its people needs an update. Today, it’s not people but data that tops the asset value list for companies.”[1] As data became more available, it provided the missing ingredient that had, for decades, halted the development of artificial intelligence (AI) systems. According The Economist, AI has once again altered the business landscape. It notes, “For decades starry-eyed technologists have claimed that AI will upend the business world, creating enormous benefits for firms and customers … this is happening at last. … Powerful new ‘foundation’ models are fast moving from the lab to the real world.”[2]


The Value of “Boring AI”


Recent stories about generative AI — a technology that can produce art, literature, prose, and poetry — have once again raised the specter of artificial general intelligence (AGI) systems that could one day wipe out humanity. The Economist notes, however, that the type of AI making the greatest impact in the business world doesn’t pose a threat to mankind. The magazine calls it “boring AI.” It reports, “Lots of small improvements in AI’s predictive power can add up to better products and big savings. This is especially true in less flashy areas where firms are already using some kind of analytics, such as managing supply chains.” Tech journalist Satyen K Bordoloi predicts that boring AI will become just as essential for businesses as computers and the internet. He notes that in the early years of the Digital Age companies that resisted adopting to the new era were eventually “forced to realize the obvious: using computers and the internet was not a choice, but a matter of survival.”[3] He adds, “[Companies] are at a similar inflexion point with regard to artificial intelligence.” He continues:


Today there is nothing that does not need computing, no business big or small that does not use computing in some form or other, be it through computers or the personal mobile phones that all of us carry with us at all times. That is exactly what is happening with artificial intelligence. Whether they know it or not, they are already using it in some form or the other, whenever they use emails, use spell check, speech-to-text on their phone, place orders on a system, check out the status of their order in the supply chain network, they are availing the power of artificial intelligence. Every product or service goes through some form of AI system in its product lifecycle. The only difference is whether it is going directly, or indirectly. Businesses would do well to figure out the direct use of artificial intelligence for themselves. … Every business today will benefit from the conscious adoption of AI.”


Matt Asay, Vice President of Developer Relations at MongoDB, agrees with that sentiment. He insists that the capability that will set companies apart from their competition is artificial intelligence, especially machine learning (ML). And leveraging boring AI is key to accomplishing this. He cites an article from The Wall Street Journal that noted, “The best tech investments of 2023 might be companies content to spend their coin greasing [the wheel].” Asay adds, “One big way enterprises are doing this is with AI/ML, but not with gee-whiz flying cars. AI/ML is being used in far more pedestrian (and useful) ways.” For most businesses, he suggests, “The incremental approach turns out to be the smartest way to build with AI/ML.”


The Way Ahead


According to Beena Ammanath, Executive Director of the Deloitte AI Institute, “Now is one of the most opportunity-rich periods in the history of AI technology, particularly for those organizations swiftly building capabilities and beginning to use AI to solve some of their most business-critical and challenging problems.”[5] She adds, “While few organizations can claim to be completely AI-fueled, a significant and growing percentage are starting to display the behaviors that can get them there.” She goes on to note that Deloitte research has revealed practices that leading companies have implemented on their digital enterprise transformation journey. Those practices include:


• Creating a solid strategy. According to Ammanath, “AI-fueled organizations view AI as a key element of business differentiation and success, and their leaders champion an enterprise-wide strategy and communicate a bold vision. These organizations are 1.7 times as likely to achieve outcomes to a high degree compared with other respondents.”


• Developing new operations models. Self-described Tech Ethnographer & Sociologist, Tricia Wang, insists that digital transformation at its best involves “a total paradigm shift in the culture and operations — it’s not just about buying the latest digital tool, but about creating a new system, new cadence, new mindset.”[6] Ammanath agrees. She writes, “AI-fueled organizations establish new operating models and processes that drive sustained quality, innovation, and value creation.”


• Leveraging culture and change management. As Wang noted, changing culture is as important as changing operating models. Ammanath observes, “AI-fueled organizations nurture a trusting, agile, data-fluent culture and invest in change management to support new ways of working. Organizations that invest in change management to a high degree are 1.6 times as likely to report that AI initiatives exceed expectations and more than 1.5 times as likely to achieve their desired goals.”


• Fostering dynamic ecosystems. According to Ammanath, “AI-fueled organizations orchestrate dynamic ecosystems that help build and protect competitive differentiation. Organizations with more diverse ecosystems are 1.4 times as likely to use AI in a way that differentiates them from their competitors.”


Ammanath concludes, “As we advance further into that AI-fueled future, organizations that lay the foundations now will likely be rewarded manyfold.


Concluding Thoughts


Asay predicts, “Enterprises will look for areas that allow machines to take on more responsibility while still leaving the people involved accountable for the results. This will be the next big thing in enterprise IT, precisely because it will be lots of small, incremental things.” If you are wondering where to start looking, Auria Moore, founder and of ClevrAI, suggests, “There are three central areas where AI can drive business growth: AI-powered analytics; customer service satisfaction; [and] targeted digital marketing campaigns.” She concludes, “While some of today’s technological advancements can seem a bit intimidating, it’s crucial to deepen your knowledge of how they are used and how you can use them to support your business so you don’t fall behind tomorrow.” At Enterra Solutions®, we developed the Enterra Revenue Growth Intelligence System™ (ERGIS™), powered by our Autonomous Decision Science™ (ADS®) platform, to help companies leverage AI to take advantage of this opportunity-rich moment in time.


[1] Yossi Sheffi, “What is a Company’s Most Valuable Asset? Not People,” LinkedIn, 19 December 2018.
[2] Staff, “Artificial intelligence is permeating business at last,” The Economist, 6 December 2022.
[3] Satyen K Bordoloi, “Resistance is futile: Why businesses must fully embrace AI,” Sify, 5 January 2023.
[4] Matt Asay, “What kind of future will AI bring enterprise IT?” InfoWorld, 16 January 2023.
[5] Beena Ammanath, “The Pathway to an AI-Fueled Future,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 October 2021.
[6] Trevor Miles, “Let’s be clear: Digitization is not the same as Digital Transformation,” Kinaxis Blog, 8 December 2017.
[7] Auria Moore, “3 Ways to Drive Business Growth Using AI,” Entrepreneur, 6 June 2022.

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