January 12 by Kingman Tang

After decades of hype, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is cool again thanks to headline grabbing feats like Google’s AlphaGo defeating the world’s best human Go player. Reflecting back on 2017, AI in the B2B enterprise is beginning to deliver radical improvements to business operations. Like the Cloud and Big Data trends of the recent past, we are seeing AI go through the same hype cycle.

Looking forward in 2018, I see five key trends unfolding:

Trapped enterprise data will be unleashed to maximize business outcomes

The recording, aggregating and analyzing of data in business is not a new concept. What’s new is the growth and subsequent commoditization of enterprise data warehousing and business intelligence software. Centered on reports and dashboards, these tools are created by business analysts for managers to see what happened in the past. Their ability to improve business outcomes was limited by the amount of time (weeks or longer) required to create the report, the relatively narrow audience with access to the information, and the limits of value-added insight derived from the data. AI will liberate your trapped data by democratizing insights to all users at the moment of use. It is at the moment of consumption that these insights will be most valuable. In the Quote-to-Cash process, insights into how much to price a complex configured solution is often needed within a few hours because the prospect is waiting on the quote. It is during this critical moment that AI insights into the best price (and the best configuration) based upon similar prospects by industry and company size will yield the best outcome.

Artificial Intelligence will free up and elevate human resources

Unlike the Terminator movies of robots taking over the world or the angst over machines “taking my job”, I think AI will free us from our day to day mundane tasks and lift us up to perform higher level value-added tasks.

In his report Death of a (B2B) Salesman, Forrester analyst Andy Hoar writes that B2B buyers want to self-educate, instead of engaging a sales representative about products and services, and the vast majority of enterprise buyers (93%) find buying online more convenient than buying from a salesperson. Increasingly, enterprise buyers have decided what they want to purchase before they engage with a salesperson, if they ever do.

As they say, the death of the B2B salesman is greatly exaggerated. AI is the secret weapon that allows the B2B salesperson to be an agile, sophisticated and trusted advisor to his or her customers. By leveraging AI in their B2B sales cycle, the seller will be able to achieve a higher level of sophistication in the sales conversation, anticipate the buyer and become the ultimate trusted advisor.

Artificial Intelligence will go from piloting to full scale production

In a recent Harvard Business Review report , 36% of organizations were in pilot or production use with AI. An additional 47% of organizations are actively evaluating or testing AI. Further in the report, Michael O’Rourke, head of machine learning intelligence and data services for Nasdaq stated, “This technology will take off exponentially because it’s a compounding technology… Once you start innovating and automating a number of use cases, you can now stand on top of those improvements and make the next set of innovations.”

Intelligent agents will be the new UI for the Enterprise

Intelligent agents provide a conversational interface to our business applications and rewriting the rules for how we access our apps. I previously blogged about this trend here and here. Twilio, a cloud communications platform as a service company based in San Francisco, California, uses an intelligent agent for their contract management process. Twilio cited that the intelligent agent is solving their operational process change challenge. Within this higher-level problem, the agent is solving their training and agility problems. The agent removes the foreknowledge of a business process by embedding that process in the interface (text based or voice invoked like with Alexa or Siri), thus removing the constant training and retraining of their sales people. Removing this barrier, Twilio is much nimbler and are no longer constrained from introducing new processes because sellers cannot absorb or be trained fast enough. You can read more about the Twilio journey here.

CxOs (and/or Board of Directors) will demand the company’s Artificial Intelligence plan

You can argue that this should be the first trend, but I left this point for last because the other four points should convince you that #5 is a no brainer. In the previously mentioned HBR paper, John Fremont, Accenture VP of AI states, “If your company is not investing in figuring this [AI] out, right now, you’ll be behind or be destroyed.” I would add that if you are not actively investigating AI for your organization, you should look for a new job.

 

To sum up, and tie some of the above points together, I would like to leave you with the following quote from Andrew McAfee, Author and Co-founder of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, “Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.”

To read the Harvard Business Review whitepaper that I referenced in this blog, click on the link to learn more.

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