Cognitive innovation: How future enterprises will evolve

By Rose de Fremery

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Digital transformation is coursing through the business world, upending traditional models operating and engaging with customers. But another, more profound wave will impact future enterprises before long: the cognitive enterprise. Here’s a look at how emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and augmented reality may fundamentally change the standard enterprise structure and revolutionize the way enterprises do business.

From digital enterprises to future enterprises

Enterprises have already digitized their business processes and services, enjoying the efficiencies and enhancements that foundational technologies such as the cloud and mobile have made possible. Along the way, companies have also collected a growing pool of data, yet many of them still face challenges using this information to make informed business decisions. As TechTarget notes, enterprises will require new IT skill sets to meet this growing requirement. Forward-thinking companies are also taking a strategic look at maturing technology trends, carefully considering how they might best leverage them to innovate their business models. Technologies spanning from 3-D printing to robotic business process automation and beyond stand ready to advance the enterprise on an exponential level. Future enterprises will create and use such smart platforms as a means to gain competitive advantage in this new environment.

The rise of smart platforms

C-level executives are already investing in platforms with this impending revolution in mind. According to recent research, 48 percent of them are either considering active platform architectures or already have them in place. Twenty-six percent of enterprise leaders are setting aside funds for AI and cognitive technologies, while 21 percent are exploring robotic process automation and 16 percent are delving into virtual reality. Among the other technologies being tapped are robots, AR, 3-D printing and blockchain. All of them are expected to be capable of learning and evolving to some degree, shaping the cognitive enterprise as it continually develops and adapts to changing marketplace realities.

Enterprises’ ultimate strategic goals for these investments vary significantly, ranging from conservative aspirations to bold ambitions. Some enterprises want to secure their own place within their existing industries and market through reinforcing the digital enhancement of their core capabilities. Others desire to pioneer an industry platform that other players may seek or be enticed to use, thereby assuming a central position in the market. Certain enterprises are taking an even more expansive approach, adopting cognitive business models to access cross-industry marketplaces. In all cases, however, these companies will rely upon their core capabilities and expertise as they advance toward a new position within their current vertical or outward into new verticals.

Advancing toward a cognitive future

As enterprises leverage the potential of these smart platforms, they will experience disruptive and creative change at a level previously unseen. Workflows and processes will be central to this cognitive revolution, as businesses apply powerful AI and automation solutions to their proprietary data, leverage sensing capabilities inherent within IoT technologies and incorporate blockchain into supply chains. So many business workflows have already been streamlined and made more efficient, but in this next period of developmental change they will now achieve the capacity to learn. Continual optimization will enable businesses to unlock greater talent within their human resources, engaging employees in higher-value tasks.

This could set the stage for considerable challenges within the enterprise, as business culture is notoriously slow to change — but the uncompromising marketplace of our digital era demands it. CEOs, understanding how crucial this issue will become, are ranking investments in people as their top driver to accelerate performance. Beyond the learning organization of the past, executives will now have to foster an exponential learning culture in which employees are empowered to make better decisions far more quickly than before, mastering new skills and technologies with agility as they embark on new career paths. As Forbes notes, for example, the share of jobs requiring AI skills has grown four and a half times since 2013. Businesses with an entrepreneurial mindset are already preparing their workforces for such changes so as to fully capitalize on them in the rapidly approaching cognitive future.

Keys to becoming a cognitive enterprise

Beyond the all-important question of culture, companies will also need to address certain key factors if they hope to successfully transform into a cognitive enterprise. First of all, they will need to clarify what it is they aim to achieve with their smart platform. Differentiating themselves against the competition will be crucial to success, and this will not be possible without a clear understanding of their essence and future identity. Identifying the workflows that will support their strategic direction will be an essential next step. Without these elements in place, there will be no North Star to guide businesses through the disruptive and often challenging journey to becoming a cognitive enterprise.

Continuous sensing and adaptability will also be of paramount importance as the transition begins. Smart executives will identify not just intermediary steps toward completing the transformation, but they will also cultivate a keen awareness of shifting platform competitiveness and be alert to changes in the environment that could impact the enterprise’s trajectory. Leveraging the power of newly cognitive workflows and artificial intelligence capabilities will be especially valuable in this regard. Enterprises will also need to ensure that their proprietary data is adequately architected for this to be possible. And lastly, any business hoping to advance into the cognitive era must see that its data, processes and platforms are secured from end to end. Otherwise, it risks compromising trust in the platform that it seeks to offer.

Although today’s businesses face many challenges in transforming themselves into cognitive enterprises, incredible opportunities — potentially even the ability to disrupt an industry or access an entirely new market — also await them. For enterprise executives that desire to truly raise the bar and revolutionize the way they run from within and without, the time to begin preparing for a cognitive future is now.

Written By

Rose de Fremery

Writer

Rose de Fremery is a New York-based writer. She currently covers business IT topics such as technology innovation, mobile strategy, unified communications, CRM and marketing automation, IT management, and the virtual workforce for HP, Intel, Vonage, and IBM Mobile Business Insights.…

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