Forget the future: intelligent transformation is already at work

Stuart Constable

Thursday 7 March 2019

Intelligent transformation is here and it’s making digital transformation look like old-school thinking. But if you’re already involved in digital transformation – and who isn’t? – where does digital stop and intelligent start?

 

Sylvain Ansart, Technical Architect with Lenovo, ignores his crystal ball and sets out some practical and, dare we say, intelligent ways to take control of a perpetually unknown future.

 

I’m reading more and more about the need to think beyond digital transformation and focus on the outcomes. But I’m pretty sure you’re already way ahead of this.

The customers I speak to always want to set clear objectives for their transformation programs and have a detailed understanding of their next steps. Outcomes have always been the drivers of change.

For me (and, I suspect, for you) the real issue is this: how will the future affect the outcomes you are already planning to achieve?

The only reliable prediction about the future is that you will be wrong about it. Once you accept that, you have a basis for planning and even for innovation that can help you prepare for anything.

Let’s look at two of the biggest drivers of what is now being called intelligent transformation. The websites across our industry are drenched in talk of artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT).

We must transform, we are told, because these technologies are going to change our world in ways we cannot even imagine. This may be true, but it is not very helpful. If we can’t imagine them, how can we prepare for them?

It pays to interrogate these ideas a little deeper. Then, we find that AI and IoT are not the unimaginably futuristic concepts they are so often made out to be.

After all, I’m using AI as I type this. Microsoft Word is guessing what I’m going to type next with some level of accuracy, even though English is not my first language. In a moment, I’ll be using Excel to run complex cost-benefit calculations for a customer’s transformation project.

So when we talk about robots, or software that will enhance human capabilities, the fact is that it actually happened a long time ago. We will very probably improve the man-machine interface, but the concept is already well established.

Which also illustrates another key point about the uncertain future that awaits us. These new, unimaginable technologies will not inevitably replace human beings. Instead, they will replace the more unrewarding and dangerous tasks we do and create new kinds of work that keep us rewardingly and gainfully employed.

I do not wish to sound complacent about this. It is true that the pace of change always creates a lag between the impact of the technology and the reskilling of people to do the new kinds of work.

But economic and, perhaps more importantly, demographic history tells us that the lag is likely to be proportionate to the rate of change. Once, it may have taken a generation for new kinds of work to be established, but change unfolded at that kind of pace. Today, we take phenomenal rates of change in our stride. And the generations coming through are even more agile in their expectations and willingness to experiment with new things.

Even those of us who have been around for a while can look back and see how we have kept adapting, learning new technologies or even new concepts. So, although the pace is getting faster and faster, it is not impossible to cope with.

This is why our customers are not waiting to see what the future will bring. They are working with us to invent the future now and put the systems in place that will adapt and flourish as the wider impact of future developments is felt.

One example is the retailer that is using video cameras and edge computing to gather movement and picking data in warehouses. The cameras can send an alert when a worker places an item on the wrong pallet, and can also detect when they are forced to use inefficient paths through the warehouse.

No one needs to view the footage; the cameras are effectively used as IoT sensors, generating reports that can allow changes to the picking system to be made. Life gets easier for the workers and productivity and efficiency can be transformed.

There’s that word again: transformation. But transformation with immediate local relevance, sending real-time intelligence to the people who can apply it on the spot. This is the kind of future that we can create for ourselves with confidence.

I am sure this is not the last blog you will read with ‘transformation’ in its title, and it is probably not the last one I will write. But with the emergence of intelligent transformation as a meaningful concept, I am excited by the prospect of more conversations about purposeful change that delivers tangible and lasting reward.

Building the next-gen data centre

Where traditional and web-scale apps co-exist