Leveraging artificial intelligence for decision-making
The unbiased decision-making that comes from data being plugged into algorithms can inform rather than replace strategic decision-making, David Kenny, general manager of the “artificial intelligence as service” IBM Watson unit, told CEOs attending the Summit. For example, when an HR department receives an overwhelming number of applicants, computer models can help cull through the onslaught and generate a list of qualified candidates for a new hire. “In a lot of cases, the answer is in being able to look at the folks who are successful now and replicate that,” explains Kenny, who noted that removing human bias also helps guard against legal issues by ensuring that qualified candidates aren’t overlooked.
“We all bring our biases to the table,” he said. “If I am a recruiter searching through documents, I am exercising some kind of bias and prejudice. By having algorithms in place, you can take those out. We believe there is a certain human interaction that has to happen, but that using technologies can narrow the gap.”
In a similar fashion, artificial intelligence (AI) can play a part in helping management weigh strategic decisions. Kenny predicts the day will come when virtually every large company will have a robot director on its board. “If you are considering making an acquisition, selling the business or making a big capital expenditure, there are implicit models that go into that decision-making process that an AI system can use,” he explained. “Then your other directors will add judgment on top of that. The decisions are better when it is the man and the machine working together. From the boardroom right up to every major decision, AI will become a tool in our lives.”
Tackling the talent gap
The current dearth of technically skilled workers is one of the biggest challenges to digital transformation today, agreed many CEOs attending the Summit. While addressing that will ultimately require changes in the nation’s educational system, companies can’t afford to wait for that shift to happen organically, said Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris.
“Infrastructure and materials companies like ours and AT&T have to do it ourselves,” he noted, referring to the need to work with community colleges to design curricula tailored to company needs. “The big opportunity is how to collaborate and rebuild the public education system…because our ecosystem will require more jobs, but of a different skill set.”
Staying ahead of digital disruption
It’s the nature of evolution that the very companies that once innovated their way to success become vulnerable to the next big thing once they reach a certain size. 1-800-Flowers—which revolutionized the floral business by embracing telephone sales and, later, e-commerce—practices constant vigilance in that regard, reported Jim McCann, founder and executive chairman of the company.
The firm was an early partner with IBM Watson, which led to the creation of a digital concierge. Dubbed “Gwyn,” the robot helps its web customers with their gifting needs and will, thanks to machine learning, get to know its craft much the way a floral shop employee learns about floral service over time.
1-800-FLOWERS is also partnering with Uber to speed delivery service, has a chatbot on Amazon Messenger and a partnership with Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, that allows customers to place an order with a voice command. McCann said he identifies such opportunities largely by taking a personal approach to fostering an atmosphere of innovation.
“I run monthly dinners with 10 to 15 people,” he explained. “I ask core talent folks to invite younger newer people and we ask them to bring ideas, anything they do that is new and creative. We have wonderful dialogues. In fact, being early to Facebook was because of a lady sitting next to me who told me how she used Facebook. The next morning I was there with two cups of tea saying, “Show me what you do on Facebook.”