Does Your Business Need That Tempting Technology?

Does Your Business Need That Tempting Technology?

Unless it proves useful to your business, it was a distraction.

Recent posts have focussed on advice when using Data Science or Data Visualisation. Now it’s time we returned to focussing on commercial realities. One lesson, I learned as a senior customer insight leader, was not to get distracted by what one CEO called “hobbies”.

By that, he meant ideas, passions or technical innovations that, whilst interesting, are not relevant to what the business needs now.

When coaching leaders, I still encounter businesses wasting money & time on hobby technology. So, let’s review a few recent articles focussed on business realities.

In this post, I’ll share a fascinating review of how AI is being used in today’s businesses. Plus, a summary of how insurers are using wider data sets in their digital transformation. Switching sectors, we’ll see how industrial companies are benefitting from IoT. Finally, as a salutary warning, I’ve included a damning critique. It’s a critique of IBM overhyping Watson (risking both their brand and wider perception of AI).

So, let’s begin a new month of content. We’ll focus on business applications of dataanalyticsresearch & insight.

Is AI proving useful to your business?

As promised, let’s start with the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published an excellent article. It summarises the findings of their survey. Asking 3,073 senior executives about the reality of how they were using AI.

The findings are a useful counter to over-hyped media coverage. Whilst also being an encouragement that real progress is being made. HBR found that 41% of businesses were still at the pilot stage. So, there’s still time to catch-up if you haven’t started.

A third of early adopters surveyed are able to cite revenue increases as a result, so this matters. HBR include some helpful recommendations for how to progress. I particularly liked the portfolio approach that they advocate. When advancing use of  insight in businesses, I’ve also found it helpful to diversify. By that, I mean a mix of:

(a) short-term profitable incremental improvements;

(b) longer-term riskier innovations.

HBR recommend another regular piece of advice from this blog. Don’t allow IT or Digital to lead your AI implementations in isolation. Business-led collaborations are a much surer path to achieving embedding & sustainable change.

Is Big Data useful to your business?

Next, let’s risk moving on to the world of Insurance. As this next post acknoledges, its a sector that can be boring, especially in the minds of consumers. Raconteur Magazine published this piece. It summarises how insurers are throwing off their musty image. By embracing the need for digital transformation they are also using wider data.

Examples include advice on your driving behaviour from telematics. Plus, automatic calling of emergency services if you have a crash. More well known will be use of health trackers by Vitality to offer rewards & change behaviour.

A less well known example may be the emergence of Brolly as a digital version of an intelligent broker. Capturing more data & using machine learning, it has considerable promise.

Another reminder that progress is not advanced as vendors suggest, but still positive. The potential for insurance sector is huge. But, digital transformation projects need to consider data & insight aspects.

Is the Internet of Things (IoT) useful to your business?

But use of IoT is not limited to consumer facing businesses. Devices from smart watches to smart homes may get more press coverage, but don’t ignore manufacturing.

In another good read from Raconteur, they share how IoT is impacting product production. It may surprise you that the top 3 industries for IoT investment are manufacturing, utilities & transport. But, there are good reasons why.

From predictive maintenance, to intelligent inventory management there are many benefits. Industrial giants like GE have already demonstrated the potential of industry platforms. Now, IoT enablers manufacturers to learn more about the real use of their products.

Consumers benefit through faster fixes. Product designers can get some of the benefits of ethnographic research. Data flowing from consumers all the way back to the factories that made the device. Machine learning enabling more intelligent design refinement.

It may well be that the industrial value chain proves full value of IoT long before fancy new gadgets in the shops. Several of the points made in this article also read across sectors. So, worth reading for product innovators everywhere.

Related: Lessons to Learn From Theresa May's Brexit Letter

Is IBM Watson useful to your business?

Now, I need to be careful here. I have no direct experience of using IBM’s flagship product. So, this is not a personal review.

But, I want to include this biting critique, because it speaks to a wider malaise. On Gizmodo blog, Jennings Brown lays into the over-hyping of Watson by IBM. In my experience many technology vendors make the same mistake all the time. Whether it’s Big Data solutions, Data Science toolkits or IoT platforms.

So, in a month when we will focus on business applications, take note. If it sounds too good to be true, it (almost certainly) is. The comparison to President Trump is biting, but a great soundbite.

What is clear is that IBM needs to realise the value of transparency. I am old enough to have worked on Expert Systems and Neural Networks in the 1990s. One of the reasons that AI revolution died out was over-hype and black boxes.

Businesses need pragmatism and honesty from their suppliers. I hope the progress being made by Machine Learning libraries for R & Python help open it up. Greater understanding of techniques being used and limits of those methods would help.

Perhaps it takes such public shaming to encourage vendors like IBM to change. Stop promising to change the world, start by changing how you work with businesses.

Is your use of technology useful to your business?

This post opens our monthly theme focussed on business applications. I hope it has given you pause for thought.

Perhaps you are currently considering investment in Data ScienceBig Data or IoT? If so, as a customer insight leader, I encourage you to think about your business.

I’ll share more in coming weeks, about how your role needs to balance both commercial & customer benefits. How you use technology is a key part of that judgement.

Paul Laughlin
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Paul is the founder of Laughlin Consultancy, a business that enables companies to maximize the value of their customer insight. This includes growing their bottom line, improv ... Click for full bio

China's Push Toward Excellence Delivers a Global Robotics Investment Opportunity

China's Push Toward Excellence Delivers a Global Robotics Investment Opportunity

Written by: Jeremie Capron

China is on a mission to change its reputation from a manufacturer of cheap, mass-produced goods to a world leader in high quality manufacturing. If that surprises you, you’re not the only one.

For decades, China has been synonymous with the word cheap. But times are changing, and much of that change is reliant on the adoption of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, or RAAI (pronounced “ray”). For investors, this shift is driving a major opportunity to capture growth and returns rooted in China’s rapidly increasing demand for RAAI technologies.

You may have heard of ‘Made in China 2025,’ the strategy announced in 2015 by the central government aimed at remaking its industrial sector into a global leader in high-technology products and advanced manufacturing techniques. Unlike some public relations announcements, this one is much more than just a marketing tagline. Heavily subsidized by the Chinese government, the program is focused on generating major investments in automated manufacturing processes, also referred to as Industry 4.0 technologies, in an effort to drive a massive transformation across every sector of manufacturing. The program aims to overhaul the infrastructure of China’s manufacturing industry by not only driving down costs, but also—and perhaps most importantly—by improving the quality of everything it manufactures, from textiles to automobiles to electronic components.

Already, China has become what is arguably the most exciting robotics market in the world. The numbers speak for themselves. In 2016 alone, more than 87,000 robots were sold in the country, representing a year-over-year increase of 27%, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Last month’s World Robot Conference 2017 in Beijing brought together nearly 300 artificial intelligence (AI) specialists and representatives of over 150 robotics enterprises, making it one of the world’s largest robotics-focused conference in the world to date. That’s quite a transition for a country that wasn’t even on the map in the area of robotics only a decade ago.

As impressive as that may be, what’s even more exciting for anyone with an eye on the robotics industry is the fact that this growth represents only a tiny fraction of the potential for robotics penetration across China’s manufacturing facilities—and for investors in the companies that are delivering or are poised to deliver on the promise of RAAI-driven manufacturing advancements.

Despite its commitment to leverage the power of robotics, automation and AI to meet its aggressive ‘Made in China 2025’ goals, at the moment China has only 1 robot in place for every 250 manufacturing workers. Compare that to countries like Germany and Japan, where manufacturers utilize an average of one robot for every 30 human workers. Even if China were simply trying to catch up to other countries’ use of robotics, those numbers would signal immense near-term growth. But China is on a mission to do much more than achieve the status quo. The result? According to a recent report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), in 2019 as much as 40% of the worldwide market volume of industrial robots could be sold in China alone.

To understand how the country can support such grand growth, just take a look at where and why robotics is being applied today. While the automotive sector has historically been the largest buyer of robots, China’s strategy reaches far and wide to include a wide variety of future-oriented manufacturing processes and industries.

Related: Smooth Tomorrow's Market Volatility With a Smart Approach to Robotics & AI

Electronics is a key example. In fact, the electrical and electronics industry surpassed the automotive industry as the top buyer of robotics in 2016, with sales up 75% to almost 30,000 units. Assemblers such as Foxconn rely on thousands of workers to assemble today’s new iPhones. Until recently, the assembly of these highly delicate components required a level of human dexterity that robots simply could not match, as well as human vision to help ensure accuracy and quality. But recent advancements in robotics are changing all that. Industrial robots already have the ability to handle many of the miniature components in today’s smart phones. Very soon, these robots are expected to have the skills to bolster the human workforce, significantly increasing manufacturing capacity. Newer, more dexterous industrial robots are expected to significantly reduce human error during the assembly process of even the most fragile components, including the recently announced OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens that Samsung and Apple introduced on their latest mobile devices including the iPhone X. Advancements in computer vision are transforming how critical quality checks are performed on these and many other electronic devices. All of these innovations are coming together at just the right time for a country that is striving to create the world’s most advanced manufacturing climate.

Clearly, China’s trajectory in the area of RAAI is in hyper drive. For investors who are seeking a tool to leverage this opportunity in an intelligent and perhaps unexpected way, the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation Index may help. The ROBO Index already offers a vast exposure to China’s potential growth due to the depth and breadth of the robotics and automation supply chain. As China continues to improve its manufacturing processes to meet its 2025 initiative, every supplier across China’s far-reaching supply chains will benefit. Wherever they are located, suppliers of RAAI-related components—reduction gears, sensors, linear motion systems, controllers, and so much more—are bracing for spikes in demand as China pushes to turn its dream into a reality.

Today, around 13% of the revenues generated by the ROBO Global Index members are driven by China’s investments in robotics and automation. Tomorrow? It’s hard to say. But one thing is for certain: China’s commitment to improving the quality and cost-efficiency of its manufacturing facilities is showing no signs of slowing down—and its reliance on robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence is vital to its success.

Want all the details? Download the ROBO Global Investment Report - Summer Brings Best ROBO Earnings in Six Years or visit us here.

ROBO Global
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ROBO Global LLC is the creator of the ROBO Global® Robotics and Automation Index series, which provides comprehensive, transparent and diversified benchmarks representing the ... Click for full bio