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Applying AI: Accenture exec cites customer opportunities

The task of applying AI, digital thread and augmented reality to here-and-now business challenges is much on the mind of Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive at Accenture Digital. Sutcliff discussed those technologies with SearchITChannel in a recent email interview. Here are some excerpts from that interview with Sutcliff, who spoke on AI and digital transformation at last month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona:

What are the top three real-world issues companies are trying to solve by applying AI? Where is the opportunity for Accenture in those areas?

Mike Sutcliff: We [saw] a lot of interest from clients in discussing applied [AI] with us at Mobile Word Congress. The first thing the companies we talk to want to know is: How can AI help my business deliver more compelling customer experiences? This is where we have been seeing very good results. For example, by using machine learning to process huge amounts of customer data, we’re able to provide customers and business buyers with more enriching interactions and experiences. Applying AI to data can help connect an online customer with the right insurance product in real time or enable pharmaceutical sales representatives to approach healthcare providers with the right solution for their patients.

The second thing our clients typically are interested in is using AI to enhance the employee experience, drive productivity, increase engagement and empower their people to make better decisions.

Finally, they want to learn about how AI can influence business models. This is a longer-term undertaking that requires an examination of how existing operating models can be reconstituted around the customer using automation.

In conjunction with Mobile World Congress, you predicted that of the internet of things, applied AI, AR and edge analytics will open new opportunities for manufacturers. Can you provide more detail on how that combination of technologies will affect manufacturing companies? Are we talking about things such as digital twins and the digital thread?

Sutcliff: The IoT, AI, AR and edge analytics are already transforming the business of manufacturing companies. We’re witnessing a profound shift of industrial manufacturing to digital products, which we call Industry X.0.

Take IoT technology and edge analytics: This combination can significantly improve equipment uptime, reduce maintenance costs, lower spares inventory and prevent critical failure. For industrial equipment companies, this creates the opportunity for new business models.

The adoption of these technologies is directly correlated with a company’s ability to master the digital thread. Digital twins — the virtual replication of industrial products — and digital threads — their life cycles — allow organizations to replicate entire manufacturing processes and product life cycles on the computer and make them available, for example, for simulations. Both processes unlock new possibilities for the differentiation of smart products and the realization of new sales: Anyone who can sell products that include their digital twin is offering customers significant added value.

AI and AR also hold tremendous promise for manufacturing. A recent Frontier Economics and Accenture study showed that AI has the potential to increase economic growth rates in manufacturing by 4.4% by 2035. Meanwhile, leaders in manufacturing can use AR to address some of their biggest pain points, whether workforce training, day-to-day productivity or customer experience, by reducing limitations associated with distance.

Digital assistants are becoming ubiquitous, but what work has to take place behind the scenes to optimize their value and make them truly useful for organizations? 

Sutcliff: The main issue we’re seeing with digital assistants is that organizations are taking a technology-first rather than [an] experience-first approach. If we start by focusing on the user experience, we’ll be able to make smarter, more informed choices about the technology that is best suited to bring that experience to life. This would result in less frustration and more real connections. By putting the user experience first, organizations will have an easier time finding creative ways to narrow the technology gap and to provide human-centric, service-oriented solutions.

Learn more: SearchITChannel earlier this year discussed how partners are grappling with the challenge of applying AI. You can also find out how GE uses the digital thread in a customer database and read about the role of AR in the New England Patriots’ digital transformation.

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