KPMG Partner, Owen Lewis, warns that organisations must not allow themselves to become led purely by AI technology
In a career spanning three continents and 18 years across different industry sectors, KPMG partner Owen Lewis has seen cognitive-computing and artificial-intelligence (AI) technologies move from academia to centre stage in the transformation strategies of global companies.
He completed his PhD in artificial intelligence and financial modelling in the early 2000s and his career has taken him to work for Toyota in United States, Europe and Japan, and for KPMG in Australia, the UK and now Ireland.
Lewis has a keen interest and involvement in the way AI will impact upon our lives and sees this as an important component of organisational transformation strategy alongside people, process and other technologies.
“I have seen the evolution of artificial-intelligence technology over the years and am now advising and helping clients on how this and other technologies and approaches can be used to transform their organisations,” he says. “For example, banks need to be efficient whilst delivering excellent experience to their customers; a somewhat tricky but important balance that needs careful consideration. My role at KPMG is to help organisations transform, build a sustainable, continuous improvement culture and to leverage new and emerging technologies and ecosystems to achieve things that were just not possible until recently.”
He believes the potential for artificial-intelligence and data-analytics technologies is just beginning to be explored. “It can be used to help organisations see the bigger picture, make better decisions, be more informed, for example,” he says. “At present, information and corporate knowledge is stored in different hard drives and departments and in different people’s heads in large organisations, structured and unstructured in form and nature. This can be integrated and interpreted by artificial-intelligence technologies, resulting in new insights and knowledge made available across the whole organisation, effectively joining the dots.”
Customer needs and behaviours can be better understood, allowing organisations to deliver more value and to build more meaningful connections between people’s lives and, for example, their bank, utility providers, health services and so on.
Lewis points out that we are already seeing how emerging technologies with AI capabilities under the bonnet can learn about the behaviour of different customers as well as their needs. Virtual agents can seamlessly look at how we spend money, when we spend it, and so on. “This intelligence lets us know how much we have available to spend in our current accounts, not only based on what we have today but also on likely income and expenditure patterns for the rest of the week or month. As customers we can be more informed and therefore make better decisions on how to spend and save, how we use our energy, how to optimise our time, improve our health and the like.”
How customers and organisations communicate with each other is also being disrupted by new technologies such as chatbots – trained computers that can “chat” to customers to help them with questions, actions and queries – and in doing so support “anytime, anywhere” customer preference.
“It turns out that customers often call contact centres about relatively simple things or variations of them,” he says. “Agents can spend a lot of their time every day answering the same type of query from lots of different customers. Chatbots can augment these services, providing 24/7 service – the technology can also learn over time, enabling it to answer more and more complex queries.”
Another area where the technology is having an impact is journalism. “News agencies are now using the technology to automate sports reporting using scoring and other data from games. Journalism, like many other industries, in my opinion will only ever be augmented by technology. Humans bring colour, humour, culture and other dimensions to reports but automated reporting is already here. Could a computer interpret why Wales played 20 minutes extra just to lose the game against France on Saturday?” asks the keen Welsh rugby supporter.
While the possibilities are enormous, Lewis warns that organisations must not allow themselves to become led purely by the technology. “There is hype that AI will solve all of the problems of the world,” he says. “And there will come a point where it will mature and deliver a lot of its early promise. But we have to understand that technology and even AI won’t provide the answer to everything.
“It is hugely important to continue to think of organisations as people focused. While we will have machines that can make decisions, this will only serve to support and inform those of the people in the organisation. We are moving towards a world where people will be able to focus much more of their time and effort on the value-adding and creative parts of their work whilst allowing machines to play an important augmentation role.
“When prioritising how to adapt and transform for the future, organisations need to think carefully about people, processes and technology. Whilst technology is important and AI will undoubtedly disrupt many business models we currently know, the true value of transformation comes from enabling people to find innovative and more effective ways to interact with each other in our daily lives.”
This article was originally published in The Irish Times on 23 March 2017 and is reproduced here with their kind permission.