Companies continue to prioritize AI and cloud for innovation investment, according to the latest Transforming Business poll

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Contactless payment with facial recognition technology.

  • Cloud and AI top the list of innovation investments by companies according to the latest Transforming Business poll.
  • Companies are still figuring out all the applications of these technologies.
  • Racial and gender biases in AI applications are issues no company can ignore.
  • Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

Companies continue to prioritize AI and cloud as key investment targets as they strive to innovate and drive growth into the future, according to the most recent Transforming Business poll.

Actionable data insights are a key outcome for these applications. “Many businesses are looking to streamline their operations and make them more efficient, as well as find new insights and connections in their data,” said Victoria Petrock, principal analyst at eMarketer. “They are turning to AI to help them achieve competitive advantage.”

While it might seem like AI and cloud are ubiquitous and widely utilized, companies are still figuring out all the ways it can change their business. Laura Urquizu, CEO of Red Points and one of the 100 People Transforming Business in Europe, wrote in an article for Insider that AI and machine learning had vastly improved customer experience by creating more personalized shopping experiences and increasing brand loyalty.

But the insights available via tools like AI and the cloud can do much more than some companies have figured out. “No matter how important customer experience is, however, it is a mistake to believe it is the only operational area that can (and should) be transformed using technologies like these,” Urquizu wrote. “The efficiency of your internal operations – your support team, supply chain, production, inventory, quality control, human resources, and so on – can all benefit from applying AI and ML technologies.”

The opportunities vary by industry, of course, and the global pandemic has created opportunities to put AI to the test as never before. BenevolentAI, whose CEO Joanna Shields is one of this year’s Transformers, used its technology to analyze vast quantities of scientific research, ultimately surfacing a drug treatment that has been used to treat moderate-to-severe COVID patients.

“One positive outcome of COVID-19 is that it has united science and tech for good, accelerating data-sharing agreements and encouraging the open publication of research results.” Shields told Insider. “This new environment of collaboration has provided a glimpse of the beginnings of a more open and adaptable R&D model that can accelerate the delivery of innovative and life-changing outcomes for patients.”

Innovation has not come without problems, however. AI applications have come under fire, demonstrably shown in some cases to reflect racial and gender bias in hiring tools, and voice and facial recognition.

Tech companies and their customers are under pressure to address these injustices with a appropriate urgency.

“[Businesses] must find a way to provide AI with the right data inputs, and give it instructions to behave in the most ethical way possible, ignoring and unfolding historical biases and to be confident in leaving the business’ past behaviors behind,” Michael Feindt, a 2020 Transformer and strategic advisor at Blue Yonder, a digital fulfillment and supply chain solutions provider, wrote for Insider.

It is possible, Feindt said, to apply these tools to actually combatting discrimination and inequity.

“Simply put, it’s down to us whether AI is a force for good or a force for bad. If you can provide it with data and instructions that are designed to shape the world in a certain way, AI will do that,” Feindt wrote. “So if businesses are willing to put in the time and effort to set things on a fairer course, AI can set about fighting discrimination and injustice.

This SurveyMonkey Audience poll targeted individuals who work in a management capacity at their company according to the Audience panel. They included respondents from Hong Kong (n=50), Singapore (n=50), The United States (n=207), Canada (n=104), France (n=52), the United Kingdom (n=51), Germany (n=50) and India (n=50), with local translations in Germany and France. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Polling data collected total of 614 respondents March 3-4, 2021.

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Winnie Lee, Appier cofounder and COO, explains how AI and predictive technologies are powering the future of business

Winnie Lee Appier
Winnie Lee, COO and cofounder of Appier

According to a 2020 report from Grand View Research, Inc., the global artificial intelligence market size is expected to reach US$733.7 billion by 2027, of which up to 20% of revenue will come from the advertising and media sector. This is welcome news for Appier, a Taiwan-based startup that provides a suite of AI-powered products to brands and marketers looking to better understand – and predict – their customers’ needs. The company was established in 2012 by Chih-Han Yu, Winnie Lee, and Joe Su, three friends who met while working and studying in the US. Eight years later, the company has attracted upward of US$182 million in investment, making it one of Taiwan’s highest valued startups. Insider spoke with Winnie Lee, Appier cofounder and COO, about how AI and predictive technologies are powering the future of business.

Insider: In the eight years Appier has been in operation, the company has grown rapidly to where it is now valued at over US$1 billion. What has driven this growth?

Lee: I think there are three key elements. One is technology advancement. The second is the product solutions we build. And the last one is the business execution. These three are very critical to our growth. The first two echo back to the company mindset of having market-driven innovation. We need to make sure that any innovation is really addressing the market needs. This allows us not only to drive the technology advancement within the team, but also to think from the customer’s point of view – what would really make their lives easier? We need to develop products that are solving the end user’s problem but we also need to continue to drive the AI development. Both are very crucial to us.

At the same time, Asia is composed of so many different countries and if you want to grow as a company you really need to understand each market that you enter. We have been operating in 14 cities across Asia and in each city we hire people from the local market because we believe they will understand the customers there. Through this interaction between each business team from each market to the product team, we can fast iterate our product and make sure it is meeting everyone’s needs.

Insider: Why did Appier choose the marketing and sales sector as its area of focus?

Lee: What we had observed is that as businesses started to go digital, the first piece of data they want to digitize is the customer data. As an AI company, if you have very clear goals and sufficiently relevant data then you can help those companies to utilize their data and improve continuously and can easily show your value. However, if you enter a field that has very little data then it becomes almost impossible to prove your value. That’s why we chose to start in the marketing and sales domain.

Insider: What are Appier’s strengths compared to other marketing solutions companies such as Salesforce and IBM? How does the company differentiate itself in the market?

Lee: We are different in two ways. The first is that most other companies tend to group their products by functions. We are unique in that we are trying to think from our customer’s perspective and how they can map their business challenges on a day to day basis against the solutions we can offer.

The second difference is that we are actually an AI-native company. When we started the business, our aspiration was to use AI to empower businesses to use their own data. Everything we design and everything we sell is surrounded by this idea or concept. We are almost an ‘AI as a service company’. Not just a SaaS company, but more an intelligent software company. There are a lot of companies that are trying to add AI into their software. When we design a product, the AI capabilities are already built in.

Insider: Over the past few years Appier has acquired a number of tech companies, such as Japanese AI solutions provider Emin. What is the thinking behind this acquisition strategy?

Lee: When we want to expand our product portfolio, our first logical thought is to look around in adjacent fields and see which area would make the most sense to enter first. Once we have identified a specific area, we start to scan the market. If we don’t find anything close to what we want to build then we just go ahead and build it. But if the functionality that we want is already there with another company, then we would consider whether that company would be a good target for us.

For example, Emin was in a sector that we wanted to enter, which is optimizing transactions for businesses. However, their AI technology was not as advanced. After we had acquired them, we injected our AI capabilities into the platform and now the performance of that platform has become a lot better compared to what it was before.

Insider: Predictive AI – the ability to analyze historical data to predict future behavior – is an emerging field in marketing. How do you see this evolving?

Lee: In the past few years there has been a lot of focus on solving data collection and data organization problems. But from our perspective, the challenges that marketers face is not only this but also managing this increased amount of data and being able to continuously understand their end users.

Predictive AI is the trend the industry is moving toward right now. Turning data into insight is of course important, but how to turn data into insight and then into action is even more important. Within our suite of solutions, we focus on building this predictive capability instead of just providing insight and analytics to the customers. We want to help them actually turn data into action. Reactive approaches based on historical data is useful, it’s still important, but how do you predict future behavior or the future action you should take? This proactive approach is going to be critical for most companies.

Insider: The three cofounders all met while studying and working in the US. Why did you decide to bring the technology back to Asia?

Lee: Growing up here, we knew that we have very strong tech talent, a very strong software talent pool in Taiwan, which was not obvious to the rest of the world back then. In addition to the talent pool, Asia has been a great place to grow a business. There is a lot of growth and a lot of companies needing solutions like ours.

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CEO of data analytics firm Quantexa shares how digital resilience and data-driven decision-making will determine which businesses thrive in a post-Covid world

Quantexa CEO Vishal Marria
Quantexa CEO Vishal Marria

It’s no secret that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant missed opportunity in enterprise data and analytics. In fact, at least three-quarters of companies today have limited their use of analytics and fail to capitalize on the operational decision-making opportunity of modern data intelligence. Organizations often struggle to operationalize analytics into the day-to-day business. However, businesses have begun to realize that state-of-the-art decision intelligence requires a blend of machine intelligence with human intelligence to ensure optimal decision-making. Applying graph representations to high performance data sets is fast becoming an imperative to modern decision-making success.

Digital resilience is the new watchword in a post-COVID-19 world

The ability to respond and adapt quickly to new situations has never been more stark than during the pandemic. The crisis has taught organizations that a new level of agility and digital resilience is needed across ecosystems, partners and the supply chain. The focus for any would-be intelligent enterprise should evolve the capabilities created to manage the impact of Covid-19 into productive analytics hubs, capable of using leading indicators to predict and react to future risk with greater frequency, while simultaneously discovering hidden future opportunities. Those that fail to implement an effective enterprise data model enabling the foundation for resilient decision-making by 2021 are forecasted to underperform on profitability by 10% according to IDC.

Data at the core – but how can you trust it?

The volume of data being created is quickly surpassing the rate at which computing and storage systems are being developed. According to IDC, the amount of data available will be enough to fully occupy a stack of tablets measuring 6.6 times the distance between the moon and the earth by the end of this year. The point is, both external and internal data are growing at such a rate, 26% year over year, that ensuring data is available in a meaningful, operationalized way is becoming more important as a core discipline. By definition, the volume, velocity and variety of big data is creating huge operational pressure – called the data-decision gap.

According to KPMG, 56% of CEOs don’t trust the integrity of their data. That said, when the analytical models and technology they use to guide decision-making work with untrustworthy data, they naturally doubt its recommendations. It’s become important to understand the context of your data so you can reveal the unseen and, in some cases, unexpected connections that either create risk or opportunity.

A new generation of intelligent decision-making

The lack of a single, trusted view of data across an organization is a serious obstacle to data-driven decision intelligence. Without this, decisions can’t be automated in an accurate or efficient way, and individual entities such as customers and transactions, cannot be properly and fully understood and analyzed. However, reliable data integration, especially at scale, is difficult, which is why data becomes stuck in multiple silos – inhibiting the connected single view and holistic, contextual analysis that is desired. Traditional rules-based approaches to decision support are not sufficiently agile or resilient in today’s uncertain and rapidly changing business and geopolitical environment – advanced analytics, machine learning, and AI are needed to empower users or automate key processes.

The good news is that new approaches and innovations to data and analytics show a path forward for maximizing the value enterprises can get from their data.

Entity resolution and network generation, surfaced through graph analytics, are key to understanding relationships and behaviors of customers and third parties in the supply chain, resulting in better, faster operational decisions. By integrating the right data, decision makers can become empowered as their new insights come from finding explainable links between fully understood, trusted data in a single view provided by entity resolution.

Machine learning to deliver big, but not without human input

Less than 15% of analytics adopters have made progress with automated decisions. This is a big problem, especially when dealing with large complex data sets. Deployment of fully automated operational decision-making moves analytics from reactive reporting to active, intelligent, and real-time decision-making. As more tasks are automated, the enterprise can focus more on differentiating work.

The key to this is augmentation – combining the best of human and machine intelligence. This allows repeatable routines of work to be fully automated and exceptional cases requiring fine judgement to be dealt with by humans. A great benefit of augmented analytics is that it accelerates the formulation of new data and analytics capabilities which, in effect, can be adapted to the skills, needs and problems of different classes of business user, which extends the reach of analytics across an organization. By maximizing the value of human and machine intelligence, there is a clear path to creating an effective data-driven enterprise.

Organization implications – creating the ability to adapt

To shift to a data-driven enterprise, business leaders need to reimagine how they operationalize the data they consume and analyze. The key to this is gaining a trusted, contextual, connected single view of the vast amounts of data that now exist for better decision-making.

Analytics now drives today’s enterprise, from formation of business strategy to powering operational excellence. Creating a culture of collaboration and getting the best out of humans alongside machines is crucial. Analytics has clearly moved from being an optional extra to serving as the core of decision-making, so creating a data-centric contextual decision intelligence framework has never been more important.

The C-suite and all business leaders need to spearhead a change across the enterprise to help drive adoption and utilization of advanced analytics. Before the pandemic, data and analytics were already the new competitive differentiators. But now, creating the right level of digital resilience across an organization that can adapt and change quickly in response to external pressure and threats will set the foundation for the enterprises that ultimately survive and thrive. The key questions we should all be asking ourselves are how well do we trust the data that we use to make decisions?  And how can organizations implement decision intelligence to ensure future sustainability and growth?

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How Salesforce COO and star exec Bret Taylor has steered the cloud giant through a tumultuous year to help companies adapt to an ‘all-digital, work-anywhere economy’

Bret Taylor Salesforce
Bret Taylor, Salesforce COO

Salesforce chief operating officer Bret Taylor played a key role in the firm’s $27.7 billion deal to buy Slack, putting the exec in the spotlight near the end of a tumultuous year in which he’s leaned on his experience and expertise to help guide the firm. 

Taylor acted as the main Lisson to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and Salesforce CEO Benioff publicly praised him on an analyst call following the announcement:

“I couldn’t be more excited about what Bret and Stewart put together,” he said. 

Taylor has risen rapidly through the ranks at Salesforce since he joined the company four years ago via the acquisition of his collaboration tool Quip and is widely believed to be the next in line to Benioff thanks to his prominence and vision within the company. 

For example, he leaned on his experience as an entrepreneur who built a collaboration tool to extol the benefits Salesforce could gain from Slack.

“Slack is really one of the few companies in the history of software that set out to change the way people work and actually succeeded,” he said at the company’s annual investor day. “We truly believe this is the next generation of the way companies work together.”

His role at Salesforce this year earned him a spot on Business Insider’s annual list of the 10 leaders transforming enterprise tech.

Salesforce went through executive upheaval at the beginning of the year, and then needed to shift gears as the coronavirus pandemic began raging through the world.

“Every single industry overnight went digital,” Taylor told Business Insider in a July interview. As the needs of Salesforce’s customers adjusted, so did the company. 

Here’s how Taylor is leading the firm as it adjusts to what he describes as an “all-digital, work-anywhere economy”: 

Rising through the ranks at Salesforce

From the moment Taylor started working at Salesforce, he was reporting directly to Benioff, who had said it was his “dream to work more closely” with the young “rising star.” 

A year later, he made the leap to the C-Suite, becoming president and chief product officer – a role he held until December 2019 when he became the company’s chief operating officer. He now oversees global product vision, engineering, security, marketing, and communications, taking on a greater leadership role with more influence over the future of Salesforce.  

Taylor’s background is much more product-focused, rather than sales focused like Keith Block or Benioff. Before co-founding Quip, Taylor was Facebook’s chief technology officer. He gets credit for creating its “Like” button an helped lead the company through its IPO in 2012. Before that, he was at Google, where he helped found Google Maps.

“What we see with Brett is, bringing that deep product knowledge, the understanding of how dev teams work,” said Valoir analyst Rebecca Wettemann.

Quip’s office suite tools are now embedded directly into Salesforce tools like Sales and Service Cloud. Earlier this year Salesforce also took the infrastructure and technology it acquired from Quip and added built in chat features to its customer relationship management tools.

How Salesforce is pursuing its product vision during a pandemic 

Since Taylor joined Salesforce, the firm has been building its platform with the goal of offering clients a “360 degree” view of their customers across sales, service, marketing, commerce, and other customer touchpoints. The goal is to make the customers of Salesforce’s clients feel like they’re interacting with the same brand or company no matter what their needs are. 

That got even more difficult as the entire customer experience changed. 

“Across our portfolio – across sales, customer service, marketing, e-commerce – we’ve really tried to work on digital technologies that are relevant in an era where a huge percentage of your customer and employee interactions are digital,” Taylor said in July.

Part of that 360-degree approach is “speaking the language of our customers,” which has increased Salesforce’s focus on building industry specific tools, like its Health Cloud and Financial Services Cloud. 

Taylor is also behind Salesforce’s new tools to help companies and public agencies reopen their facilities safely. Thirty-five state and federal agencies are now using Salesforce’s tools for contract tracing, as are countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The pandemic has shown businesses that it needs software to help it deal with all types of crises, and Salesforce wants to be the one to provide those important tools. 

The tools were developed because Salesforce executives asked, “How can we have a culture of action to help every community and every business reopen safely?” Taylor said. “But behind that is actually a robust platform that really will endure.”

It’s relied on partnerships with companies like Amazon, Zoom, and Workday for this initiative. 

The Slack deal is also a big part of that goal, Taylor said at the company’s investor day, because “Slack amplifies the value proposition of this entire platform.”

Over the last six months, under Taylor’s leadership, Salesforce has displayed “much faster development and time to market,” according to Valoir’s Wettemann.

Embracing remote work across the company, customers, and products

Embracing distributed and remote work didn’t come naturally to Salesforce, but it has managed to adapt, Taylor said. “We’re famous for having towers in every major city in the world,” he said in July. “We weren’t exactly a company that was oriented towards distributed work, and now we’ve proven to ourselves we can do it.” 

A few months later in November, Taylor told Business Insider that Salesforce execs are now asking themselves what practices they want to continue doing even after the pandemic ends.  

“Our answer is likely a hybrid model that optimizes for distributed and in-office work,” he said. “It’s an exciting opportunity because it opens up recruiting in a big way and gives employees a lot more flexibility if we do it right.”

On the company’s earnings call earlier this month, the company said it plans to scale back its multi-million square foot office footprint and expects to write down between $80 million and $100 million for offices it will offer for sublease during its fiscal fourth quarter.

To influence the company’s thinking and product direction, Taylor has also spent time this talking to executives who are “trailblazers” of distributed work. That’s long been part of Salesforce’s culture: Rather than just selling software, it aims to act as a partner and advisor to its customers as they undertake massive digital change, which allows it to learn from them in turn. 

“I think we’re unique in technology because we really lead with our values,” Taylor said, “and we really try to sell to not just technology leaders, but to business leaders, who aren’t necessarily looking at technology for technology’s sake, but looking at it to achieve an end.”

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