Time is ticking for the Enterprise. Is AI & Blockchain the Answer?

Do you know about the all-mighty powerful mainframes? I sold them to enterprises when big enterprise tech companies had more say over what their customers should and shouldn’t buy. Times have changed and now we’re in a world with empowered buyers who don’t want to be locked in, listen to what their networks are using, and increasingly gravitate towards open and decentralized data and tech (that they have control over — can switch on/off when they want). The new economy requires new thought and new tech (infrastructure, processes, and systems). And we need to all be part of the community that bets on and funds the future with this in mind.

In this post, I share my rough ruminations on the state of the enterprise and the necessity to focus on AI and blockchain to survive.

Times ticking. Enterprises are a dying breed.

Let’s get real. It’s a mess out there. Everyone’s trying to survive a bloodbath of the sped up business life-cycle. The 33-year average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 in 1964 narrowed to 24-years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027.

Source: Innosight

It’s a good thing that big enterprises have woken to the fact that they no longer can leave tech to their IT department and that they are now a cyborg — a combination of their original industry and technology. There’s no getting away from the fact that all companies are now tech companies — harvesting data that they hope to leverage as their “edge” and differentiator to their competitors. Computing power is cheaper (than ever) and enough to do powerful things with the data and automatically make a company more powerful than ever before. So, what’s the problem if we have tools to keep us going?

Businesses are stubborn and weary of new infrastructure, processes and systems. And, it makes sense that executives inner “danger” alarm is going off. New things are always scary and risky business. It’s 100% normal for executives to be thinking, “if we go all out with all this new technology, we may put our businesses at risk.” But the enterprise is between a rock and a hard place, it’s weary but it’s also watching a lot of businesses die fast. So, it only makes sense that “85% of enterprise decision makers surveyed feel they have a timeframe of just two years to make significant inroads on their digital transformation before suffering financially and/or falling behind their competitors.”

“85% of enterprise decision makers surveyed feel they have a timeframe of just two years to make significant inroads on their digital transformation before suffering financially and/or falling behind their competitors.”

Progress: State of Digital Business Report

Knowledge is power, right? Well, only if you can sweep out all the bullshit and clear a path for the future. Clearing out a path requires for enterprises to reconsider outdated infrastructure, processes, and systems and take risks! That’s the only way to truly make inroads and take advantage of today’s tech (and the tech of tomorrow).

Enterprises: Don’t let yourself get stuck and get left behind.

Can old dogs learn new tricks? I’ve spent a third of my life in enterprise tech. I see enterprise struggling and it’s painful to watch. The thing is that we can make things better, if we’re willing to leverage tech.

What about technology?

Tech is not a magical unicorn either. Tech is a tool — an enabler — and until we get to general AI, we’re on our own. Enterprise needs to get back to the basics. Do you even remember what that is? Identify your goals, figure out where you are, where your gaps are, where the challenges lie, address them, execute, adjust …rinse and repeat. Basics.

Enterprises need to have a heart-to-heart with reality and really question whether what they need is more tech, different tech, or no tech. Again, tech is not a magical unicorn. For example, making your teams stay and be productive may not require more tracking or promotion tools but instead good managers that are inclusive — and not the ass-hole types (50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job “to get away from their manager”).

But you said, you think that enterprise should be focused on AI and blockchain. What’s that all about?

Let’s start with AI (skipping the Elon and Mark AI won’t/will kill us conversation) and ease our way to blockchain.

Well, it turns out that enterprises that keep up with tech do better (read “stay alive and grow”). The leaders in AI, happen to also be performing the best. Think of the new breed of enterprise: Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Of course, it’s not just their investments in AI that’s making them come out on top. It is also the data — good data — that they collect, share, and leverage. These companies are continuously working on innovating their infrastructure, processes, and systems. How to become like them — living and outgrowing the other enterprises (look at their performance vs the S&P 500 below).

^GSPC represents the S&P 500 | Source: Yahoo! Finance

First you need to understand AI. AI is pretty easy to understand (it’s not rocket science). It’s tech that at its essence uses data to learn to do stuff and then people can use more tech to do stuff or they can take the lead from AI to take action themselves. If it were only that simple, right?

The reality, like I mentioned before, is that traditional enterprises have produced, collected and leveraged data that is not optimal for AI (e.g., machine learning, deep learning, [choose your term]). All previous data activity has been based and thought to be used on old tech — in-house hardware, software, manned services, cryptic green screen programs that no one can use but you’re stuck with (you name it). You can address this stuff by pulling off the bandage fast.

Ripping and replacing is timely and costly but it must be done. While the tech replacement may be gradual, the thing enterprises need to change fast is the dinosaur mindset. You know how you keep asking yourself why it is that you don’t get startups today? It’s this. Change is not comfortable — open your mind to our new normal: AI.

It’s a no brainer that not all problems will need AI but all enterprises do need to leverage AI. If you’re a business that uses data (who doesn’t?), you need to use AI to keep you relevant and competitive. Maybe it’s only supervised machine learning to automate processes — that’s alright — but just stay on top of the tech shift. It’s no longer an option to use AI, it’s a requirement to stay alive (read more about AI from my HuffPo series here and my AI Overview here).

But, Lolita, AI is a black box. We need to understand what’s happening. We just can’t keep track of what’s happening.

With AI, just keep at it. Get uncomfortable and make mistakes. I guarantee you that computers are more efficient and make less mistakes than humans. So, go on, be nimble and adaptable.

But, sincerely, here’s where the challenge is not really “not understanding” or knowing that AI is a “black box.”

The problem here is again something that is very human: distrust and fear. Yeah. I mean, why would you trust or feel comforted by unknown tech? Oh yeah. Hollywood and Elon Musk (read more, watch less, and think a little).

We need to use our critical thinking skills and accept that it’s not “an unknown evil” tech that scares us — it is our human nature — our reptilian brain — that makes us distrustful and fearful of things (to keep us from dying). So, can we move on? Well… not quite because we’re stuck. This is where blockchain comes into play (no, I don’t mean to talk about ICOs or Bitcoin).

Okay, so you may be wondering: how does blockchain help address our human survival reactions of distrust and fear? Well, fear and distrust is bread from the unknown, asymmetrical information, and lack of transparency. Agreed? Agreed. And humans are distrustful and fearful of new technology, right? Right.

Blockchain, helps with all of that. It allows for everyone to have access to all data, have transparency into data that’s inside records that are permanent. Blockchain helps us with our human paranoia — you can see it all happen and, in theory, it helps everyone trust and be comforted by the new infrastructure, systems, and processes of today and the future.

Not following 100%? Let’s go full circle.

If you’re not following 100% it’s likely because you’re not dyslexic (like me) but, if you are, I’m excited to hear it! Let me pull all the elements together for you in a bullet point list:

  • the life-span of enterprises is shortening
  • enterprises recognize there is a need to keep up with technology
  • enterprises may think they have it all because they have a lot of data (but it’s likely a crap-shoot)
  • enterprises need to evolve from old to new infrastructures, processes and systems
  • enterprises need to leverage AI to stay relevant (but people will distrust and fear what they can’t understand)
  • enterprises need blockchain to organize and manage our new data-transaction reality (it also helps appease distrust and fear of the unknown)

Do you see the writing on the wall?

We’re going through a messy shift in how our world works. Enterprises need both AI and blockchain to live and continue to grow.

But I can’t imagine what you’re talking about. What’s an example of how enterprise AI & blockchain plays out in the real world?

Simple example: the life-cycle of your kale (from seeds to kale to the store to your table). AI can help give kale seeds optimal levels of nutrients, watering, etc to make sure it grows healthy and strong. Blockchain can track it’s process on its ledger — kind of like how Domino’s app shows you the progress of your pizza to delivery — and when you get your box of kale, you (as an end-user) can look it up in the ledger to make sure it’s good. Once you confirm it’s been verified, you can happily consume your highly nutritious and fad-filled kale. For the enterprises producing and selling it, progress of the kale’s life-cycle can be tracked and, things like e-coli breakouts can be prevented.

Conclusion

Enterprise needs to invest in AI and blockchain. R&D is a great place but considering this is all emerging tech, enterprises will do well in seeking innovative products, services, and solutions from the startup world. Enterprises, like Boldstart’s Ed Sim’s suggest, will need to embody Venture Capital — and invest in the space. Some enterprises are getting it, and they’re pouring money into the space. Once example is MState in New York. Keep an eye on them.

Other thoughts: I believe that AI and blockchain are the foundational blocks for the success of the rest of emerging tech. I’m particularly interested in how this materializes in Enterprise AI & Blockchain. I’ll explore that in another post.

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About Author: Lolita Taub is a TEDx speaker and keynote, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, an artificial intelligence enthusiast, and an enterprise tech professional and investor at Portfolia. She holds 9 years of enterprise B2B software-hardware-and-services sales experience at IBM, Cisco Systems, and in Silicon Valley. Lolita has been recognized for her work on Forbes, Inc.com, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and Los Angeles Times, among other publications.

Follow Lolita on Twitter @lolitataub and connect with her here.

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