Cognitive computing—think of it as artificial intelligence that learns rather than is just programmed—is no longer a futuristic aspiration. From voice assistants to the supply chain to your social feeds, cognitive technology is a rapidly spreading reality. In fact, within the next two years alone, half of all consumers are expected to interact with cognitive technology on a regular basis, even if they don’t realize it.
But the real growth potential of cognitive computing is in the business realm where the market is expected to grow to more than $31 billion by 2019. And according to a new IBM study “The Cognitive Advantage,” early adopters are already gaining significant advantage from pursuing cognitive initiatives.
Not just for the enterprise crowd
While cognitive systems might have once seemed the domain of larger companies, there are innumerable startups jumping into the market, developing niche solutions underpinned by cognitive capabilities for everything from automated sales planning and forecasting to disaster recovery prediction engines.
These smaller companies are not just creators of cognitive solutions, they’re also avid consumers. According to the study, cognitive computing is considered a key differentiator and a competitive advantage for small and large companies alike. Sixty-five percent say that adopting cognitive is very important to their organization’s strategy and success. And 58 percent say it will be a must-have for organizations to remain competitive within the next few years. Seventy-seven percent of advanced organizations already use it for product and service innovation, and many are prioritizing function-based cognitive initiatives in IT, data analytics and operations.
Not just for foundational gains
As is often the case with emerging technology, many early adopters focus on immediate benefits. Nearly half of them increased productivity and efficiency while reducing costs by adopting cognitive initiatives. Others focus on customer-centric goals—for example, 49 percent of early adopters used cognitive solutions to improve customer service and to drive personalized experiences through targeted recommendations and communication.
While strides in customer-centric or operational goals can be transformational on their own, some companies have an eye on growth-oriented outcomes such as expanding their ecosystem or growing the business in new markets—outcomes that may take center stage as cognitive adoption matures.
Not just a professional developer play
Professional developers were quick to get on board, but cognitive computing has spurred the rise of a new player—the business developer. Forty-seven percent of early adopters report business user experimentation as a primary driver of cognitive initiatives in their organization—this is directly on par with developer experimentation as a key factor in accelerating adoption. This new class of business developers has been propelled by the rise of the API economy as well as access to low-code development platforms that allow users to create solutions without having to rely on in-house development or IT teams. In some cases, cognitive capabilities like NLP even allow business users to stitch together applications using natural language to the point of achieving no-code development.
Another factor in the democratization of cognitive computing is the move to open source key technologies, with major contributions from key industry players. More than half of early adopters already use open source cognitive tools, and 74 percent of developers in these organizations are enthusiastic about its role in their initiatives. This will increase innovation, while also helping to establish standards for ongoing development and widespread adoption.
Previously published on IBM Social Business, October 19, 2016.