February 20, 2018

AI, Big Data Are Meshing–and Disrupting

George Leopold

Data analytics, big data and artificial intelligence are widely seen by banks, manufacturers and technology firms are part of a “continuum” as they begin to derive value while girding for growing competition from data-driven startups.

That’s the conclusion of the latest survey by a respected technology consultant that found big data and AI are “virtually indistinguishable” as machine learning and other automated approaches are deployed to cope with large volumes of fast-moving data.

New Venture Partner’s annual big data survey includes top executives from 57 corporations, most in the financial services sector that is driving AI deployments. Among the goals, respondents said, are meshing AI and big data to inform decision making, improve customer service and reduce operating costs.

Nearly all (97.2 percent) of respondents said their companies are investing in building or launching big data and AI initiatives, and more than three quarters agree that the proliferation and availability of data is empowering AI and cognitive learning initiatives within their firms.

Further, 73 percent said they are deriving tangible benefits from big data and AI investments. “That number is half again higher than in the 2017 survey, which suggests that more value is being achieved as companies grow familiar with the technologies,” co-author Randy Bean, CEO of New Vantage Partners, noted in a summary of the survey results posted to the Harvard Business Review.

As AI is leveraged to improve data analytics, senior executives also expressed concerns that agile startups are poised to disrupt their industries. Those concerns were prevalent in the rapidly evolving “fintech” sector where big data approaches are now entrenched. For example, AI was seen by 72 percent of those polled as most “disruptive,” well ahead of cloud computing and digital ledgers, or blockchain.

The survey found that only about one-third of companies surveyed believe they have succeeded in making the transition to a “data-driven culture.” That total has not risen in several years, the survey authors noted,

Part of that transition is creating the executive role of chief data officer. More than half of this year’s respondents held that title, followed by chief analytics officer and chief data scientist. The latter two categories combined for 15.3 percent of survey participants followed by chief information officers (13.9 percent). Tellingly, more than three-quarters work in the financial services and insurance sectors.

These practitioners have found ways to use big data as a way of “empowering” AI, the survey found. “Perhaps for the very first time, organizations now have ready access to meaningful volumes and sources of data which are providing AI solutions with sufficient meaningful data to detect patterns and understand behaviors,” the survey concludes.

While corporate data efforts are coalescing around chief data officers, with 62.5 percent of those polled saying they have created the position, many are still struggling to define the CDO’s role. That organizational issue reflects ongoing challenges that extend beyond technology challenges.

For example, nearly half of those polled cited “people challenges as the greatest barrier to becoming data-driven” organization, while only about 19 percent cite AI and other data technologies as issues.

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