Digital Transformation

Based on excerpts from his new book Digital Transformation

As Shawn Dubravac wrote in Digital Destiny, “Humanity is entering a new era. Beyond the mere acquisition of ever more digital devices with ever more incredible functionality, the immediate future will usher in the all-digital lifestyle and an ‘Internet of Everything.’ The transformation of our lives will be breathtaking.”

Digitization is all the rage, and it’s hard to find an organization that is actively resisting its siren call. We are in the early stages of the digital age and it is becoming clear that no organization or individual is going to come out the same. This means that organizations and individuals can act in several ways. One can resist and fight the digital era with all their might. One can go with the flow and select those things that we deem good in the digital era and reject those that don’t seem to fit at the moment. Another approach is to creatively embrace this new age and really take advantage of it. While I am in that latter camp, I believe that smart organizations and people will try to educate themselves about the changing face of the digital trend, and that looks to be a long journey.

Like any journey, knowing where you want to end up and calculating the best path there is a best practice. The digital journey has a twist on this best practice. You can only plan one leg of the journey at a time. What you learn in the first and subsequent legs will determine where you go next and where you ultimately end up. Digital Transformation is different from the “fail fast and fail often” and the “static plan and manage” approaches in that it combines aspects of both. There are planned targets and paths, but the effort exercises innovation through experimentation along the way.

There will be risk, innovation and experimentation, but the stakes here are huge. Organizations and individuals that do nothing will face a slow and painful death. The suggestion here is not to “go off the rails,” but intelligently embrace the digital era in a phased approach that is aimed at learning and adjusting. Organizations will be building for change with technologies that are optimized on controlled change. Organizations that embrace digital will dominate in their respective areas of operation and will be ready to respond to many emerging trends in economic, geopolitical and industrial scenarios.

The floodgates have opened on a number of extremely advanced technologies: secure mobile & social collaboration, Web scale cloud integration, Internet of things, 3D printing, customer journey mapping technologies, advanced poly-analytics and data mining, big & fast data, signal & pattern processing, augmented visualization & reality, block chain, cognitive computing & robotics, context rich policy, rule & constraint management, and biotech & nano materials. Taken individually, these advances are awe inspiring. Taken together, the nexus of these forces creates a never before seen mosaic of the future, a digital future. A mosaic is a composition of diverse elements that make sense only when seen as a whole, e.g. not by focusing on individual elements.

Similar to viewing an exceptional art mosaic, observing any of the environmental forces or enabling capabilities in isolation prevents one from recognizing the broader fundamentals in play. The entire picture does not emerge until the viewer steps back and embraces the ‘ah ha’ moment of the overall mosaic, one in which the powerful message is revealed through the inter-related elements operating in concert.” For example, squint and peek through your eyelashes and see who the famous person is in this mosaic portrait by Salvador Dali. (Hint, Abe Lincoln). So it is when viewing the Digital Mosaic as a whole, and not the technologies in isolation.

Digital Mosaic

But Wait!

Something big, really big, stands out among the pieces in the digital mosaic, and more significantly, it affects and dominates all the rest. It’s called Cognitive Computing.

Cognitive Computing

The era of cognitive systems is dawning and building on today’s computer programming era. All machines, for now, require programming, and by definition programming does not allow for alternate scenarios that have not been programmed. To allow alternating outcomes would require going up a level, creating a self-learning Artificial Intelligence (AI) system. Via biomimicry and neuroscience, Cognitive Computing does this, taking computing concepts to a whole new level. Once-futuristic capabilities are becoming mainstream. All is changed, changed utterly:

Connect Professionals to Automated Personal Assistants / Agents: With the advent of cognitive computing and machine learning, we can now supercharge employees with the ability to think assisted by many super computers that are linked for purpose as well as integrating multiple problem domains and approaches. Automated personal assistants can read through millions of pages of data, information and knowledge to suggest alternatives. This is the emerging secret sauce that will change the specialist equation toward better customer care.

Cognition: Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses. A result of cognition is a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition which may or may not result in an action. Cognitive services are not predictable algorithms, but may use inference, statistics and algorithms in combination. Cognitive services (COGs for short) will be as plentiful as algorithms in the Digital Economy.

Cognitive Computing and Robotics: This is at the minimum the simulation of human thought processes in a computerized model. It involves self-learning that involves data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the way the human brain works. Cognition can be added to mechanical actions embodied in a robot either specialized or generalized. At a maximum, there could be controlled robots or drones involved with the operations; pipeline inspections for instance. We’ve already witnessed the arrival of autonomous robots.

Don’t just take my word for it:

Artificial Intelligence is likely to change our civilization as much as, or more than, any technology that’s come before, even writing.
--Miles Brundage and Joanna Bryson, Future Tense

The smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT.
-- Gartner “The Disruptive Era of Smart Machines is Upon Us.”

Without question, Cognitive Computing is a game-changer for businesses across every industry.
--Accenture, “Turning Cognitive Computing into Business Value, Today!”

The Cognitive Computing Era will change what it means to be a business as much or more than the introduction of modern Management by Taylor, Sloan and Drucker in the early 20th century.
--Peter Fingar, Cognitive Computing: A Brief Guide for Game Changers

Let’s give Ginni Rometty the last word. IBM’s CEO thinks every Digital Business will become a Cognitive Computing Business. “If it’s digital, it will be cognitive.”

So there you have it. It isn’t just about Digital Transformation, it’s all about Cognitive Business Transformation.

Jim Sinur
Author: Jim Sinur
Jim Sinur is an thought leader in applying business process management (BPM) to innovative digital organizations. His research and areas of personal experience focus on business process innovation, business modeling, business process management technology (iBPMS), process collaboration for knowledge workers, process intelligence/optimization, business policy/rule management (BRMS), and leveraging business applications in processes. Jim, a former VP with Gartner, is now a VP at Aragon Research. He is also one of the authors of BPM: The Next Wave and Digital Transformation: Innovate or Die Slowly.

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