Research Director, European Software Group
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UK local councils are not generally known for being on the leading edge when it comes to technology adoption, although UK central Government’s push for digitization of services amidst rapidly shrinking budgets means that they are no longer seen as backwaters of IT.
Nonetheless, it was something of a surprise to many when Enfield Borough Council’s adoption of IPSoft’s Amelia intelligent assistant was announced. This is an outstanding example of how quickly cognitive computing technologies are hitting the mainstream in Europe. Amelia is a cognitive software agent that can take on a variety of roles, such as IT service desk responses or advising mortgage brokers on which products are suitable for their customers. Amelia can “understand” human language, learn through observation, and determine what actions to take in order to fulfill a request or solve a problem. Enfield is seeking to improve front line support services to citizens while reducing operating costs: Amelia can link to and initiate workflows in other systems through APIs as well as giving natural language responses to its users.
Enfield – and Amelia – are by no means isolated examples. In the transportation industry, Virgin Trains is using Celaton’s inSTREAM to tackle the labour intensive administrative tasks and decision making in handling customer emails. InSTREAM has learned and is able to read, understand meaning/sentiment, categorise and recognise key information within customer emails as they are received – leading to an 85% reduction in staff. Meantime IBM’s Watson, which is based on a somewhat different approach, but is another clear example of the march of cognitive systems, is being used quite widely around Europe; for instance, Scandinavia’s Novo Nordisk is working with IBM to create a “virtual doctor.”
Furthermore, we are keeping a close eye on Dutch-based ERP vendor Unit4, which is piloting a cognitive, intelligent assistant approach to complement its standard ERP systems. This could soon turn out to be the most commonplace business example of intelligent assistants, as Unit4’s “Wanda” will be able to help the average person like you and me to easily fill in expenses, make a corporate travel booking, or navigate arcane company purchasing systems, joining the dots between these disparate systems and reducing friction by intelligently interpreting and indeed anticipating our requests.
One notable thing about this kind of technology is how quickly people personify the system: we note that users and IPSoft quickly start to refer to the Amelia system as “she” – just as we have seen with Apple’s Siri, and indeed with Unit4’s Wanda. It seems that a key success factor for suppliers could well lie in personalizing the service in this way – Google’s Now certainly hasn’t captured the mind share that Siri has, whereas Amazon’s Alexa quickly established a niche. The natural human trait to anthropomorphize our computer systems is something that smart marketers can exploit.
IDC predicts that by 2020, 50% of all business analytics software will include prescriptive analytics built on cognitive computing functionality; but this revolution goes much wider than analytics into front- and back-office operations. We are seeing the stirrings of a major revolution in the way knowledge work is sourced and executed, with profound implications for many types of businesses, from banks and telcos to borough councils to the huge Indian offshore outsourcing companies with their vast armies of knowledge workers. Academics and business writers have been predicting this for some time, but it’s become a here-and-now reality. In a few years, Amelia at Enfield may well be seen as a landmark moment in the coming cognitive-driven work source revolution.