How P&G and American Express Are Approaching AI

Editor’s Note: We curate relevant and remarkable content about data, analytics and customer experience for our CxO Hangouts community. Here’s an interesting piece written by Thomas H. Davenport and Randy Bean, published in Harvard Business Review

There is a tendency with any new technology to believe that it requires new management approaches, new organizational structures, and entirely new personnel. That impression is widespread with cognitive technologies — which comprises a range of approaches in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and deep learning. Some have argued for the creation of “chief cognitive officer” roles, and certainly many firms are rushing to hire experts with deep learning expertise. “New and different” is the ethos of the day.

But we believe that successful firms can treat cognitive technologies as an opportunity to evolve or grow from previous work. For firms that have been producing results with big data analytics, machine learning isn’t too much of a stretch. If firms had previous experience with expert systems, they are familiar with some of the necessary organizational and process changes arising from contemporary cognitive tools. These firms are likely to have already established the organizational structures needed to nurture and spread new technologies and business approaches. And they have well-honed approaches for developing the requisite new skills in employees.

Two good examples of combining well-established practices with cognitive technology to achieve business success are American Express and Procter & Gamble. Both firms are actively undertaking cognitive technology initiatives.  Both are well into their second centuries; they wouldn’t still be here if they weren’t able to accommodate change well and introduce new technology effectively. We spoke with top executives at each of these firms about the rise of cognitive in their organizations. Ash Gupta is President of Global Credit Risk and Information Management at American Express, and Guy Peri is Chief Data Officer and Vice President of Information Technology at P&G. Both executives have longstanding track records of success at their respective organizations, having seen business and technology change come and go for 20 years or more.

Both organizations have a considerable history with artificial intelligence. Gupta at American Express reminded us of the Authorizer’s Assistant, which was one of the more successful rule-based expert systems of the late 1980s. As described in a popular Harvard Business Review article on that generation of technology, the system made recommendations to human authorizers whether to approve large purchase transactions by cardholders.

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