How To Boost Competitive Advantage with Cognitive Computing

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Between AI-powered chatbots and gadget-based voice assistants, cognitive computing capabilities have captured the public imagination. But consumer products are just the tip of the iceberg.

Under the surface, cognitive computing adoption in the business world is growing rapidly.

In fact, IDC predicts that global spending on cognitive systems will grow to more than $31 billion by 2019. And 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.

The reasons for this growth are clear.

Cognitive computing capabilities range from machine learning and natural language processing to large-scale systems that can reason and learn. These capabilities promise to unlock new intelligence from vast quantities of data and to develop deep, predictive insights.

Companies that have already adopted cognitive are finding transformational outcomes. According to a new IBM study “The Cognitive Advantage,” such organizations’ achievement range from increased efficiency and customer engagement to product innovation and business growth.

Emerging patterns of use

Pioneering organizations are pursuing product and service innovation as a top cognitive initiative — to research, rapidly develop and deploy new offerings. They’re also pursuing information technology (IT) and business process automation as well as enabling decision support systems that infuse organization-wide knowledge.

There are also clear patterns of adoption from specific functions with an organization. Since IT is typically the test-bed for new solutions and the nervous system for organization-wide initiatives, it’s a common entry point for cognitive adoption, followed by data analytics, customer service and operations.

Benefits are accruing

What’s evident from the experiences of these organizations is that the more they do, the more they get. Those that start early on cognitive initiatives realize greater benefits. And because cognitive applications and systems continually learn and adapt, this leads to even greater outcomes over time.

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 their business in new markets — outcomes that may take center stage as cognitive adoption matures.

Customer service, for example, is an area where cognitive solutions are increasing customer engagement and driving personalized experiences through targeted recommendations and communication.

For businesses, another significant outcome is improved productivity and efficiency. For example, users can take advantage of cognitive technology to improve learning experiences by supporting the development of educational tools and customized programs for students, employees and customers.

Taking the cognitive leap

Cognitive adoption can be organic and evolve as companies experiment and start seeing benefits from their initial efforts, even starting small with application programming interfaces (APIs).

At the same time, cognitive doesn’t always require organizations to mine unstructured data to find value. Value comes from new ways to understand and extract insights from any data, whether it’s structured or unstructured.

End goals also differ widely. Some organizations mine new or existing data for insights to use for themselves.

But increasingly, companies are looking to embed or integrate cognitive into broader solutions that they can offer to their own customers. That could include insights about the market or customer behavior, preferences and buying patterns readily available without having to deal with the underlying cognition processes.

Whatever the case, the most successful cognitive initiatives tend to start with a specific business needs and grow from pilot projects to be fully functional. As the growing body of evidence indicates, taking the first step forward unlocks cognitive advantages.

To learn more about the new era of business, join us at the IBM Insight at the World of Watson or visit

This story first appeared on Forbes.

Vice President Marketing, Cognitive Business, IBM Watson

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