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HomeThe Cognitive Enterprise

Building the Cognitive Enterprise

A blueprint for AI-powered transformation


We are at one of the tipping points in history where the impact of technology on business is significant enough to transform the whole way that business gets done.

We are at one of the tipping points in history where the impact of technology on business is significant enough to transform the whole way that business gets done.

The convergence of new exponential technologies such as AI, automation, IoT, blockchain, and 5G have the power to change business models, reinvent processes, and reimagine the way we all work. We call this the emergence of the Cognitive Enterprise™.


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Mark Foster

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, Senior Vice President, IBM Consulting



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As organizations attempt to make this shift toward the Cognitive Enterprise, they should consider three important guidelines:
  • Organizations must work to secure both the human and machine elements along intelligent workflows, data sources, their attendant applications, and the underlying infrastructure.
  • Security of business platforms will be critical to trust and their longevity, but companies need to balance this with frictionless customer and employee experiences.
  • The ecosystem of business platforms requires an open network approach to security across all parties, driving collaboration and insights at speed.
There is no fixed recipe or definitive roadmap for the journey to the Cognitive Enterprise, and organizations are at very different starting points and stages. We do, however, think that whatever the starting point, focusing on the action areas we have outlined in the plan that follows will reinforce the likelihood of and accelerate the pace of success.
Market-making business platforms
A “market-making business platform” is the most fundamental component to get right first. It is the new instantiation of the business strategy and the clear North Star for the investment priorities and change initiatives required to shift to the future. We call the platforms “market-making” because they need to be focused, critical, and impactful, whether they reinforce competitive position within an industry, shape a new role in an industry context, or open up cross-industry market opportunities.
Sometimes an internal enabling business platform (for example, talent, finance, or risk management) can be strategic enough to set the company’s agenda. The choice of platform focus and the degree of doubling down on investments that the enterprise makes, therefore, define its core intent and narrative for the future.
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To establish market-making business platforms, organizations will need to instill new rigor and focus to move beyond experimentation, sidestep cognitive chaos, and balance stability with agility. Organizations will need to focus on the following action areas:
1
Double down on “big bets”
Make “big bet” platform choices and align the organization, assets, resources, and investments to rapidly scale and sustain the continued evolution of the platform.
2
Create a new business blueprint
Embed governance in a more open and transparent business architecture to enable rules, inform decisions made at the edge, and allow for the rapid reconfiguration of organizational components to create a new target operating model.
3
Orchestrate compelling change
Establish control towers to monitor early warning indicators, orchestrate change in real time, and develop iterative and proactive change management.
Intelligent workflows
“Intelligent workflows” are the extended end-to-end or front-to-back processes that, through the application of technology at scale, define the customer experience and economic outcomes at the heart of the new business platforms. Organizations need to identify the most important workflows and related value pools in front-, middle-, and back-office areas that will differentiate the company or industry.
Once clear, organizations can apply the right combinations of exponential technology, leverage the power of targeted data, and enable these workflows with next-generation applications in a reinvented hybrid cloud IT infrastructure. Then, relevant capability layers can be architected, transitioned, and built out in service of the intelligent workflows and business platforms. Together, they deliver huge potential for cost optimization and wider value realization, as well as future-proofing the enterprise.
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Intelligent workflows are the starting point for market-making platforms, and a framework for reskilling and new ways of working. For that all to happen, organizations will need to focus on the following action areas:
1
Embed exponential technologies to change ways of working
Apply exponential technologies to build highly dynamic and intelligent workflows that radically change how work gets done and new experiences are designed. Teams that span functional boundaries can work in parallel, iteratively, and with greater degrees of autonomy to unleash exceptional productivity and innovation.
2
Drive value from data
Leverage curated data across intelligent workflows to mine the most important value pools. Establish robust governance to engender trust in your data and AI models so that decisions can be pushed out to the front lines of the organization.
3
Deploy through hybrid multicloud
Adopt hybrid cloud to access data and put it to new use, house intelligent workflows, and modernize applications in a flexible, open, and de-risked manner. Use the journey to the hybrid cloud to bridge the divide between business and IT.
Enterprise experience and humanity
Perhaps the most essential component of the Cognitive Enterprise is what we have termed “enterprise experience and humanity.” Ultimately, for all the technology centricity of this new world, it is the power of the “human wrapper” that envelops and leverages this technology that will be the core of lasting differentiation.
The concept of “experience” is now extending from the customer to the employees that serve the customer, the enterprise itself, and the entire ecosystem to provide a seamless environment of value and purpose. Human-centered design is becoming an ever more important aspect of the business platforms and workflows, as well as the systems that underpin them. The Cognitive Enterprise will therefore demand a new kind of leadership, emboldened by deep technology insights, and require new skills and culture to embrace this exponential potential.
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Creating a new enterprise experience, therefore, requires organizations to seamlessly interweave AI and other new technologies with the people who will use and benefit from them, while also cultivating a culture of continuous learning, adapting and applying what’s learned. To do this effectively, organizations will need to focus on the following action areas:
1
Elevate human-technology partnerships
Embed the enterprise experience everywhere, which includes understanding how the organization’s purpose: shapes the customer, employee, and ecosystem partner experience; ensures a continuum between them; and establishes the human-centered design that is the foundation of innovation.
2
Cultivate smart leadership, skills, and culture
Develop leaders with a combination of business and technology acumen and the capacity for open engagement beyond traditional industry networks, who are accountable for creating a continuous learning and skills culture and proactively managing the redeployment of skills along intelligent workflows.
3
Perform with purposeful agility
Drive purposeful agility that optimizes the flow of value and time to market, infuses structure to avoid agile chaos even as the organization lets go, and unfreezes the organization to move fast as it reinvents its core.
A new way of building: Garage
As organizations apply exponential technologies and reshape their workforces to build the business platforms and intelligent workflows of the future, they would seem to be embarked on a sure-footed path. But this shift in direction and decision-making creates uncertainty and a need to work differently. How does an organization innovate quickly while keeping appropriate guide bars in place to reduce the risk of disarray? The answer: Garages.
In becoming a Cognitive Enterprise, how a company transforms its business platforms and reengineers its workflows can make the difference between coherence and chaos. The IBM Garage™ approach is the perfect vehicle to initiate, execute, and reinforce the journey.
Organizational agility is essential, but implementing “agile” is not enough, and rapidly multiplying decentralized iterations can spiral out of control. To help mitigate the risks of rapid change, organizations need the right methods, mindset and technology to convene and unlock the power of teams across an organization.
A new way to grow. A new way to compete.
As leaders have discovered, it’s time to move beyond the exploration of what exponential technologies can do and—if they haven’t already—begin breaking ground on a new construct, the Cognitive Enterprise.
This shift from experimentation to scale to impact is a massive undertaking. It is the province of leaders asked to orchestrate value in ways once unimaginable and now attainable. To learn more about the Cognitive Enterprise, download the Deep Dive and Core Concepts reports.

IBM Garage
Innovate with the speed of a startup at the scale of enterprise through the IBM GarageTM
A bold, comprehensive approach to innovation and transformation that brings designers and developers together with your business and IT stakeholders to quickly create and scale new ideas that can dramatically impact your business.
Learn more
IBM Garage
Innovate with the speed of a startup at the scale of enterprise through the IBM GarageTM
A bold, comprehensive approach to innovation and transformation that brings designers and developers together with your business and IT stakeholders to quickly create and scale new ideas that can dramatically impact your business.
Learn more