Multimedia Reporter

This Covid-19 pandemic has caused disruption, uncertainty, and even heartache for a lot of us. In a lot of other ways, however, it’s also been a turning point for many companies in different fronts – including technological.

The current pandemic has been a powerful force of disruption, and an unprecedented tragedy, said IBM’s Arvind Krishna during his company’s Think Digital conference last week.

“But it is also a critical turning point,” he said, marking his first keynote address as IBM’s new CEO. “It’s an opportunity to develop new solutions, new ways of working and new partnerships that will benefit your company and your customers, not just today, but for years to come.”

Investing in AI is not optional

Because the crisis has exposed many enterprises’ vulnerabilities, organizations are now adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and hybrid cloud-based IT architectures. These key technologies enable them to build agility and resiliency into their networks now, as well as prepare them to embrace emerging technologies like 5G and edge computing.

Companies that don’t invest in AI and cloud computing will find themselves at a profound competitive disadvantage. “I’m predicting today that every company will become an AI company—not because they can, but because they must,” Krishna said.

This prediction is something that Rob Thomas, Senior Vice President of IBM Cloud & Data Platform, agrees with. “I like to think the crisis we’re dealing with, it’s going to accelerate perhaps what was going to happen anyway—that’s the opportunity in front of all of us,” Thomas said in his Think Digital presentation, “Act, Don’t React: How AI and Automation Will Change the Way You Work.”

Digital transformation matters

Digital transformation means putting artificial intelligence at the center of workflows, Krishna explained, and using the insights generated from that process to constantly improve products and services. A hybrid cloud architecture powers this using open source software, making companies more secure and allowing them to quickly adapt to changing client demands and market conditions.

Among the companies that are currently benefiting from this setup include the airlines operator Lufthansa, which employs AI to assist them in decisions both big and small. “We truly believe that if we provide the right data at the right point in time, enhanced with AI and analytics, we provide an even better experience for our customers,” said Mirco Bharpalania, Lufthansa Group’s head of Data & Analytics. “We also help our employees make the right decisions.”

AI is also helping package delivery company UPS manage real-time data to cut costs and boost efficiency. “Getting that culture of innovation is something that we see as key for the future of AI and data science at UPS,” said Mallory Freeman, director of Data Science and Machine Learning at United Parcel Service Advanced Analytics Group. Through its smart logistics networks, UPS saves around 100 million miles each year, which conserves 10 million gallons of fuel and $50 million.

A better working culture

It’s a brave new world, and firms that invest in AI and automation will have an edge over the others that don’t. “People are more open to AI now. AI won’t replace managers. It’s managers who use AI that will replace managers who do not,” Thomas asserted in a pre-conference event.

“If you’re entirely dependent on in-person meetings and email in order to make decisions and evaluate progress and communicate, it’s a pretty rough transition,” noted Stewart Butterfield, chief executive and co-founder of the collaboration software company Slack.

But the public health crisis has also created the impetus for “deliberately making some changes,” he added. “So, hopefully for some companies, they actually come out with a better working culture on the other side of this.”