For all the potential benefits artificial intelligence (AI) promises—from automating business processes to deriving insights from massive data sets—it’s still a challenge for most enterprises to bring to life. Many organisations are trying to move too fast by deploying AI without properly strategising around how it will connect within the enterprise. Siloed data stores and a lack of connectivity between enterprise applications impede AI’s ability to drive business outcomes.
While still in its early days, the opportunity to automate manual tasks and gain new insights to support business decision-making could have a huge impact on organisations. AlphaBeta, for example, estimates that AI will put $2.2 trillion into Australia’s economy by 2030 through productivity gains.
However, the bottom line is, if enterprises do not invest in giving AI the connected nervous system it needs, it is nothing more than a brain in a jar.
Data is the backbone
If utilised correctly, AI can be one of the most powerful tools for maximising efficiency and delivering vital business insights. However, AI’s value hinges on the data behind it. For many organisations, a data backbone or lack thereof is what respectively makes or breaks a successful AI deployment.
AI needs data in order to ‘learn’ and deliver insights. If the quality or structure of the data is compromised, AI’s ability to provide businesses with competitive insights will be severely limited. Just getting access to the data can be problematic for AI. Organisations are often restricted by the fact that data is locked up in siloed systems and applications. As a result, just getting that data into an AI engine, let alone gaining any insights from it, can prove challenging.
Gaining access to siloed data isn’t the only challenge. Extracting value from AI also depends on an organisation’s ability to supply AI with the right data, especially when it’s disaggregated across silos as it so often is. This is where enterprises must lay the foundation for connectivity between systems and data stores to fully realise the power of AI.
Powering up the brain
Perhaps the biggest challenge that organisations face when deploying AI is overcoming the misconception that AI can plug into any enterprise like a new, intelligent brain. In reality, AI is a disconnected brain that cannot function without a nervous system that helps it take action – whether this means automating tasks or crunching data. Organisations that leap straight into AI without first laying the correct foundations, will generate huge technical debt absent of any agility to course correct when their AI strategy misses the mark.
Key to that foundation is recognition that the full potential of AI is about more than just gaining insights. The true promise of AI is realized when those insights are turned into actions. However, for this to be a reality, it needs to connect into enterprise systems and apply its findings in a real-world context. This requires more knowledge of its environment and, most importantly, a fabric of connectivity to allow it to take those actions. Without this framework in place, AI is nothing more than a brain that can think but not act.
Connecting the data dots
The AI brain, just like its human counterpart, needs a nervous system to function. What this nervous system looks like is an application network, which enables AI to plug in and out of any data source or capability that can fuel or consume the intelligence it creates.
But when it comes to breaking down silos, the point-to-point integrations of the past can no longer serve modern enterprises, particularly those that are looking to leverage AI to drive transformation. In today’s AI world and into the future, organisations need a more fluid approach that will allow them to react instantaneously to change, decouple complex systems and turn their technology components into flexible, reusable building blocks; blocks that are based on APIs.
API strategies enable organisations to easily connect together any application, data source or device into a central nervous system where data can freely flow. This application network is how the AI ‘brain’ can plug into a business’ digital ecosystem to consume its data, provide valuable insights, and ultimately take action.
While AI still isn’t commonplace in most enterprises, the potential for mainstream uptake is here. If organisations can overcome connectivity challenges, they will unlock AI’s potential to uncover valuable new insights and automate repetitive tasks, freeing up time to focus on more value-added activities.
Ross Mason is the founder and vice president of product strategy at MuleSoft