AI is Now at a “Disruptive” Service Level

AWS's Richard Busby discusses how adopting technology prevents organisations from being disrupted.


Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have been hot topics in recent years. But how well are these technologies understood and adopted by organisations?

Richard Busby, Principal Solution Architect at Amazon Web Services, discussed how the adoption of these technologies can be more easily achieved by organisations at CxO Disrupt, New Zealand.

Drawing on Amazon’s technologies such as Echo, Alexa and Polly, Busby highlighted how technology should be a key part of your business strategy.

The Two Types of Disruption

Before exploring the power of AI, Busby explained that there were two definitions,  or ‘types’, of disruption.

“The first is a product to commodity substitution… That’s a type of disruptive innovation that you should see coming,” Busby explained.

To illuminate the theory he used the common PC as a reference point. While the purchase and assembly of computers were complex 30 years ago, they have now become a utility and are readily available.

“The second type of disruption is this product to product substitution, and that’s where someone comes into the market with something that’s completely left field that you’ve never seen before and you couldn’t predict. These are the types of disruption that can upend entire industries and turn incumbent providers on their heads.”

This second definition is what creates the renowned ‘disruptors’ that organisations typically fear and try to prepare for.

Busby also drew on Clayton Christensen’s theory that although one organisation may create a mature, feature-complete technology, the price and complexity consequently rises too. This provides other organisations with an opportunity to create a more cost-effective alternative.

This is “good enough for a segment of the market so they start using that because it’s cheaper, innovative and it’s faster. So the disruptive technology is… where a new challenger in the market can offer something that’s very basic at the start and then expands upon them to get more and more market share.”

As a result, the organisation providing the simpler, cheaper option eventually becomes the dominant market player.

Here, Busby highlights the importance of using a mapping technique, such as Wardley Maps, to look at these components separately and understand how they will develop over time; this is how organisations can become disruptors themselves.

Reduce the Barrier to Entry

Busby explained that like all disruptive technologies, AI used to require a certain skill-set in order to understand it, but it is now emerging as a technology that a multitude of companies want to adopt.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning is moving from being something that’s genesis or custom-built, into something that’s becoming more of a commodity.”

This can be useful to organisations as they provide new engagement models for their customers. By understanding how customers are interacting with a business, they can begin to predict their customer’s needs.

“Once you’ve gathered a bunch of data on what customers do, how they’re acting, then you can apply machine learning, analytics and big data techniques to a mass of data and start working out trends and patterns.”

Therefore, AI and machine learning, such as technologies like Amazon Echo and Polly, reduce the barriers to entry.

Amazon Echo is a smart speaker that listens to voice commands, processes them and responds accordingly, while Amazon Polly uses deep learning technology to turn text into speech. Polly currently boasts 47 voices in 24 countries, and this is only set to improve as the technology becomes more widely used.

Utilising these technologies can bolster an organisations digital strategy. One example was how Capital One bank in the United States have adopted Amazon Echo to advance their customer interactions.

Although Busby highlighted the potential security issues of using Echo for banking purposes, Capital One ensured this was maintained by combining it with their mobile app to verify your identity.

Richard Busby, AWS. Source: CxO Disrupt, Auckland.

“If you ask it any sensitive questions, such as bank balances or transactions, it’ll actually send a pin code to the app on your phone and you can then read out the pin code into Alexa,” Busby said.

Seize the Opportunities

Most customer interactions are now through digital means, whether this is mobile, web or apps. This provides organisations with a plethora of data they could use to better understand their customer, but many are failing to recognise this.

Referring to the low cost of storing customer data, 3 cents per gigabyte, Busby argues “you may as well store all of this data with your systems because the potential use of it down the track is high and the cost of storing it is very low.”

A key pain-point related to storing this data is how to analyse it, and Amazon Athena reduces the complexity of understanding this data. This allows anyone in the IT industry to more easily run a server-less query, and therefore provides easily-digestible information on their customers.

With Amazon Athena offering a pay-as-you-use service, organisations have easier access to the tools needed to advance in the digital age.

Busby explains this is only possible if you have the correct mind-set.

“Ultimately, what this all comes down to is experimentation and being able to make it easy for people to experiment inside your organisation.”

Overall, every organisation fears an organisation such as Amazon disrupting their industry. Busby’s insights revealed that adopting technology and utilising the tools and data available will ultimately prevent this from happening by keeping you at the forefront of the technical world.

Finally, organisations should not be restricted by fear. According to Busby, failure is not something to be feared; this is how Amazon have progressed so quickly.

“We try to fail all the time because if we only ever stay in our safe zone… we’ll never get better at offering customers increased value and better services.”