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By 5 December 2023 | Categories: feature articles

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If there has been one standout technology trend that has characterised 2023, it has been Artificial Intelligence, being more fully explored by industry leaders at a variety of events.

A prime case in point of this was the recent Dell Technologies Forum, which was a fine return to form for Dell Tech, a year on after the pandemic, and in an event that was the biggest, attendee wise, to date.

Held at Kyalami, the event followed a similar format as previous years, with a morning session featuring a keynote address, and then later, breakaway rooms with individual, partner focused sessions.

The biggest difference in this year's event as compared with previous years was the noted emphasis on artificial intelligence (AI). It served as a stark reminder of how much can change in just one year, and how quickly the technology industry is moving ahead.

Change: The only constant

I couldn’t help but notice that the more things change the more they stay the same, in the sense that at the onset of cloud computing, business leaders were grappling with understanding the challenges and opportunities that public, private and in time hybrid cloud were bringing.

Fast forward a few years and businesses were again grappling with the urgent need to undergo a digital transformation so as to remain competitive and relevant in a digitally fueled economy.

Then, with the sudden onset of the pandemic in 2020, many businesses were grappling once more, with the unavoidable need to digitalise their workforce and implement work from home to ensure business continuity. And in 2023, organisations are grappling yet again, this time with generative AI and what it means for them.

A common thread

The underlying issue is actually the same: does this pose a major threat, or does it herald a significant opportunity? For cloud computing, the debate was between whether it was a threat to security, versus an opportunity for unprecedented efficiency.

During the wave of digital transformation, the question was whether failing to transform fast enough, or in the best possible way, posed a major threat to existing processes and ways of doing business, versus the opportunity to innovate and open entirely new revenue streams for business growth.

And AI, of course, likewise poses questions around potential threats, to existing jobs and even entire industries, versus the opportunity to leapfrog one's business and not just transform, but evolve, the ways one does business.

What became quite clear during the event was that organisations can't run or hide from AI. Nor can they simply deny it or ignore it. The reason may well be because AI is the forefront of Innovation.

As Doug Woolley, the GM for Dell Technologies South Africa stressed, innovation is important to every business's success moving forward in this digital age, partly because of how quickly it is moving.

''While AI itself has been around for a while, the generative part has happened within a year, and it's moving at a pace that I think is catching a lot of people unaware.

''We are living in a world where technology and human beings are basically being integrated, and technology is starting to merge with what we do within our day to day operations. That is both scary and exciting, depending on where you see yourself in terms of that driving force," he elaborated.

Doug Woolley

Innovating the future

Mark O'Regan, the Chief Technology Officer for EMEA at Dell Technologies, enthused that ''we are living at an extraordinarily important time for humanity, where, the choices and decisions we make are building what our future will look like, and shaping the kind of world our children and theirs will live in.''

At the heart of those choices and decisions is technology, and how it can make an impact in order to enable innovation. His view is that analytical AI and generative AI will combine and become one.

''General AI enables us to predict an outcome. Generative AI is different, it is interested in content. When we augment and bring both into organisations, then that is where we start thinking about the way we work and innovating how we function," he continued.

The point that that both Woolley and O'Regan were stressing is that AI is changing business and the workplace, how we do work, and what it means to be an organisation.

Woolley has a warning though, for those resistant to these advances.

"If you're not constantly innovating, if you're not constantly cultivating a culture of innovation, you're going to be left behind,'' he asserted. 

On track, or off course?

So the burning question becomes, how do you know if you are genuinely on track with being an innovative company, or merely trying to convince yourself that you already are one? Unfortunately it is not as simple as whether you are already using AI or not.

Woolley identified three criteria that genuinely innovative companies have in place.

The first one is whether the organisation has a process in place to drive innovation. The second one is having leadership that buys into an innovative culture. The third criteria is having the right partners.

"The latter is essential, because even if you do invent on your own, you will probably fail. The speed of change just doesn't allow organizations to successfully innovate on their own so rather partner with organisations that have expertise that you require," he stressed.

The fourth criteria is to create a culture in the organization where innovation is front and center of what you're doing.

Woolley explained that for most organisations in the world, the biggest inhibitor to embracing innovation is the lack of an innovation culture.

Addressing this inhibitor begins with business leader looking at their organisation and asking what they can do to speed up the process of innovation in my business? But an innovation culture doesn't begin an end at the top. Rather it is inculcated throughout, where all employees are encouraged and incentivized to bring new ideas forward.

Michael Dell

This may well sound like a lot of work, and for companies with cultures that are ingrained from the past, it probably is. But Michael Dell put it quite succinctly as to why companies should embrace innovation and AI and do the work of changing their culture accordingly.

He pointed out that artificial intelligence ''will transform industries and how and where we work. The real opportunity is to reimagine your organisation and what you can become with the powers AI is unleashing.''

Throughout the many years that we have covered the company, Dell was quick to note that he, and Dell Technologies, take a positive view of technology and the benefits it can bring.

Back in 2017, addressing the question of whether new technologies will lead to greater job losses, he said:

“If you go back 20, 40, or 60 years ago there were the same kind of questions. There is a human fascination with bad outcomes as it relates to change. In fact, there is a whole industry around this, called science fiction movies, where there all these horrific stories about bad things happening in the future. But if you step back and actually look at it, technology has actually been an amazing force for good. And while there are always risks and challenges relating to new things and changes, generally the outcomes have been way better for humans than not.”

That answer, given six years ago, still holds as much if not more relevance today, even as now it is the 'new' technology of generative AI dominating the conversation.

Speaking to AI particularly in 2023, he remarked: ''Artificial Intelligence will enable you to realise your greatest opportunities to create, to innovate and to move forward.'' The company's positive view of technology seems not to have changed at all, which is rather heartening, given how much has changed since 2017. 

To the point

It is safe to say that we are living in an age of uncertainty, and if there is one constant, it is the imperative to remain ever adaptable. It seems as though companies simply have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and make peace with the fact that the pace of tech advances means that organisations will continue grappling with new technologies.

But, there is fair consolation here, because organisations don't have to do it alone. They can, and many viably stress, that they should, embrace partnerships.

The main reservation about AI that remains unanswered has less to do with the technology itself and more to do with people, and whether people will exercise wisdom and compassion in its use.

For all the significant positive benefits that it can bring, the burning question is not so much about artificial intelligence as it is human intelligence,  and whether we are really emotionally and intellectually smart enough to use this technology wisely.

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