Empowering digital transformation from the inside out
To compete in the 21st century economy, the success of digital transformation projects sort the winners from the losers. Companies are becoming more and more confident in the benefits technology is bringing to their organisations and eager to harness the opportunities that the cloud, mobility and the Internet of Things (IoT) are able to present.
However, with so many technology platform options available, it can be difficult to identify the right tools that will truly support the business from the inside out. The challenge is that business leaders often only focus on what’s above the surface of the digital transformation ‘iceberg’, while the major part of it remains untackled beneath the surface.
Silence between the different siloes of the organisation is a big problem for many, but the division is often greatest between IT and the wider business. According to Gartner, “In the waterfall world, a lack of business-IT collaboration leads to misunderstanding the difference between value and quality. Without knowing the "why," developers provide software that doesn't align to business strategy even when it exactly meets specified requirements.”
Business leaders often have one vision, and the IT team another. With the two groups speaking different languages, mixed-messages between the two can lead to frustration, spiralling costs and ultimately half-realised, delayed projects - a digital transformation fail.
Enabling collaboration to derive results
Executing a digital transformation strategy means more than just buying new technology. Simply having access to digital solutions is no longer the source of competitive advantage. It is the way the business applies them that will transform its processes and drive results. The pace of today’s market requires businesses to work closely with the IT teams to roll-out innovative solutions quickly, without risking core business operations.
To achieve this, it is crucial that business leaders are able to look beneath the surface of the ‘iceberg’ and approach digital enterprise transformation holistically. This means removing the language barrier between the business and IT. Developing transformative applications at a speed requires strong organisational culture and close collaboration between everyone involved in the project. That’s because at its heart, digital innovation happens through the synergy of business ideas and technical possibilities – BizDevOps.
Creating an environment that brings people with vison for the business together with those with the technical aptitude is key to bringing ideas to life effectively and at scale. This approach is proven to significantly reduce time to value and lower development costs, while also offloading overburdened IT development organisations.
Bridging ideas to technical possibility
High productivity low-code platforms serve as a bridge between the two worlds. The solution employs a visual, model-driven approach to enable a broader range of individuals to take part in the app design process, without creating risk or technical debt. It offers a faster, more intuitive alternative to coding by using visual models and drag-and-drop functions to build application’s data models, business logic and user interfaces.
Whether it’s a business leader bringing a new app idea to life or a developer integrating a new back-office system or service on top of current systems, low-code platforms allow a quick rapid delivery of enterprise applications with visual modeling which ellimates the complexity of traditional coding.
The flexibility of low-code means that a spectrum of developers can contribute to the digital transformation process by communicating their ideas in a visual and easy-to-understand way. What is more, it empowers a two-way feedback across the entire app journey, allowing continuous consultation with domain experts and professional developers.
Aiming to achieve digital business agility, the UK’s leading provider of elderly services, Saga used the benefits of the low-code platform Mendix to speed time to market for its private healthcare at home offering. Through the capabilities of the platform, Saga is able to collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure applications closely match the business requirements and help the company better capitalise on new opportunities.
As businesses continue to adopt new technologies, and innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) reach new highs, the importance of business functionality and ability to adapt will become even greater. Digital is no longer an isolated part of the business — it is a main driver. It can provide limitless opportunities for some and disruption and displacement for others. Enabling collaboration between different clusters of the organisation is what will lead the business to the former.
By deploying a low-code platform that enables agile project management and visual modelling, businesses will be able to ignite the creativity and collaboration that will ensure greater software quality. Combining speed with ability to scale up and modify the applications as and when required can ensure objective alignment that fits the needs of the business and can be adjusted to the changing landscape. Ultimately, this shortens the path from idea to deployment, allowing the business to drive digital innovation from the inside out at pace and under control.
Johan den Haan, Chief Technology Officer at Mendix
AI Shows its Value; Governments Must Unleash its Potential
2020 has revealed just how far AI technology has come as it achieves fresh milestones in the fight against Covid-19. Google’s DeepMind helped predict the protein structure of the virus; AI-drive infectious disease tracker BlueDot spotted the novel coronavirus nine days before the World Health Organisation (WHO) first sounded the alarm. Just a decade ago, these feats were unfathomable.
Yet, we have only just scratched the surface of AI’s full potential. And it can’t be left to develop on its own. Governments must do more to put structures in place to advance the responsible growth of AI. They have a dual responsibility: fostering environments that enable innovation while ensuring the wider ethical and social implications are considered.
It is this balance that we are trying to achieve in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to ensure government accelerates, rather than hinders, the development of AI. Just as every economy is transitioning at the moment, we see innovation as being vital to realising our vision for a post-oil economy. Our work in his space has highlighted three barriers in the government approach when it comes to realising AI’s potential.
First, addressing the issue of ignorance
While much time is dedicated to talking about the importance of AI, there simply isn’t enough understanding of where it’s useful and where it isn’t. There are a lot of challenges to rolling out AI technologies, both practically and ethically. However, those enacting the policies too often don’t fully understand the technology and its implications.
The Emirates is not exempt from this ignorance, but it is an issue we have been trying to address. Over the last few years, we have been running an AI diploma in partnership with Oxford University, teaching government officials the ethical implications of AI deployment. Our ambition is for every government ministry to have a diploma graduate, as it is essential to ensure policy decision-making is informed.
Second, moving away from the theoretical
While this grounding in the moral implications of AI is critical, it is important to go beyond the theoretical. It is vital that experimentation in AI is allowed to happen for its own sake and not let ethical problems stymie innovations that don’t yet exist. Indeed, many of these concerns – while well-founded – are born out in the practical deployment of these end-use cases and can’t be meaningfully discussed on paper.
If you take facial recognition as an example, looking at this issue in abstract quickly leads to discussions over privacy concerns with potential surveillance and intrusion by private companies or authorities’ regimes.
But what about the more specific issue of computer vision? Although part of the same field, the same moral quandaries do not arise, and the technology is already bearing fruit. In 2018, we developed an algorithmic solution that can be used in the detection and diagnosis of tuberculosis from chest X-rays. You can upload any image of a chest X-ray, and the system will identify if a person has the disease. Laws and regulations must be tailored to unique use-cases of AI, rather than lumping disparate fields together.
To create this culture that encourages experimentation, we launched the RegLab. It provides a safe and flexible legislation ecosystem to supports the utilisation of future technologies. This means we can actually see AI in practice before determining appropriate regulation, not the other way around. Regulation is vital to cap any unintended negative consequences of AI, but it should never be at the expense of innovation.
Finally, understanding the knock-on effects of AI
There needs to be a deeper, more nuanced understanding of AI’s wider impact. It is too easy to think the economic benefits and efficiency gains of AI must also come with negative social implications, particularly concern over job loss.
But with the right long-term government planning, it’s possible to have one without the other; to maximise the benefits and mitigate potential downsides. If people are appropriately trained in how to use or understand AI, the result is a future workforce capable of working alongside these technologies for the better – just as computers complement most people’s work today.
We’ve to start this training as soon as possible in the Emirates. Through our Ministry of Education, we have rolled out an education programme to start teaching children about AI as young as five years old. This includes coding skills and ethics, and we are carrying this right through to higher education with the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence set to welcome its first cohort in January. We hope to create future generations of talent that can work in harmony with AI for the betterment of society, not the detriment.
AI will inevitably become more pervasive in society, digitisation will continue in the wake of the pandemic, and in time we will see AI’s prominence grow. But governments have a responsibility to society to ensure that this growth is matched with the appropriate understanding of AI’s impacts. We must separate the hype from the practical solutions, and we must rigorously interrogate AI deployment and ensure that it used to enhance our existence. If governments can overcome these challenges and create the environments for AI to flourish, then we have a very exciting future ahead of us.