Throughout history the world has been disrupted repeatedly in many different ways. Across millions of years freezing temperatures or giant meteors caused profound changes to nature, casually wiping out entire species. Within the past 400 years, technological inventions such as electricity (1600), the steam engine (1712), the telegraph (1836), and the internal combustion engine (1859) all disrupted industries and society. During the last century the frequency of disruption has increased with inventions such as the television (1926), jet engines (1939), computers (1941), transistors (1947), personal computers (1975) and cellular mobile phone networks (1979).
Now, the next disruption – based entirely on digital technology – is making its way through industries and society. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will be the main drivers of this profound change. The impact is just starting to surface and will accelerate rapidly. It will change every aspect of our lives, it will disrupt industries and governments. Some companies will fail, others will thrive.
What are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)?
AI is the ability of a machine to perform human-like cognitive functions such as sensing, perceiving (seeing, hearing, feeling, etc.), learning, reasoning, and problem solving. A machine can have sensors (such as cameras, radar, motion detectors, and lasers) to capture and interpret information, decide what to do next, learn from success or failure and memorize the results. Machine Learning is a type of AI whereby a machine, or algorithm, uses large amounts of historical and real-time data to make decisions, predictions and recommendations. When more data becomes available, the algorithm incorporates it and becomes even more accurate.
While the theory of AI and ML has been around for 80 years, previously the available technology has not been able put the theory into practice until now. But thanks to recent advances in data storage, computing power, and algorithms and the availability of these technologies through cloud computing, practical applications are now both feasible and affordable.
The potential benefits of AI and ML are enormous. Machines and algorithms can enhance human decision making by detecting trends in massive amounts of data, and can do so without ever getting tired or bored. Using the results of this Big Data analysis a machine can make more informed and faster decisions than humans can. Initially there will be reluctance to let machines make decisions independently, but as time goes by humans will recognize the accuracy of AI and start to rely more heavily on its decisions. This does not mean machines will take over from humans; it simply means that machines will take over certain tasks that require fast processing of huge amounts of real-time data.
A good example is autonomous driving, whereby a vehicle is equipped with lots of sensors while connected to the cloud. The on-board algorithm is continuously making decisions based on all the input, anticipating what should or could happen next and adjusting the driving accordingly.
Will AI disrupt the IT Service business?
When it comes to AI, the activities that will be automated first will be part of the 4 D’s: Dull, Dirty, Dangerous, or Difficult. Activities that are repetitive (dull) are easiest to automate. Most IT services are complex and therefore not easy to automate, but others can be repetitive (like a helpdesk where similar questions are often asked repeatedly) and can therefore be automated through AI.
Through ML and Big Data there are ways to significantly enhance most services. Traditional support helps customers solve an existing problem. The customer detects a problem and tries to fix it. If that doesn’t work the customer contacts the vendor. Meanwhile productivity, revenue and customer satisfaction may be impacted, depending on the severity of the problem.
But what if there were a system that could reliably predict that a problem was about to occur? Vendors have many customers using their equipment in various configurations. They can capture real-time information about the usage and configuration of their products, and AI can analyze this data, detect trends and make intelligent predictions about what might happen in the near future. If the AI analysis determines that a problem is about to occur, it can inform the vendor (or the customer) and prescribe a preventive action. Or it can independently implement preventive actions without any human involvement, only sending an alert of the action. In this way, problems can be avoided, thereby increasing productivity and customer satisfaction.
Some services can be dangerous, such as the inspection of mobile network antennas. Today it is the job of a field engineer to climb onto a high antenna and inspect the structure. Such a relatively dangerous job can be automated by using drones. Engineers on the ground operate the drone, which can be equipped with all kinds of advanced sensors and algorithms. Using smart cameras it can measure the angle of the antenna to determine and record if the position has changed. Through a variety of sensors (electro-optical, infrared, multispectral) it can also detect if there is any wear on the physical structure. Most importantly, using the AI algorithm it can make decisions that optimize the inspection procedure.
Another example of using AI in the IT Service industry is NLP, or Natural Language Programming. Call centers or help desks are often staffed by many (young) people answering questions from all over the world. Call centers typically operate 24/7, and can be located anywhere in the world (usually in low-wage countries). While many call-centers provide excellent services, there are also many examples of mediocre or poor service. After all, helpdesk employees are only human, and when confronted with impolite customers can sometimes have difficulty controlling their emotions. Computers don’t have this problem. Understanding a customer over the phone, regardless of their accent, sensing their emotions and responding in an appropriate way is a very complex scenario that only advanced algorithms can handle. But it is only a matter of time until this becomes available for everyone, so that we can always rely on a calm and sensible response to our emotional cries for help with our products.
Huawei aspires to be the partner of choice for enterprises and governments around the world; only by delivering world-class service we can accomplish this vision. We want our service partners to grow with us, and thrive equally while we enable the Digital Transformation of many companies. These are exciting times, and we are humbled by this challenge, but proud to be at the center of a global business revolution.
To learn more about Huawei Services, please go to http://e.huawei.com/en/services; or contact your local Huawei Service representatives or Certified Service Partner.