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Recessions often lead to pivotal points in technology, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 heralded the adoption of cloud computing. Platform companies such as Uber and Airbnb were founded during this time and online retail stores began changing the way we shop.

As we look to accelerate out of this pandemic and into 2021 then Artificial Intelligence looks to be a key factor in the strategy of many companies. Businesses expecting to do business in 2021 as they did in 2019 will simply fall by the wayside as smarter companies and more innovative strategies strive to gain a momentum swing.

No one knows how many jobs will be lost globally due the Covid-19 pandemic but it is likely to be hundreds of millions and many of those will be in historically “safe” white collar roles. Over the next three to four years these roles will be replaced not by humans but with automation and machine learning tools.

Global consulting companies are calling for more innovation and a “faster metabolism” within companies to create points of difference, deeper customer understanding and more scalable business models. The call for agility and two weekly sprints is more akin to the Olympics than the business battlefield but just like this great sporting event it will be gold, silver, bronze or oblivion.

Where companies did annual strategy reviews and repricing, products and new services were released with great fanfare the move to real time everything will become the catch cry. The winners will have the deepest understanding of their customers, real time competitive analysis and the ability to personally tailor their products and services for each one of their customers individually.

To do this big data will move to streaming data, the data lakes that became data swamps will become rivers of data and decisions need to be made in real time. The US military talks about “closing the kill chain”, the ability to shorten the decision time frame on the battlefield by assimilating and assessing the plethora of data from disparate sources and presenting its commanders with options in real time. Leaders of successful companies will need to develop the same mantra and build pipelines designed to support this data flow.

Automation and machine learning is only way to manage this data tsunami and data scientists, python programmers and ModelOps will rule this world. AI projects that were once “nice to have” and proof of concepts need to shift into production to harness this data. Managers of IT departments will need to prioritise these projects and use the cloud to deploy and implement them even if it means bypassing their traditional IT infrastructure and systems.

As AI models begin to assess customer data and make recommendations then transparency of the weights and bias of these models will become critical. Data Providence will become a critical reporting tool and companies will need to explain the data used to train the models, what biases were used and how this affects customer decisions with increasing transparency. AI can no longer be a black box.

Model management platforms are a new industry and cloud providers such as Microsoft, AWS and Google are already investing billions of dollars into making it easier to build, train and deploy models in days and weeks not the months and years that is the current rhythm of many enterprise companies.

These tools will not replace strategy, key decisions and initiatives will still be made by humans and decision science platforms and tools will enable business leaders to assimilate more information, make better decisions and implement these actions faster than their competitors.

The insurance industry has seen its fair share of disruption and the rise of natively digital platforms, data marketplaces and the use of chatbots is a good example of that. The move from annual to quarterly and then real time personalized pricing is inevitable The race has begun and there may only be a few winners, to avoid lying panting the dust start now, innovate fast and don’t accept excuses or delays.

About the author: Scott Houston was CTO for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy in New Zealand. He founded the New Zealand Supercomputer Center and a cloud orchestration company called GreenButton which was acquired by Microsoft. He was a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the year awards and named an “Innovation Hero” by the Innovation Council. He now works with AI companies while working on his first novel (about AI).