Intelligent Systems Technology In The Enterprise

Your network already may be running a variety of sophisticated intelligent tools, but a second, much more powerful generation of intelligent applications will revolutionize how you compute and communicate.
Some of you may remember artificial intelligence (AI) as the darling technology of the 1970s and 1980s. You also may remember the early "expert" decision support systems (DSSs) that populated vertical industries in the 1980s and early 1990s. The users of these systems had to be pretty sophisticated just to understand what the applications did, let alone how they worked.

Well, your browser is now a decision support system that permits you to search, execute transactions and serve yourself data, information and knowledge -- all by pointing and clicking. Browser-based applications are getting smarter and smarter and may just revolutionize the way you think about transaction processing of all kinds -- and that occur inside and outside your firewall.

Intelligent systems technology should be tracked very, very closely. Why? Because it will impact nearly all of your business models, IT investments and your overall business/IT alignment strategy. In fact, if I had to pick three technologies that will have the greatest impact on your business over the next five years, intelligent systems technology would be on the list.

But what is "AI"? What is intelligence systems technology? What is intelligent decision support? What are the enabling, ancillary technologies necessary to make it all work together? Take a look at the following mock report from your future "intelligent" network and systems management framework:


NETWORK OPERATIONS CENTER

CONFIDENTIAL/ENCRYPTED

INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS NETWORK COMMAND

JUL 6, 2005     0900 EST


SUBJECT:  NETWORK OVERLOAD

1.	TO  CONFIRM EXTREME USAGE OF THE VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORKS    
      & UNPRECEDENTED NUMBER OF SECURITY ATTACKS ON THE FIREWALLS

2.	RECOMMEND IMMEDIATE RECONFIGURATION OF NETWORK 
      TOPOLOGY:  IF TRAFFIC &/OR ASSAULTS CONTINUE FOR 90 MINUTES OR 
      MORE, RECONFIGURATION WILL OCCUR


OBSERVATIONS 

1.	NETWORK & SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK IS 
      UNDERPERFORMING TO SPECIFICATIONS & THE NEGOTIATED  
      SERVICE LEVEL AGREEMENT (SLA)

2.	ACCESS DEVICES ARE NON-STANDARD AND DEGRADING NETWORK PERFORMANCE 

3.	APPLICATIONS ARE ILL-CONFIGURED FOR OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE

4.	MANAGEMENT DECISION-MAKING IS LAGGING PRICE PERFORMANCE 

5.	CALCULATIONS:  ESTIMATED LOSSES DUE TO INACTIVITY = $8M; PROJECTED LOSSES = $2M PER MONTH

6.	PERSONNEL RECORD ANALYSIS INDICATES GROWING SKILLS GAP AMONG ALL PROFESSIONAL LEVELS 

This is the kind of message we can expect to receive as more and more intelligent applications are deployed.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Complex processes that have resisted conventional systems and analysis procedures can sometimes be addressed by intelligent systems technology, especially complex real-time data integration and mining problems, problems that require immediate action-reaction, and really tough problems due primarily to the sheer volume of data or the size of decision spaces.
  • Automation is now possible in selected areas and will become more possible in additional domains. We know, for example, that it's possible to automate marketing campaigns and interactive companies are using various levels of embedded intelligence to do just that.
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  • AI, expert systems and intelligent systems technology may well generate huge returns on investments -- and provide a technology-based response to increasing competition, the volatility of business models and the pace of technology change.
  • Increasingly, instead of developing whole new systems, we will be asked to improve existing systems. There is enormous leverage in the re-engineering of existing systems via the insertion of expert systems and other intelligent systems technology.
  • There are myriad functions, tasks and sub-tasks that can be addressed more efficiently via intelligent systems technology than conventional computational technologies.
  • As staff reductions become more commonplace (to reduce operating expenses), we'll need to find ways maintain productivity. Intelligent systems technology provides one approach.
  • Intelligent systems are morphing into "intelligent agents." A software agent is intelligent if it's autonomous, able to communicate with users (and other intelligent agents), can answer questions and take action, and act and react to un-programmed events and conditions. Intelligent agents can deal with a variety of tasks including those that humans find complex, are time critical, result from sheer information overload and routinzed, repetitive behavior.
  • Horizontal and vertical eCommerce will be significantly driven by applications in intelligent systems technology.
  • The emphasis on this technology can be explained by the potential impact it can have across a variety of "horizontal" technology areas as well as just about every vertical industry we can imagine.

    Chances are you're already using a variety of pretty sophisticated intelligent tools and techniques -- embedded in a variety of applications on your desktops, in your servers and even in your mainframes. We're suggesting a second, much more powerful wave of intelligent applications that will revolutionize how you compute and communicate.

    The application of intelligent systems technology will be wide and deep. Because of the power of this technology we advise you to do the following:

  • Appoint an intelligent systems technology czar -- someone responsible for tracking progress in the field;
  • Identify the range of intelligent systems applicable to your business, applications that will work inside and outside your firewall;
  • Give your skunkworks some pilot applications to build or test;
  • Look especially hard at your eBusiness strategy since many of the most important intelligent applications will be leveraged in virtual corporations and through creative linkages among employees, customers and suppliers.
  • The good thing about these tasks is that this stuff is really interesting and powerful -- a chance to have some fun. If you're looking for something to volunteer for, this is it.

    Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business/technology alignment. He is also the founder & CTO of TechVestCo, a new economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He is formerly the senior vice president and CTO of Safeguard Scientifics and the CTO and senior vice president for technology strategy at CIGNA Corp. He can be reached at stephen.andriole@villanova.edu.






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