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Top 10 business applications stories of 2023

Generative AI has become unavoidable for business applications suppliers. C-level executives offer insights here, while the fundamentals of user enterprise software strategy remain visible beneath the AI froth

In the realm of business applications, the underlying complexities of the western economic crisis and war in Ukraine and the Middle East were obscured in 2023 by the hype surrounding generative AI (GenAI).

It would be eccentric, indeed churlish, to downplay the significance of GenAI, and so the first four articles selected here are, indeed, about the technology.

First up is an overview piece, from late in 2023, which looks at the opportunities offered and problems posed by GenAI, highlighting a range of live applications. The next, similar, feature considers a coupling of GenAI with an increased consumerisation of enterprise applications. It registers how finding applications for GenAI is still in its infancy, but momentum is building, with such use cases as aiding medical diagnosis and accelerating software coding sitting alongside the creation of text and images, familiar to the public at large.

We find customer experience to be an especially promising area for the application of GenAI. Admittedly, however, this has been a technology more trumpeted about by suppliers than actualised – so far. Nevertheless, Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), an IT analyst owned by Computer Weekly publisher TechTarget, found Generative AI to be rich in potential and actual enterprise use cases, beyond the hype. On the supplier side, SAP is but one enterprise software giant to have outlined a GenAI strategy.

Bill McDermott, president and CEO of ServiceNow, Steve Miranda, executive vice-president of Oracle Applications product development, and Evan Goldberg, executive vice-president of Oracle NetSuite, all sat down with Computer Weekly to offer their thoughts on the phenomenon.

Sustainability also remains a critical issue for organisations, not to mention governments and civilian populations, and the role of software in making economic activity more ecologically responsible is more vital than ever. That will not change.

The Covid years were marked by such phenomena as the great resignation and quiet quitting, as workers explored lives beyond mere wage slavery. One article here examines the role of HR software in combating staff attrition, as businesses strive to reach beyond recession, or near recession. Digital transformation, which sped up throughout the pandemic and its immediate aftermath, has long been touted as a panacea for organisations of all sizes and in all places. But there is no denying that digital transformation programmes often come to grief. This feature looks at how enterprises can have more wins than losses.

A modest proposal, perhaps. Perhaps 2024 will be less febrile than the GenAI-charged enterprise IT scene of 2023?

1.How generative AI is put to work in business applications

Generative AI kicked up a storm in 2023 Much has been learned about how effective it can be in the enterprise – so, what are the challenges facing its deployment?

Generative AI, otherwise known as GenAI, is a digital tool that can be trained to produce text, imagery, audio or synthetic data from a series of prompts. The recent interest around generative AI tools has been driven by their ease of use for creating high-quality content in a matter of seconds.

Much of this was related to the release of ChatGPT by OpenAI in November 2022. Many were surprised with the generative AI’s ability to create different types of text based on a series of text commands from a user.

2. Enterprise beams up GenAI and consumer UX to make key applications fly

We looked at how generative AI is changing the way enterprise software works.

The bizarre interview between Elon Musk and Rishi Sunak at the UK government’s AI Safety Summit  did little to champion the idea that humans are the solution to a potential artificial intelligence (AI) problem.

It did, however, suggest that AI has the potential to be the “most disruptive force in history”. For most people and organisations, this is not news. Since the unveiling of ChatGPT 12 months ago, GenAI has emerged as a game-changer. Coupled with the increased consumerisation of enterprise applications, 2023 has to go down as a seminal year.

3. How generative AI fuels customer experience programmes

Generative AI could be a game-changer for CX if firms think use case and not tech. What do recent AI developments mean for customer experience programmes?

Companies are now beginning to figure out how they can integrate large language models and other generative AI (GenAI) tools into their marketing and customer retention strategies, relying on technology rather than humans to create images, videos, audio and text.

There are many examples of companies already rolling out GenAI tools to better connect with users. Spotify has released an AI DJ, which combines GenAI and human music editors to create personalised music recommendations and puts them into a playlist. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola’s Create Real Magic platform, developed with OpenAI, lets digital artists create original artwork using iconic Coca-Cola assets.

4. SAP lays out generative AI strategy

SAP is incorporating generative AI capabilities into software development and the Hana database, prioritising data privacy and use cases that drive efficiency and cost savings for customers. It outlined its strategy for leveraging GenAI to assist businesses and software developers in harnessing the capabilities of the emerging technology during the SAP TechEd conference in Bangalore, in October.

5. ServiceNow’s Bill McDermott: a ‘work in progress’

Bill McDermott, president and CEO of ServiceNow, spoke to Computer Weekly, on a visit to London, about his vision for the company and the technology industry, which he believes to be in the throes of exponential change.

McDermott took the helm at ServiceNow in 2019, as president and chief executive, after 17 years at SAP, latterly as CEO. He had previously been co-CEO of the Germany-based business software giant, and CEO of SAP America.

With respect to any CIO scepticism about GenAI, he said: “The ones that you are encountering the scepticism from are the ones that are protecting the old ways of doing things. But when we explain to the CEO: if you’re in X industry, and you have not solved this business process problem that offers you the biggest opportunity to transform, and you’re wondering why no one’s ever dealt with it before. Well, that’s the problem, I want to help you solve. And we then go into a use case that’s very specific – we don’t talk about big things; we single out a use case – and we show them the art of the possible.”

6. Oracle’s Steve Miranda: Customers nearing inflection point with Fusion

In a Q&A with Computer Weekly at Oracle Open World, applications head Steve Miranda discussed how its customers are moving from project-driven to business-driven approaches, and how GenAI is for real.

“You get this simple, charismatic, popular innovation like the LLM,” he said. “I think that’s how you’d use three words to describe it. It is very simple – anybody could use it. It was very popular, right? And it’s very charismatic. You can interact with it at whatever level you want. Even a child could interact with it. It wasn’t a mathematical AI.” 

7. Oracle NetSuite CEO Goldberg: AI a sleeping giant coming to life

Speaking with Computer Weekly at SuiteWorld, Evan Goldberg, executive vice-president of Oracle NetSuite, discussed how artificial intelligence has emerged from obscurity to be of real moment for businesses.

Of the supplier’s customers he said: “Well, they’re asking about it. It is different than maybe other technological advances, like crypto, where we are trying to figure how we can do something for the customer, but not necessarily getting a lot of requests from customers. This is very different. And I think because customers are experimenting with it in their personal lives, it’s setting off some light bulbs about how it could help them do things in their work life. We’re definitely getting questions about that.

“This has been an area that’s intrigued me for decades. And I always knew that, eventually, this could be an engine for providing great insights and great assistance, helping with productivity, visibility, all those things we’ve been trying to do, and now it seems like, potentially, its time has come.”

8. How sustainability software bears broad benefits beyond cost savings

The imperative for organisations to do a better sustainability job is clear. There is business software that can help, with data at its core, and smart companies are acting now.

While there is certainly much focus on sustainability – acting in a way that meets current needs without compromising future generations – in the business world, it’s often a case of much talk but little action.

According to research from consultancy Designit, 11% of international businesses consider sustainability at board level just once each year. Investment in the area is currently very low, with companies spending an average of just 4% of revenue on sustainability, following that research.

This reluctance to invest in sustainability is at odds with the proven benefits for businesses. A recent Morningstar US sustainability leaders index report found companies with the best ESG scores returned 33% higher returns over one year compared with the average company.

9. HR software and strategies to combat staff attrition

While there is no simple technological solution to the problem of staff attrition, a combination of management strategies and business applications can improve engagement and retention.

Low employee engagement costs the global economy $8.8tn per year, the equivalent of 9% of global gross domestic product, according to workplace consulting and research firm Gallup.

Part of this huge bill boils down to the fact that at a time of widespread labour and skills shortages, many employees simply choose to move on if they are unhappy.

There is no disputing that staff turnover rates are on the up. Since 2019, they have risen by an average of 7.7%, and were predicted to increase even further during 2023 to an estimated 35.6%.

10. How to assess and stem digital transformation failures

Digital transformation projects have bred a litany of failure. How can this tendency be reversed? While the pandemic may have seen a huge increase in the number of digital transformation projects undertaken by organisations of all kinds, it seems their success rate is no better than it ever was.

According to a recent Microsoft survey, many UK business decision-makers believe digital technology is vital to their company’s ability to prosper in 2023. But a massive 71% are worried they have failed to deliver on the promise of digital transformation. A further 72% respectively say the business has no clear path to reach its digital transformation goals and is moving too slowly to make any meaningful change.

Why are such initiatives continuing to fail to live up to expectations despite the issue having been debated for years, and what can organisations do to alter the situation for the better?

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