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AI at the heart of digital transformation, with Microsoft’s Phil Harvey

Thu 13 Feb 2020 | Phil Harvey

Why are AI and data such powerful engines of innovation? 

“In order to benefit from the value of good AI, you must first ensure that you have great data. So, in order achieve this, you need to first understand your practices, then understand your data, and only then can you effectively work out where to add value with AI.’’ That’s according to Phil Harvey, Senior Cloud Solution Architect for Data & Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft UK. Through a combination of design workshops, hacks and advice, Phil empowers Microsoft’s vast partner community to make the best use of Azure’s data and AI powers.

One of Microsoft’s Gold Partners is business analytics provider Concentra, which has invited Phil to speak at Big Data & AI World 2020 about AI-driven digital transformation. Techerati sat down with Phil before his VIP lounge session to learn why AI and data are such powerful engines of innovation and, additionally, how businesses can unlock their combined power to achieve a competitive edge.

Digital transformers

The term “digital transformation” is the favoured neologism of today’s data-driven economy. The oft-repeated phrase can mean different things to different people. For Phil, digital transformation is about “embedding analytics and intelligence (through data) into the heart of how your organisation knows itself.” If this step-change in self-understanding is driven by intelligent signals and digital feedback loops, “organisations can transform how they work internally and how they approach the world around them”.

A tool within AI’s toolbox that epitomises its power is Machine Learning. With ML organisations can create models or “data-derived software which can process data far quicker than hand-coded software”. “Take speech-to-text models that transcribe audio to text. It’s an amazing technology that gives organisations new sets of data through which to know itself.” 

Join Phil at Big Data & AI World 2020, 11-12 March, ExCeL London

PANEL: Using data management to tell more compelling, data-led stories
11 March 2020, 11:15 – 11:55

Another distinct type of AI is “AI as a systematical capability”, a variety which breeds altogether new powers. “AI as a systematic capability unleashes its full power when the business trusts the system to make decisions for itself,” explains Phil. “As simple as letting a chatbot handle interaction with your customers to help you scale. Conceptually simple, but a great efficiency.”

Phil says it’s wrong to think of AI as a single “tool” of digital transformation. Rather it’s a “set of tooling” which helps organisations transform. In other words, it’s just one piece in the puzzle. Digitally transforming is not simply a matter of flicking on the technical switches but integrating tooling “holistically” alongside people and processes. 

Data narrators

AI feeds off data. So discussion of one isn’t possible without considering the other. When it comes to data, a crucial aspect of the “people and process” side of the equation is compelling storytelling. 

Stories have breathed life into the human experience for millennia. Which is why Phil underlines the importance of telling data-led stories in his talks and workshops. “As humans, we understand and communicate through stories. With stories rooted in data we are able to know new things faster and share in compelling ways like never before.”

How can organisations go about constructing coherent, compelling data-led stories? Just as the best works of literature tap into universal aspects of the human experience, all data narrators need to anchor their tales in reality: “The first ingredient is data people trust. Without that trust, the story won’t have impact.” The other ingredient is emotional. “The story must be woven into the needs and feelings of the audience. If you deliver trusted data through an empathetic story, you will have the most impact.”

Phil says the part companies struggle with the most is with building the right level of trust in their data. “Data governance is hard and is often seen as boring by non-data folk.” Companies can introduce the foundations of trust by “letting the audience experience the data system themselves”. Sometimes you have to see it to believe it. 

Ultimately, telling successful data-led stories “requires both data literacy in the audience and empathy in the technical team” and helping both sides is important. If you want to unlock this vital component of data leadership, don’t miss Phil Harvey’s session at Big Data & AI World’s VIP Lounge in March.

Experts featured:

Phil Harvey

Senior Cloud Solution Architect

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