When they run the highlight reel of my greatest dad moments, this weekend’s dinner conversation with my kids will definitely be left out – the look of terror in their eyes, the curious and confused look of my wife that said it all: “What are you thinking?!” At that moment, I realized the future of robots, AI and the latest digital technology can be a scary concept – if poorly explained.

It started nicely enough, talking about how Mother Nature and natural selection are things of beauty. But I strayed a little off topic when I explained that in the not-so-distant future, parents could apply emerging technologies to design their babies – and that this was not necessarily a good thing. When asked why, I described a future where all babies were basically all programmed preconception, and eventually we would all look like engineered humans – not unlike robots. That’s when the tears started.

My 10-year-old daughter provided me with an escape hatch when she asked, “Are we all going to become robots?” At that point, I channeled my inner Malcolm Frank (a top Cognizant exec and co-author of Code Halos and What to Do When Machines Do Everything) to help address her fear. I explained that robots were actually a good thing – that they weren’t going to actually replace us but rather supplement our day-to-day activities. We talked about examples like autonomous cars. She built on my point that not only will self-driving cars enable us to do higher-value activities but they’ll also make driving a lot safer. 

Personalizing the Pursuit of Digitally-Enabled Productivity

This dinnertime exchange sums up what those of us at the intersection of business and technology deal with every day, whether we know it or not. Because not everyone is comfortable with advances in digital technologies, it’s essential to explain the value of technology in personal terms. The work we do is often complicated and technical, but when you peek under the covers at the value organizations are achieving, even a 10-year-old would nod in approval.

By telling compelling stories about demonstrated business results, our industry can make the latest digital tools and techniques a lot less scary for the people who need to invest in and implement them. Consider:

  • Product intelligence: By integrating data and applying intelligent algorithms, we helped a multinational consumer goods company create a 360-degree, omnichannel product view. Doing so helped increase customer conversations by 15%, significantly improve customer satisfaction and boost agility of global product launches by 40%.
  • Connected factories: We also worked with a global pharmaceutical company to build a predictive maintenance model for its distributed and connected manufacturing plants. This capability harmonized processes across multiple systems and provided visibility into potential process interruptions. By reducing downtime, the business realized a 20% increase in throughput while increasing safety, enabling patients to get their medications more quickly.
  • Intelligent process automation: We used machine learning models to help a global insurance provider expedite its worker’s compensation claims process. The solution determines bodily injury information with 90% accuracy, aided by human validation. It’s also integrated with existing robotic process automation (RPA) tools to navigate multiple mainframe and web applications and apply hundreds of business rules to enable timely and accurate registration of claims. The business has achieved greater claims accuracy and accelerated claims processing, enabling workers to get the money they need to achieve a speedy recovery and return to work, which improves productivity. 

The ABCs of Clear Communication

We can all benefit from remembering some basic talking points when we engage in discussions about AI, machine learning and other digital technologies – whether it’s with our business peers and colleagues or our families. In short:

  • Keep it simple: Speak in plain terms.
  • Tell stories: Use examples and stories to explain a topic and gain alignment.
  • Stay practical: Business people often talk about technology in mythical proportions. Be pragmatic about what technology can do; avoid pie-in-the sky illustrations.
  • Don’t assume: This is a two-way street. Your own assumptions may need validation, and don’t assume your listener knows what DevOps means.
  • Repeat as needed: Technology can be complex, so repetition can help ensure that complex concepts are truly understood.
  • Break down an explanation: The human mind can better understand when information is provided in manageable, logical buckets. Minto’s Pyramid Principle is built on the concept of chunking information in manageable pieces. The same applies here. Take a message and break it into logical components.

With all that AI and other digital technologies have to offer, it’s essential for those with insights into its potential to diminish the fear, uncertainty and doubt that often accompanies the topic – rather than inadvertently emphasizing it. Believe me – that’s what I’ll remember the next time I bring up current events at the dinner table.

Randal Kenworthy

Randal Kenworthy

Randal Kenworthy is a Vice President in Cognizant’s Corporate Strategy group, currently working on an enterprise-wide program to develop digital solutions.  In... Read more