AI and machine learning: the stuff behind the hype?

It has become essential in IT. Something new is on the horizon and the hype machine is ramping up to chain speed as it writes a new term in its sales and marketing model. In some cases, companies change the label of their existing products to bring them into line with the new term without making an actual change to the product.

Sometimes the hype is justified, often it is not. What about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)? Gartner thinks they’re over-exaggerated according to his recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Science and Machine Learning Platforms.

Concrete example: a recent interview with a software supplier led to admit that the “AI capabilities” mentioned in their brochures were not yet there. In other words, they were taking advantage of the hype to get more eyes on their software.

Gartner doesn’t dismiss AI and ML as being totally devoid of substance. In fact, he names the top 20 candidates, explaining their strengths and weaknesses. These platforms are already proving invaluable to data scientists and analysts in finding data, building models, analyzing data and detecting trends. This value translates into sales. Gartner reports greater investment in AI during COVID-19 pandemic. The analyst firm’s best advice on how to see past glowing marketing promises is to tightly focus ML and AI on real-world use cases that deliver tangible business value.

Read more on The impact of COVID-19 on IT spending habits.

And IT needs to be aware of how the hype can influence senior management. CEOs and board members are beset from all sides by the wonders of this or that AI platform. This may lead them to demand the replacement of both existing analysis and business intelligence tools!

Before going all out …

Calm heads should prevail for a number of reasons. Here are five to remember.

  1. Switching platforms can be expensive and may not add as much functionality or value.
  2. Your existing provider may offer to add all the missing features at a fraction of the cost and on a schedule that you dictate. You never know until you ask.
  3. The new functions that are drooling over senior management may seem good. But will they add a lot of value to the bottom line? And will the new platform change current and successful organizational sales processes?
  4. Does a proposed new platform integrate well with existing cloud platforms and BI tools?
  5. Are users taken into account? Too often, management buys features that make their life easier, such as improved reporting. An example from many years ago: A new post office was loved by management and hated by frontline workers because it actually slowed down their ability to transact.

Choosing the right AI and ML tools

If real value can be achieved, continue with investments in AI and ML. Gartner noted that the market generated $ 4 billion in 2019 and is growing 17% per year. But not all tools are the same. Some platforms are data scientist driven and require highly skilled staff. A few can afford such staff, but many cannot. Other tools aim to democratize AI and ML. It may work for some organizations and not for others.

Gartner listed the usual suspects as its leaders in the Magic Quadrant, such as longtime SAS BI pioneers, IBM Watson, and MathWorks. SAS Visual Data Mining and Machine Learning currently dominate, according to Gartner, with the other two not far behind.

But beware of the incursion of cloud giants Google, Microsoft and Amazon. The latter was late for the party and is now coming back in force. There are also a lot of other competitors in a crowded market. Those winning high markets from Gartner include Dataiku, Databricks, Tibco, Alteryx, DataRobot, KNIME, RapidMiner, and H2O.ai.

The question remains: will SAS, IBM and MathWorks be able to maintain their grip on the market? Or will they be overtaken by the cloud brigade? Amazon SageMaker is currently playing a big role and gaining ground. Not to be outdone, the launch of a unified Google AI platform is imminent.

Regardless of the hype, this market is poised for significant growth in the years to come. Those who win will be those who see through the marketing blitz steer AI and ML initiatives towards the achievement of strategic business goals.

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