Machine learning is becoming such an important business technology that some of the largest suppliers of technology are providing free courses for executives. One example is SAP, with its Enterprise Machine Learning in a Nutshell course. Many suppliers have traditionally catered to executive needs for information by creating bland, high level presentations, that typically leave them none the wiser. This move to supply meaningful content by SAP should be applauded, it breaks the long tradition of assuming executives are either too busy or too disinterested to devote time to understanding an important new technology. My own experience (and I have held many full day seminars for executives), is that there is a genuine desire to understand.
The implications of machine learning are as profound as the appearance of physical machines during the industrial revolution. Machine learning will have a major impact on the efficiency and efficacy of business operations, and in the process will cause considerable labor displacement among both blue and white collar workers. It is already the case that machine learning and associated artificial intelligence technologies can create and manage real-time marketing plans, approve or reject loan applications, set credit limits, identify faulty components on a production line, process MRI scans – and so on. Virtually all aspects of business operations will be affected, and of course it is vitally important that executives understand, at a high level, what is possible and what is not.
We are entering a period of very rapid transformation – digital transformation as some call it. The stakes are high. Get it right and the benefits will be very considerable. Get it wrong and ruin could be the outcome. This isn’t wild speculation, I have seen businesses fold because of unwise technology investments – some of them seemingly quite innocent until things went wrong. Executives will need all the help they can get to keep up with what is happening. Let’s hope more suppliers follow in SAP’s tracks, offering real information instead of the usual high level nonsense that does nothing to educate, or help executives reduce the risk associated with technology investments.