Knowledge is power, or so they say. But for many companies in today’s interconnected, global economy, knowledge is power and it can be challenging to acquire.
Consider investment groups, consulting firms, and banks. They commit enormous resources to the task of acquiring industry intelligence before anyone else. That could mean knowing about a merger first or having the most relevant information about a bankruptcy filing. And to accomplish that, most companies use Google. That’s right, with billions of dollars circulating through the economy every day, some of the biggest decision makers are using Google to find the information they need.
The shortcoming of Google is that it prioritizes information based on popularity, mobile friendliness, and mainstream relevance, among a litany of other factors. As a result, business researchers may be looking for information that is buried on page six or page 100 of search results. Additionally, the internet is so enormous in 2016, and there are so many contributors to the wealth of information on the internet, that a human using Google has difficulty weeding out the irrelevant and harvesting the important.
That is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) advancements are stepping in. A new technology developed by industry research company Bitvore is taking over the task of Googling for human researchers. The program can be taught to look for certain kinds of information, weed out irrelevant content, organize everything in a succinct way, and deliver it to the decision maker who needs it. The end result is a wealth of relevant intelligence provided to the right person in minutes, as opposed to the countless thousands of man hours currently devoted to search engines.
I talked with Bitvore CEO Jeff Curie to learn more about how AI is changing industry intelligence:
Q: How do most companies keep up to date on movements in their market space today?
Curie: The vast majority of companies have an unspoken approach - "everyone needs to do it themselves because that's what it takes to be successful". That leads to most people searching the Internet repetitively and reading a handful of publications. Companies hope that people forward important things to their peers, but that rarely happens in the busy world we all live in today. Some companies have a person in marketing who collects industry articles in a spreadsheet and forwards it around once a month or so. Companies that recognize this blindspot have taken further steps to be more systematic - this typically leads to a dedicated team of "googlers" that setup alerts and deliberately search the internet for information, then put it in spreadsheets and email it around. Sometimes these teams of googlers are captive employees, more often they are contractors, offshore or interns. So it's either haphazard, or the 'manual labor' of the information age.
Q: In terms of competitive advantage, what is the power of information in this space? Can you provide an anecdote from your experience?
Curie: In financial services the financial impact of knowing something that the other side of the table does not know is very valuable. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, or much more, can be the gain in a transaction. In many industries and roles, having unique information means you have opportunities. Take sales for instance, when something important happens to a company there is a waterfall of changes that result, most of these changes are each an opportunity to sell a product or service. The early bird catches the worm is the correct analogy. Most deals go to the first person who offers to solve it. If you're the last to know, or never know at all, then you are very unlikely to benefit from the opportunity.
The reverse is also true. A wealth manager, for instance, who says "I didn't know that" to a customer’s query is likely on a path to losing the account - and not getting it back. Losing a million dollar account with 1.5 percent annual fees would be the minimum loss to their revenue, but likely it would be a much larger loss.
The ability to be an 'instant expert' or to be fluent in the business landscape impacting a prospect is vital to success in today's highly competitive global market.
Q: Why is it better to use an AI program to search for this intelligence instead of a highly specialized expert?
Curie: Easy. A very small percentage of the web content is impactful to business. Our AIs are trained to find that tiny piece that is impactful to you. The Internet is simply growing too fast in terms of content, but also in terms of sources. No one can read it all. You can search for anything but what if the important nugget you needed to know is on page 4 of Google? You would likely never find it. Few people dig deeper than page 1 of Google results. Bitvore AIs "read" over 50,000 sources of business information and throws away 99.5% of it that is not impactful. Let the expert read the final 0.05% and use their precious time to take advantage of the information, let AI sort out the 99.5% that is irrelevant and not actionable.
Q: Where does this technology go in the next five years? And to what extent can it replace the need for human experts?
Curie: Think about turning the internet upside down. Use AI to find what you need and deliver it proactively, rather than manually digging it out like most people do today. This technology will get more comprehensive, more precise, and more personalized over time. It will expand to cover translated information. It won’t be long until we can include translated foreign language content to our clients so they can understand opportunities and risks on a local level across the globe. It will also be found within more workflows that people use everyday. Already it's integrated into portfolio management and CRM applications. It's about making precisely the right information available in the context of the decision you are currently making - proactively.
It doesn't replace human experts. It augments the ability of people to access the relevant information to make better decisions. Imagine a doctor with augmented intelligence. That doctor could diagnose any disease and know every drug combination and interaction. Today that is beyond human ability, there is simply too much information on diseases, too many medicines with too many interactions and side effects for a human being to stay current (that's why we have so many specialists). Computers, on the other hand, can read and remember everything.
Let's use computers to help us have the best possible information at our fingertips at the moment we need to make a decision. The decision is still for the human to make, but now they won't be missing critical facts.