The fourth quarter - It is that time of the financial year when every leader wishes that the days were longer as it is a crucial planning time for the road ahead. The better we plan, the stronger would be the foundation for the next financial year, just another three months away.
While we are also embarking on this planning phase in terms of how we can enhance our existing solutions or create new ones to meet our customers’ i expectations, two articles I read recently came to mind that left me thinking of the kind of solutions we should aim for. These were two unrelated articles, but deep down both of these articles converged on the same message. In today’s connected world, there is no action that is limited to a specific industry or segment, their impact, both positive and negative, have far-reaching outcomes, sometimes unknown to the people initiating the same. The two articles were:
One, an award-winning book’s review ii:
Bengaluru born, US-based author Madhuri Vijay won the JCB Prize for Literature 2019 for her debut novel “The Far Field”. Ron Charles, of the Washington Post, while reviewing the award winning book draws parallel to the beautiful poemiii of the same name by Theodore Roethke from which he picks the wonderful line “All finite things reveal infinitude” to explain how the grief of one woman and her subsequent actions ripple out to disrupt worlds she had never imagined.
The other articleiv was on an algorithm that addressed a seemingly simple problem.
The World Economic Forum published an article that explained how the city of Boston put an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm in charge of solving its ever-increasing running and maintenance cost of nearly 700 public school buses. The algorithm helped save $5 million and also made redundant about 50 routes.
The initial challenge put out by the Boston Public School (BPS) transport team was towards solving/optimizing what they thought of as couple of key issues responsible for their ineffective transport system, viz. lack of sufficient drivers to run the buses (despite sign-up bonus and minimum wages promised) and increasing fuel and maintenance costs.
However, the winning AI algorithm that eventually helped address the problem and even resulted in valuable savings took into consideration multiple other peripheral variables that were implicit and hence, compounded the original problem statement manifolds, for e.g., where the students lived and where their schools were to determine best routes, varying start and closing times of schools that resulted in different traffic patterns and many trips with half empty buses.
Drawing a parallel, in the award-winning novel too, the central character sets out with a simple question (who her mother’s lone friend was) and in her search to find an answer to that she ends up touching various others’ lives and the quest for finding an answer to a single question grows into several other questions that need to be addressed as well.
Leaving the fiction aside, the message from this is that no problem statement or question just stands on its own, be it of an individual or of an industry. Technologies like AI/ML are driving future solutions to be more accommodative of the ecosystem in which our customers’ businesses operate than just focusing on delivering siloed solutions that, at best, only functionally addresses the customer’s own application needs without considering the end customers’ challenges.
While resolving the decreasing accuracy of a Service Desk ticket classification operation using the Wipro HOLMES™ classifier for an American Clothing company, we discovered that just enabling the data training model to be adequately trained on the classification categories wasn’t enough in addressing the problem. The low accuracy of classified tickets led to the discovery of lack of proper end-user training when raising tickets that resulted in inconsistent pattern of ticket categories that further led to the discovery of lack of up-to-date training material for the end users when system applications undergo changes.
Hence, we cannot sit back with a single line problem statement at hand trying to design our AI/ML algorithms to address point problems. We need to go beyond to extend the problem statement to a logical, broader one (seeing the big picture) that will help design a solution that is far more sustainable in the long run.
As AI/ML and automation analysts, we need to enhance the boundaries of our solutions to take into consideration the ecosystem as a whole when addressing a problem statement though its cause may seem to be confined to a single application or system.
So, the question we need to address is, are we geared up sufficiently to visualize connected ecosystem solutions?
iiWashington Post Review of the Book “The Far Field”
iiiPoem “The Far Field” by Theodore Roethke
ivWorld Economic Forum Article about Boston Public School Bus Optimization