The business value of cognitive. Leaders in cognitive and AI weigh in on what’s working and what’s next

The business value of cognitive. Leaders in cognitive and AI weigh in on what’s working and what’s next

With all the talk about cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in business circles today, it’s natural to wonder whether these capabilities are having any measurable impact.

Deloitte asked some of the most aggressive adopters of cognitive technologies how they have fared to date, focusing on 250 “cognitive-aware” leaders within “cognitive-active” companies. From the impact on jobs to their specific goals and exactly which cognitive technologies they are using, Deloitte Cognitive Survey shares their views with the broader business world.

Cognitive technologies are becoming ubiquitous in the consumer world. Often without realizing it, many of us use machine learning, RPA, machine intelligence, analytics, AI, natural language processing, image recognition, and similar capabilities in our personal lives. Innovative companies will apply their personal experiences to reimagine work within their companies.

What cognitive technologies were included in the survey?

“Cognitive technologies” include:

Robotic process automation (RPA) is software that automates repetitive, rules-based processes usually performed by people sitting in front of computers.

Computer vision is the ability to extract meaning and intent out of visual elements, whether characters (in the case of document digitization), or the categorization of content in images such as faces, objects, scenes, and activities.

Machine learning is the ability of statistical models to develop capabilities and improve their performance overtime without the need to follow explicitly programmed instructions.

Natural language processing/ generation (NLP/G) is the ability to extract or generate meaning and intent from text in a readable, stylistically natural, and grammatically correct form.

Speech recognition is the ability to automatically and accurately recognize and transcribe human speech.

Rules-based systems is the ability to use databases of knowledge and rules to automate the process of making inferences about information.

Deep learning is a relatively complex form of machine learning involving neural networks, with many layers of abstract variables.

Physical robots can perform many different tasks in unpredictable environments, often in collaboration with human workers.

What did the surveyed leaders tell us?

Transformation in 3, 2, 1…

76% of the executives expect cognitive technologies to “substantially transform” their companies in three years or less.

Job loss? More like job shift.

In the next three years, 69% of respondents anticipate minimal to no job loss and even some job gains. Within 10 years, 28% see new ways of working to augment people’s capabilities and an additional 28% anticipate many new jobs as a result of the adoption of cognitive technologies.

It’s working.

83% said their companies have already achieved either moderate or substantial benefits from their work with these technologies. Only 9% believe the technology is overhyped.

From “Cool, we’ll try it” to “I think we’re going to need it.”

92% believe that cognitive technology is an important aspect of their internal business process; 87% reported it will play a significant role in improving their products and services.

Cost savings? Just a side benefit.

The most common benefit of cognitive technologies cited by survey respondents was to “enhance the features, functions, and/or performance of our products and services.” 51% percent ranked it either first, second, or third. Reducing headcount through automation was the least popular answer.

Will cognitive really change anything?

If there is one key takeaway from the survey results, it is that respondents— those who have already begun adopting and using cognitive and AI technologies— are highly enthusiastic about the role of these technologies in their companies, both today and in the future. Among respondents, 87% said that cognitive technologies are either “important” or “very important” to product and service offerings. Even more –92%– stated that they are “important” or “very important” to internal business processes. 76% also believe that cognitive technologies will “substantially transform” their companies within the next three years. Clearly, these companies feel that using AI is central to their ability to change their businesses and get ahead of their competition. None of our respondents believe that AI will fail to drive substantive change, either for themselves or their industry.

Goals for cognitive: smarter insights, stronger outcomes

What are companies hoping to achieve with cognitive technologies? According to survey respondents, they are pursuing a wide range of goals.

Making products and services “smarter”

The most common benefit cited by survey respondents was to “enhance the features, functions, and/or performance of our products and services.” 51% ranked it either first, second, or third. In short, companies are seeking to increase the value of their products or services by making them “smarter.” The majority of the world’s largest software companies, for instance, have already incorporated one or more cognitive technologies into a product in their portfolio. This is increasingly common in tech-enabled companies in other industries as well.

Developing cognitive products and services

The leaders who responded to our survey are looking to cognitive technologies for more than incremental improvements on existing products and services. A third of them employ cognitive technologies to develop new products, and 25% report using these technologies to pursue entirely new markets. Some companies are also finding enterprise-level applications for these products, while others are also pursuing “predictive asset maintenance” with cognitive technologies in manufacturing.



Aiding and supporting humans

Companies are also using cognitive technology to augment human judgment. A third of the respondents to our survey are using cognitive technologies to support better decision making. AI can improve decision-making by accurately predicting outcomes and sifting through unstructured data to find answers to questions. This is leading to better outcomes in applications as varied as loan underwriting, fraud detection, medical diagnosis, policing, and investing. In most cases, early adopters are using cognitive technologies to complement human intelligence, rather than replacing it outright.

Improving business operations

Improving performance by “optimizing internal business operations” (36% in top three objectives) is another top goal. This might involve optimizing supply chains by choosing the most economical shipping options, shrinking power consumption in data centers, tilting windmill blades at just the right angle for the wind, or maximizing investment returns. To gain real benefits from technologies as comprehensive and powerful as AI requires companies to adapt their operations.

Of all the benefits listed, the least frequently chosen was “reduce headcount through automation.” This could be because companies are not pursuing cost-cutting as a major objective of AI, or because they have yet to experience significant headcount reductions.

What it all means. Key lessons from the front lines of cognitive and AI

Jump in.

Realizing the benefits of cognitive technologies requires developing a good understanding of how they work, exactly what they’re good at doing, and how to supply them with the data they need to thrive. That takes a hands-on approach and a lot of practice.

Manage a portfolio of projects.

Creating a small yet dedicated internal function that will support a group (portfolio) of cognitive initiatives focused on creating measureable business outcomes will help allow companies to take bets on cognitive technologies, identify the relative maturity of these technologies, and pinpoint operational, resources and technology changes required to embark on a full on cognitive journey.



Do some of it yourself.

Companies that report economic benefits from cognitive technologies are developing and implementing at least some of their own solutions. This helps them acquire skills and makes it easier to integrate cognitive technologies into business processes and new products, where the return on investment may be highest.


Focus on change—not just cost cutting.

By focusing too much on automation-driven cost-cutting, companies can miss out on the potential to drive top-line growth through cognitive-driven innovation, or to realize near-term benefits in product and process improvements.

Deloitte Cognitive survey began with 1,500 executives, out of which roughly 17% (250 respondents) were senior-level executives at cognitively-active companies with 500 or more employees who were familiar with both the concepts and their applications in their companies. This group of 250 executives constituted our sample.

72% “C-level,” in charge of functions, business units, or the entire company

74% “experts” on cognitive technology or had an “excellent understanding” of it, 26% had some “broad understanding”

About half had >5,000 employees, and all had at least 500 employees