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The need for digital transformation

Updated: 19 hours ago

The call for digital transformation is getting louder and louder. And that sound comes not only from consultants looking to get a piece of the hype, but also from “board members” of the largest organisations in the world.



Executives and C-level managers watch with alarm as one company after another with an international reputation disappears, is acquired or goes bankrupt. They fear that they themselves will be next if they do not catch up with the digital revolution. It's interesting then to hear people at that level talk about digital transformation, and with Tom Siebel we get “close to the fire” in that regard.


Digitale transformatie


Tom Siebel is the founder of Siebel Software, which was a fairly revolutionary CRM solution in the 1990s. Once bought out by Oracle, “billionaire” Tom did not rest on his laurels, but continued to pursue IT innovations.


Tom is now CEO of C3.ai, an AI technology company that has clients such as 3M, Shell, major banks and the U.S. Department of Defence. He previously published the book on digital transformation with the telling subtitle “Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction.


Survival in the barrenness


Tom is, of course, a “sales guy” who knows how to tell his story. And his huge network of high-level people and media contacts also helps a bit. The man has, as they say in the U.S., “street credibility. So a few years ago he was allowed to come to CNBC to tell his story about digital transformation.


In my view, this interview is still relevant today. It may be well before the hype in Generative AI, but Tom was well aware of the urgency, value and risks of artificial intelligence in 2019.



Transform to survive


There, Tom explains in 6 minutes what digital transformation is, why we all really need to “get on board,” and he also mentions some examples of companies that he says are doing well (and quite coincidentally, that includes his clients) and companies that have missed the boat or are in danger of missing the boat.


The setting of this interview is purely financial. Each company's “Market cap” also appears on the screen, and the interviewers ask pointed questions. For example, they talk about IBM that missed the cloud and can't really make a dent with Watson. And about General Electric that invested USD 7 billion and did not get any results.


It's war!


In the interview, Tom indicates that there are far too few laws and regulations now. As far as he is concerned, governments need to start acting and imposing rules regarding ethics, privacy protection and security.


Tom is also very resolute in his statement about China: “There is an AI war going on between the U.S. and China.” He hopes the U.S. wins, but his nonverbal expression speaks volumes. You can think of the man all you want, but this is someone many CEOs and other leaders listen to.


The application of AI in practice


Recently, Tom Siebel opened the A3 Transform event with a keynote in which he briefly discussed the genesis of AI (7:30) and a little later showed the practical application of AI at various C3.ai clients, such as Shell and the U.S. Department of Defence.



But despite his intention to promote AI and his own company, Tom Siebel remains critical. As leaders of companies and nations embrace early adoption of AI, Tom addresses the vital need for creative rules to balance regulation and innovation. Tom discusses the real risks associated with the spread of AI in society, business and government. Tom has clear ideas on how to effectively regulate these risks.


ChatGPT and LLM are pretty straightforward


Tom refers to Stephen Wolfram's new book on ChatGPT - and actually on Language Learning Models - and briefly explains what it does and what the problems are, such as hallucination and legal problems with IP (intellectual property).


Tom does his best to explain that C3 recognizes the problems of LLM and eliminates them as much as possible. C3 uses LLM for what it is intended: to interpret and answer questions. The LLM does not get access to the data; that remains exclusively accessible to the C3 algorithms. By setting the “temperature” to 0, among other things, he expects the LLM not to hallucinate.


At 50 minutes, the entire keynote is quite a sit, but it is interesting to see how a seasoned business leader - with a background in computer science - looks at the practical application of artificial intelligence. Tom approaches AI very practically from the perspective of a business manager, averse to hype.


Generative becomes the new interaction


At one point (35:30), Tom predicts what will be the “killer app” for Generative AI: “A fundamental change in the human computer interation model.” That's even before OpenAI introduced the new version ChatGPT 4o. This proves to me that Tom is pretty sharp on developments.


He also talks here about “Unified enterprise search” where the LLM interprets the query and provides answers based on data from different sources. “What are our suppliers in South America?” “What are the biggest delays in maintenance of our equipment?”


Tom predicts that today the answers to these types of questions must be asked and interpreted by specialists, but with generative AI, even non-specialists can ask questions and understand the answer.


Tom shows the user interface of current ERP systems and shares his horror at the poor usability. He lets us take a look at the new AI user interface that C3 is now developing. Especially when combined with virtual and augmented reality, this could become very interesting (46:40 min).


Strategy in digital transformation


In the new TIMAF publication 'Strategy in digital transformation' you can read how to optimally use strategy for a successful digital transformation.


This book explains how to create, share, execute, measure and optimise digital strategies and make a successful digital transformation.


With an optimal combination of theory, best practices, examples and exercises, you can put everything you've learned from this book into practice the very next day.


Order the book today! (e-book will be released in June 2024)


Webinar over Strategie in digitale transformatie


Friday, June 21, author Erik Hartman updates you on the role of strategy in digital transformation.


Using a practical example, Erik will take you through all the steps of strategy. You will get all the tools to get started yourself.


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