Innovation as the greatest challenge for traditional companies

Tomorrow is Today

Self-learning computers, self-driving cars, … some innovations have a significant impact on the economy and on your job. A look at ‘disruptive’ technologies.

"Cognitive systems such as IBM Watson can raise data analytics to unprecedented heights."

Dr Cameron Brooks, Director of Watson Solutions at IBM

Progress in technology and data analysis means an advantage for many companies. Some firms use their data to work faster and more efficiently, while others capitalise on that innovation to reinvent themselves completely. But what if it is not enough? A number of innovations have such an impact that they can disrupt an industry at its foundation.

Innovation can disrupt an industry at its foundation


Innovation has the power to rapidly exchange traditional models for new ones. Existing companies do therefore not always have the time to adjust. “The music industry and the travel industry are probably the best examples of such a disruption,” says Jo Coutuer, Partner at Deloitte. Websites such as Spotify or, provide a free service in exchange for data and thus threaten to drive traditional music shops and travel agencies out of business. “The accusing finger is often pointed at the Internet, but the web is essentially a vehicle for making all sorts of things possible,” Jo Coutuer says. “ and sites such as Tripadvisor are ultimately machines for collecting and reselling data.” As Coutuer sees it, the disruption in the travel industry has more to do with the fact that travel agencies have not themselves come up with a system that uses data to provide services. “Had they thought of it themselves, no new names would have appeared on the market to eat away at the cheese,” he says. “If you ignore the drive for optimisation and redefinition, you become a candidate for disruption.”

Cognitive computers

One of these disruptive innovations is the self-learning computer. At present, computers already store loads of text, but when they can also learn from that text, new possibilities emerge. More than 80% of all data that companies and governmental authorities have, are textual or visual. That is a large volume of data which has scarcely been tapped until now.

“Cognitive systems such as IBM Watson can raise data analytics to unprecedented heights,” says Dr Cameron Brooks, Director of Watson Solutions at IBM. “The system can process large volumes of unstructured data, allows you to ask complex questions in your own language, generates hypotheses on the basis of facts, and learns from every interaction with users.” Named Watson, this self-learning computer must give organisations new insights into their own data and can to that end analyse videos, images and discussions on social media as well. The aim is to improve and accelerate the expertise of people that work with it, and their decisions.

How does it work?

“You can use Watson in the call centre of a tax office, for instance. A tax office gets a series of questions throughout the year, some 80% of which are pretty routine. People may ask their question in a different way, but the answer is often the same,” Dr Brooks explains. Watson can be trained to understand and to answer such routine questions, even when they are worded differently. For a more specialised question, it can connect callers with a person. “This will enable the operator to work far more efficiently. He is then a real expert and need not process routine questions the whole day. We have a customer in Singapore that is currently trying the system.”

For call centre operators, the arrival of a self-learning computer means a new job description, just as the introduction of robotics in the automotive industry meant that quite a lot of factory workers had to be retrained into experts. That is what disruptive innovation such as robotics and text analysis means: new jobs are created, whilst others disappear.

De Standaard (27/3)

Innovaties die hele sectoren kunnen omgooien

Zelflerende computers, zelfrijdende auto’s, ... sommige innovaties hebben een stevige impact op de economie en op uw job. Een blik op
‘ontwrichtende’ technologieën.

Published: 27 March 2015
Did you find this useful?