Kathy Gibson is at Dell EMC Partner Summit in Cape Town – Human-machine partnerships are going to be central to business in the future, which means that organisations have to master artificial intelligence (AI).

“AI often feels like we are looking into the abyss,” says Shams Hasan, infrastructure manager: Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Dell EMC.

In Africa, there are huge opportunities for AI, he adds. “AI is being used to increase the efficiency of dairy farming, building, hospitals and telecommunications.”

Research shows that 57% of business leaders are struggling to keep up with the pace of change – indeed, a massive 42% of them don’t know if they will be able to compete over the next decade.

However, 93% of organisations are battling barriers to becoming digital businesses by 2030.

To gain the next era of man-machine partnerships, organisations will have to master a number of issues, Hasan says.

The first thing organisations need to do is figure out what their data is worth. “I always ask customers if they have carried out an assessment and found a dollar value of their data.”

This important in light of the fact that 50% of global GDP will be digitised by 2021. But 48% of business leaders are unsure what their industry will look like in three years – and 45% fear they will be obsolete by then.

Digital transformation conversations tend to deal with things like big data, digital experience, IoT and AI.

“But underneath all of these things is data, which powers them all,” says Hasan. “That is the most important thing. If the customer doesn’t have a data strategy, they will not be able to leverage these things.”

Measuring their data value is therefore the first step in the journey. Businesses usually talk about their assets being talent, IP, operations and infrastructure. “But data is the organisation’s more valuable asset,” says Hasan. “It can open windows to opportunities you never even knew existed.”

The second step is realising that data is everywhere. “When you think about things like IoT, it’s about collecting data from just about anywhere. It’s not about the things – it’s a concept that adds business value.”

Once the right data is generated, Hasan says organisations can start thinking about AI and machine learning (ML).

CEOs are thinking seriously about ML, Hasan adds: 64% of them plan to invest in it during the next three years. Of these, 98% see it as essential, 85% believe it will transform their industry, 80% compare it to the Internet in terms of the impact it will have, and 10% believe it is hype.

How business leaders see AI and ML impacting their organisations varies: 92% say it will improve efficiency, 77% expect it to reduce costs, 66% are looking to enhance accuracy, and 28% think it will spark creativity.

“Across the board we are seeing an immense diversity in what customers want to achieve,” Hasan says.

But AI and ML are not futuristic concepts, he adds: 51% of all consumers are already using voice assistants; and DeepMind AI has enabled Google to reduce data centre cooling costs by 40%.

“At Dell Technologies we look at AI though three lenses: user experience, process and infrastructure,” Hasan points out.

“When we talk to customers, we are able to speak to the three things they are looking for: improving the human condition, igniting ROI and scaling beyond human capacity.”

The fourth step is about how data is able to empower organisations. “You need to be able to do something with data to create real value.

“Data can create an immersive and engaging environment.”

The first wave of technology can be defined as where computing was a destination; in wave two it became portable; and in wave three it is immersive, Hasan says.

“Virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) are part of a story of changing usage patterns to increase productivity.

“With these technologies we become part of the ecosystem.”

In the immersive environment, computing vision is able to exceed human performance when it comes to objects and full environment surroundings, he adds.

AR and VR are just part of what we are doing with AI, Hasan says. Applications are in use across a number of verticals: in military, retail, commerce and marketing, tourism, education, gaming, healthcare, industrial and manufacturing, transportation, and media and education.

“And, in Africa, there is no legacy to hold us back,” he says.

The fifth lesson is that AI/ML needs to be available where it matters, at the time when it matters.

“This brings us to the technology that empowers it,” Hasan says. Multi-cloud and software-defined everything (SDx) are key technology enablers.

Our lives are going digital, Hasan adds. “There is a new era of immersive computing, there is a new era of man: machine partnerships – but there are many risks as well.

“The bad guys have probably got better resources and are more patient than most of our customers.”

In the new era, organisations cannot secure their systems the way they used to, he adds. “Everything is in the cloud – so how do you protect yourself?”

The challenges customers have to overcome include a lack of necessary skills, defining an AI strategy, identifying use cases, funding, security or privacy concerns, complexity of integrating AI with existing infrastructure, and determining how to measure value from AI.

“Technology partners need to focus their efforts where it counts,” Hasan says.

“At Dell Technologies we provide a full spectrum of cognitive technology solutions. We are able to architect for continuously better outcomes on your terms today and tomorrow; while derisking your digital journey.”