Ahead of his session at Cloud Expo Asia, held in Hong Kong on 16th and 17th May, we spoke to Esmond Tong, Oracle’s APAC Cloud Specialist Vice President, about how emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and chatbots are changing business.

In terms of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the enterprise, Tong notes that it is important to remember the two primary basic functions that these technologies can serve in business.

AI and ML are broadly used to replace human decision making in certain situations. Therefore, the first area in which they are useful is in operations and management. Significant levels of effort and human resource have traditionally been put into enterprise IT departments as they try to maintain their machines.

Machines making decisions

Instead of asking humans to make these decisions, Tong says, which can take up to 70-80% of the IT department’s time, we can allow machines to problem solve and maintain the IT department. Rather than enterprises plunging resources into operations, they can instead allow their IT departments to spend time on innovation. This, Tong believes, is the best place for enterprises to start using artificial intelligence.

Now that humans have time freed up to look into innovative and business-improving work rather than basic maintenance work, it would also make sense that this aspect could be assisted by smart machines as well.

At Oracle, Tong notes, the team has the experience of managing more than 100,000 databases worldwide, in its cloud centre. Keeping these databases up and running is a big job and is a task where AI and machine learning can come in handy.

As a database company, Tong says, Oracle is definitely of the opinion that once you have successfully created a data warehouse or data lake, you should make best use of it by applying AI and ML to understand, explore and discover more useful knowledge and information from this data. This is where artificial intelligence techniques can help to create innovation in enterprises, he believes.

The chatbot revolution

There is a big issue with chatbots in the sense of intent – people can say different things and have the same intent, or say the same things and have a different intent

When most people think of artificial intelligence, they most likely think of a talking, sentient robot. We’re not there yet, but chatbots have been improving at a rapid rate in recent years and gaining more and more applications in business. Google’s recent Duplex demonstration took the world by storm and helped highlight some of the possible changes that could be made to the way we interact with technology in the future.

Tong notes that rather than using an app that requires you download, register and open up before you can start using any services, a lot of companies are moving towards building chatbots.

There is a big issue with chatbots in the sense of intent – people can say different things and have the same intent, or say the same things and have a different intent – things like inflexion and tone carry great weight for meaning, and are usually quite easy for humans to interpret, but notoriously difficult for machines.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are helping make great leaps of progression in these areas, however. And the advantages are very clear – if you imagine driving in your car, it is clearly not safe to be using apps – the additional safety of talking to an app here could save lives. We have moved from a mouse to a touchscreen and we will soon just be talking to machines, believes Tong.

Blockchain in the enterprise

Turning to the most hyped technology in recent years, Tong argues that blockchain, though controversial, is ultimately less controversial than technologies like artificial intelligence. The problem, he says, is with the pervasive (though quickly disappearing) association with Bitcoin and cybercrime.

With Bitcoin, you have an open ledger where everybody can buy, and there is no need for a central entity. That makes people feel uncomfortable, particularly in big business. They are used to having a guiding centralised authority, and once you tell them there’s no need for somebody to manage certain processes, they really worry.

Enterprise blockchain, Tong says, will not be like this. It will be permission-based (private permissioned blockchains are generally agreed to be the real game-changer coming out of distributed ledger technology), so that only the right person – a business partner, a client and so on, can join.

The biggest thing that blockchain will create for these types of relationships is increased transparency. In the past, if people changed something on the database, you don’t know when they have changed, or from what value to what value, but with blockchain, the whole series of change is very clear and reported, and it cannot be tampered and changed later.

This allows you to have a much higher level of trust, and you can also get a lot more information from the chain. In the traditional system you can only see the end result – e.g. ‘my account balance is that much’ – with blockchain you can track the whole thing, as in when your salary comes in, what goes out etc. You can see all records, and people can do analysis and make use of the information to make better decisions.

It used to be that big ate small. Now fast eats slow, and soon smart will eat dumb

That’s why a lot of companies now are looking into it, for instance, merchants that have loyalty programs, logistics companies, insurance companies. It also comes in very useful banks when it comes to KYC and AML requirements.

The new business paradigm

There is one great challenge that companies are facing as they try their hand at blockchain. They believe that they are able to build a new blockchain based ecosystem, and be the first to do so. Effectively, he notes, they are trying to be a centralised authority for a technology that is by definition not centralised.

Tong notes that these types of technology are endemic of a bigger change in business. It used to be that Oracle would help companies to be big – this was how they could eat small companies. Now it’s developing so that fast eats slow and it will soon be that smart eats dumb. Disruptive technologies are a crucial part of this.


cloud expo asiaEsmond Tong will be speaking at the 2018 edition of Cloud Expo Asia Hong Kong, which will take place on 16-17 May. To hear from Esmond and other data centre experts, register here for your FREE ticket.