Box, Cognizant CFOs: Early Days or Not, AI Presents Many Opportunities

Box and Cognizant see abundant opportunities in artificial intelligence (AI), but it’s still early days for the technology, according to comments made by both companies’ CFOs at the Deutsche Bank Technology Conference in Las Vegas Sept. 12.

AI and machine learning (ML) are “certainly a couple of categories that we’re pretty excited about” on both a medium- and long-term basis, Box CFO Dylan Smith said. Box has teamed with Google, IBM and Microsoft on various initiatives. The “next wave” of that is “really going to be around all things” AI and ML, Smith told the conference.

He added: “We’re always looking for ways — to the extent that it makes sense for our customers and for our economics — to leverage these public cloud providers for more and more capabilities over time.”

Asked which company that Box partners with has the most advanced AI and ML story, he said: “It’s hard to say. I think, in different categories, it’s probably different. I think it’s still pretty early and although all of these partners are making some pretty major investments, certainly from an image recognition standpoint” Google is “leading the pack there,” while “Microsoft is doing some pretty impressive things from a video recognition standpoint.” But he predicted that these companies will all “develop some pretty cool capabilities over time.”

Although AI and automation “are not new terms, the evolution [of them] is fairly new” and how clients are thinking about them for their businesses is “still quite early days,” Cognizant CFO Karen McLoughlin told the conference earlier in the day.

She’s not expecting AI to become another large, separate segment of Cognizant’s business, but rather a “part of the broader [digital] transformation program” at the company, she said.

With AI and automation, meanwhile, it’s important for a company like Cognizant to offer its own tools — and Cognizant has developed some of those, she said. But you also need to operate in a “partnership ecosystem today,” she noted. That’s because “this space is evolving so quickly” and it’s “not clear who all the winners will be that will come out of this space and exactly how this will evolve over the next few years,” she explained. That’s why Cognizant partners with “lots of different firms” on the technologies to help clients, she said.

“Everybody is interested” in automation and wants to look at how to use it effectively for their businesses today, she said. But she added: “It’s not as simple as just buying a tool off the shelf and putting that into your environment. Where we see the most successful programs is where clients really think about what’s the business process” that they’re trying to automate, what changes they need to make to that process to “drive the automation” and how they can integrate those automation tools into that process and into their technology environment.”

In the near term, automation should have a positive impact and then, over time, it should drive benefits including savings that clients can then use for other “transformation projects,” she said.

“This is a really interesting time in our industry” in general, she said, adding: “We are seeing – and have been seeing now for the last few years – a real shift in the way that clients want to interact with firms like Cognizant and our peer group.” Cognizant’s clients are “really starting to embrace digital transformation at scale,” and that’s across all service lines; it’s not just a front-end conversation anymore, she noted, echoing comments made by Prasad Chintamaneni, Cognizant’s president of Global Industries and Consulting at the Citi Global Technology Conference in New York Sept. 6.

One advantage that Cognizant has is that there’s only a small group of competitors, including it and Accenture, that can provide clients with a complete end-to-end services solution to “transform” their businesses, she also said.