PART I: AI and Agile, a match made in heaven or destined for a messy divorce?

Almost every week, I am contacted by a number of vendors who try to sell a product, a demo, or or even a vision on the applications of agile in AI! Of course, both words, “Agile” and “AI” are still pretty powerful buzzwords and they are unlikely to go out of fashion any time soon! It seems peculiar that the “Agile” buzzword has outlived many of the other buzzwords like ”B2B”, “B2C”, “Mobile” or “Social” etc., I guess it is now time to see how it can apply to AI?

Can an agile methodology be applied to AI? After all, AI is all about experimentation/ exploration, so how can an agile methodology be applied to it? The point is, all experimentation will need to drive value and produce some business value and return on investment (ROI). So, how can an agile framework help with that?

As always, a single agile methodology will probably fail on its own as it needs to be tied to organizational interdependencies, strategies and even cultures. It is also all about a shift in mindsets which can be really hard in some circumstances.

In this article, I will discuss a unique agile methodology that can work well within different organizational boundaries and industries. This methodology was born and was put to practice by working very closely with Data Scientists, Data Engineers, AI Consultants, Information Technology Engineers and last but not least, a number of lines of business (LOB).

Our Goal
The goal was to considerably reduce the Model Development Lifecycle (MDLC) timelines for building AI Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) models. Time to market is essential and taking too long seemed like a missed opportunity for all!

According to Harvard Business Review, it takes between 18 to 32 months to build impactful Machine Learning models. It goes without saying that this kind of timelines are simply unacceptable regardless of the industry you work in. By the time you are ready to go live with a model within this timeframe, your model would probably be outdated or would need to go through a complete refresh. It is also possible that the original hypothesis may entirely change and or may no longer be applicable!

Generally, there are 5 phases to an MDLC as follows:

What is wrong with the diagram above? If you are involved with AI and MDLC, you have probably already guessed it. It is suggesting a sequential/linear approach. It is common knowledge that AI model development needs to be iterative, so let’s try to fix that!

Whilst this diagram suggests an iterative approach in different phases, it is still suggesting hand offs from one phase to another and potentially from one team to another. Hand offs are generally expensive and time consuming. Data Science is iterative in nature, i.e. you would have to go through several takes until you reach a desired state where your model can better predict, prescribe or suggest an action that is needed. So, how can you make sure these iterations are time bound and allow overlaps between different phases?

A unique Agile AI Methodology
The answer, as usual, is not that simple, but it is doable if and only if you have a proper methodology and a solid framework that is acceptable and can be adopted by a majority of your stakeholders, I say majority because without applying a proper adoption and change management strategy any approach would probably be dead on arrival! Such methodology will also need to be organizationally agnostic, in other words, as changes occur within the organizations, your methodology and framework should still work regardless!

Which Agile Methodology?
So, which agile methodology should be used used? Scrum, Lean, Crystal…. The list goes on. The reality is, none of the methodologies above can help on their own. Before using a specific agile methodology, a solid supportive framework needs to be developed within which an agile methodology can be applied to.

What Framework?
The answer to this is almost always the same. A solid and versatile framework is needed that not only focuses on an agile “delivery methodology”, but also on a number of Business Value Accelerators (BVA) that can help to accelerate MDLC. Using say, “Scrum” alone without a proper underlying framework will not be of much use. We built a framework that helped us gain significant acceleration married with an agile methodology. We call this framework Flash AI.

Flash AI is supported by an iterative architecture that allows a continuous and iterative training of the models whilst presenting the results to the business in a “show and tell” manner until the optimal results are delivered. This iterative approach is a “soft launch” of the model that will live in a real production environment and in a time bound manner producing real business results. More to come on the Soft Launch approach in part II of this article.

The underlying engine behind Flash AI is a number of BVA with 5 major components:

1- Hypothesis Value Acceleration
A true data science hypothesis does not immerge easily unless it is defined within the context of solving a business problem. There are several techniques and methods that can help to clearly define data science hypothesis by always keeping an eye on the business outcomes and a true Action Oriented Architecture. Design Thinking is the one I have used on a number of AI use cases and have benefited from the clarity it offers including the ability to build visual prototypes in the first iterations of discovery phase (Sprint 1-2). These prototypes help the ultimate users with a crisp visualization and a true business value realization offered by the model output!

2- Data Ingestion Accelerators
Tools that allow you to accelerate your data ingestions and expedite building data pipelines faster. If data governance and compliance is paramount to your lifecycle, it is important to build approval workflows and include your key stakeholders such as, legal, business operations, information security and data owners very early in the process, perhaps as early as sprint 1-2. A great tool (framework) in this area is the very notion of a “Data Foundry” that allows recurring ingestion and data reuse as needed. Once the roles within a given MDLC are identified, Role Based Access Controls (RBAC) can also expedite data ingestion and onboarding provisioning. There are many other examples within this component that I will cover in the part II of this blog.

3- Model Development Accelerators
Tools that allow you to develop your AI models quicker. These tools allow your data scientists to quickly build benchmarks to compare their models with and make enhancements as necessary. Note that the model you are trying to build has probably been built before and you do not necessarily need to build every single model from scratch. Data Robot and H2O Driverless AI are two great tools that can help data scientists to develop AI models faster.
A global Feature Store can also help you build and reuse your features across different AI models. There are several tools in the market or you can build your own from scratch!

4- Model Deployment Accelerators
It is important to note that model deployment is not necessarily all inclusive of MDLC, rather an SDLC process that requires tight partnership with your technology teams (see my blog where MDLC meets SDLC). Deployment accelerators can significantly reduce the model deployment timelines, and on some occasions (depending on model output type) down to 4 weeks, now, that’s just MAD (model auto deployment)!
MAD is a framework that enables automatic deployment, running and monitoring of AI ML and NLP models. Once again, there are several DevOps tools in the market for this purpose or you can build your own in conjunctions with the available tools in the market to meet your needs.

5- Model Integration/Business Consumption Accelerators
Tools and techniques that allow you to consume the results of your AI models faster and ensure that they are driving the business results defined within the original hypothesis. It is of ultimate importance to ensure the very business value of AI models are realized by taking them through an iterative pilot phase. A “show and tell” framework which allows us to build models as they are being trained, produce results and take such results to the business through a pilot (more details in part II of this blog)

6- Business Process Accelerators
At the very center of the Flash AI framework there exists an agile component that can help to streamline the delivery processes across the MDLC. This is where you focus on methods by which you can DELIVER faster. This can be achieved by breaking down the activities within each phase into specific units of time, say 2 week sprints in conjunction with a number of pre-defined user stories that will help to save time for the scrum masters and product owners.

The Agile Blueprint
The diagrams below depicts a high level agile POD for ML and NLP models. Using these blueprints along with the BVA described earlier can lead to significant MDLC acceleration across, as high as 37% in some AI use cases.

In summary, AI and Agile CAN be a match made in heaven, but you are going to need a number of mediators throughout the marriage (#FlashAI) whilst getting constant counselling by the defined Business Value Accelerators #BVA

In part 2, I will be discussing the BVA in a more granular details.


What does it take to become a Cognitive Business?


A wise man, Vijay Vijayasankar once told me, there is a simple acronym to help remember and comprehend Cognitive Computing! And yes, that’s URL, which understands for:


So if you have a system whereby it can “URL”, then you’ve got yourself a cognitive system/business, brilliant! Well, not quite, as Vijay would tell you himself, you really have some work to do to become a real cognitive business.


1-   Cognitive Strategy

Use the diagram below to start paving your ways in moving towards the right cognitive strategy.


2–   Data Foundation

Collect the right data, internal and external, structured and unstructured, partners’, vendors’ and competitors’, news sites, social media, employee enterprise social networks, Patenting DB’s, Licensing experts amongst others. Be imaginative!

3-   The Right Platform and API’s

Choose the right cloud platform (public, private, hybrid) for your industry and needs and be selective about the API’s you use, they can get pretty expensive!

4-   IT Readiness

Figure out if you are “infrastructure-ready”. Cognitive workloads can get very heavy!

5-   Choose the right methodology

Be agile and nimble. Fail if you must but fail fast and learn even faster. See my blog on Design Thinking and Cognitive projects.

6-   Be Secure, be safe

As cognitive computing finds its way into homes, cars, roads, buildings, supply chain, Banking transactions, airports etc., Securing every cognitive transaction becomes a must and not a nice to have.

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Why Many Artificial Intelligence Projects FAIL?


Nowadays, we hear the buzzwords like Data Science, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cognitive (a less scary way of saying AI) over and over, I think that’s very clear.

What is not entirely clear is that when we start the AI projects, the actual requirements remain just as unclear as some of these these “buzzwords”. Let me explain. I had a client in the healthcare industry recently who came up with this requirement:I want to use

Big Data to take the complexity away from the processes our Doctor’s have to deal with every day.

My client was also tired of big consulting firms saying things like “our most prestigious product X can so easily take care of this”. My client’s frustration was that she felt no one was listening to her and everyone was trying to sell her a technology.

This is a very common mistake when we try to solve a business problem by thinking of a “solution” straightaway and without giving it any thought of what it really means.

Cognitive (AI) Requirements are ambiguous in nature

We all know what cognitive solutions can be capable of, but it is also important to bear in mind that AI solutions are hard to build since the nature of their business requirements are often not fully understood. Think about it for a second, how can you possibly provide the best solution to a vague requirement like I stated above without completely breaking it down? What is crucial is that you take the journey with your client and demystify the unknowns first.

Artificial Intelligence and Unknown Unknowns

There are so many unknowns when it comes to AI projects and the issue is that most of these unknowns will remain unknown if a proper methodology is not used to de-code them.


So, how can Design Thinking help?

Design Thinking is based upon 3 simple principles, Observe, Reflect and Make.


These principles will guide you to:

1)   Learn the real pain-points of your users by continuously “getting in their heads”

2)   See the problem from the user perspective and not yours, and not the CIO’s!

3)   Ideate absurdly, yes, free them from the status-quo and help them come up with brilliant ideas.

4) Build prototypes in just a couple of days which would not have been possible otherwise

Using Design Thinking, we managed to quickly (just about 5 days) understand the complex nature of my client’s big ambition of “I want to use Big Data to take the complexity away from the processes our Doctor’s deal with every day” by building the following:


This may seem a lot but you can get the entire thing done in a week. Oh, I almost forgot, my client was delightfully surprised by the entire program and realized that big data solutions can indeed help resolve very complex problems in healthcare

Measuring your Employee Morale effectively with Advanced Analytics

Have you ever taken a yearly employee engagement survey where you respond to a number of questions “anonymously”? Many fortune 500 companies are realizing the yearly employee surveys are necessary but not enough when it comes to measuring employee morale.


Attrition rate is at it’s highest rate for decades and employers are struggling to retain good talent. According to Gallup, global employee engagement is at 13% only. This means the rest are either on auto-pilot or just dread coming to work!attrates

The role of Analytics By applying sentiments and emotions analytics, HR managers could tap into the enterprise social networks (ESN) to find out why their employees are unhappy based on specific demographics. With Yammer being a successful social tool we have built a one of a kind solution using the great cognitive powers of IBM Watson and and Microsoft Power BI.

A large global retail client has tried our solution with great success where the corporate took action to increase employee productivity.A large insurance company managed to decrease their attrition by 12% by simply knowing the Next Best Action when it comes to employee morale.

Click here to see this for yourself absolutely free of charge and request a proof of concept (POC). pbi


Top 10 Use Cases for a Powerful Employee Experience (EX)

Employee Experience (EX) is still on the top 10 list of CXO’s and yet it is problematic for most fortune 100 companies in the world. There are many components to a great EX, in this blog, I will be focusing on EX from the lens of collaboration, namely Intranets.

I have the luxury of getting a look at many internal collaboration software and tools,  and when you look at some, you think you are looking at something from late 90’s! It’s not so much the look and feel or the UI that seems outdated, it is the lack of great UX  that is needed to make employees productive.

In this blog, I have outlined the top 10 business cases. I have not provided detailed solutions for these issues here, you will find the solutions to these use cases in my upcoming blog, “how to build engaging Intranets”.


Having benchmarked 42 Intranets and Extranets globally, I have complied the following use cases which are either non-existent or if they exist they suffer from a poor functionality.collab_challenges

Top 10 Use Cases

  1. I want a ONE STOP SHOP for all my daily tasks and activitiesonestopshop

Your Intranet needs to be so engaging, that if you took it away from your employees, they would not be able to do their work! Today, employees are having to use several tools in several different locations and formats across their network, e.g. expense reports, tasks, time off, portals (myHR, myFinance), enterprise social networking among many others.

Enterprise Social

It seems most companies are doing a good job with their communities (team sites) but not so great when it comes to micro blogging capabilities. For example, on the Microsoft platform, many are still confused as to whether to use SharePoint Newsfeeds or Yammer’s.

Social and the cloud solutions

The arrival of Office 365 and many other cloud collaboration software, has now created an on premise vs. cloud (hybrid) environment which makes it even harder for employees to be social.

  1. I want to be able to find content and people quickly and efficientlysearch

Search remains the biggest pain point for organizations and once again, the arrival of the cloud has worsened this problem. People search is less problematic, nevertheless, the lack of information in employee user profiles (skills, past projects, activities, etc.) severely hinders the expertise search across the enterprise.

  1. I want to connect with my colleagues and other employees, vendors and partners easilyleaders_connection

Employees still feel they are working in silos with minimal collaboration with their colleagues. This is across the board from document collaboration to unified communication when it really matters. Unified communication has had more success recently with the arrival of contextual instant messaging (IM) on the Intranet pages.

  1. I want to be able to connect to my executives, I want to have a voice!

Once again, the top-down connection seems an issue and this directly affects employee morale.

  1. I want ALL MY content and LOB Apps in one placelob

Imagine when you land on the home page of your organization, you get direct access to all line of business applications without having to navigate to different pages. From ERP apps, to CRM and business process management software, application integration remains cumbersome and expensive. Seems like the management do not see a clear ROI in integrating or at least aggregating content and business processes!

  1. I want to know information that is ONLY RELEVANT TO MEcontentking

Although not very hard to implement, not having contextualized information is resulting in lower employee adoption. For example, when interviewing stakeholders of a company with 110,000 employees worldwide with several business units and locations, the main complaint was the lack of content relevance. “I want to see the news for my area”, I want to see content that is pertinent to my business unit”, “Why am I receiving information that has nothing to do with what I do on daily basis”, sounds familiar?

  1. I want to have access to my content on the gomobilecontent

It is great to see various content repositories available to employees, e.g. One Drive, SharePoint online, IBM Connections, Box, drop box, SalesForce, Confluence, etc. But the problem is, a) there are too many repositories and b) There is no congruent approach to have the content aggregated and c) not all important content is available on the cloud. Employees should not really care or be responsible for content management, “Content is King”, well, maybe, but “it needs to be a kind king” and content needs to be organized and made available to employees any time anywhere!

  1. I want to be able to share my ideas easily and get rewarded for theminnovation

Employees find it very hard to innovate. Innovation software are hard to use and the existing ideas are being lost. Organizations are losing money for not innovating, (See my session on Innovation, Why Innovation is so hard).

  1. I want a fun Intranet where I can easily promote myself funintranet

“Our Intranet is boring and outdated”, “Why does content sharing need to be so monotonous”, “I am not being rewarded for my valuable content”, “No one recognizes my efforts when it comes to sharing great content, I wonder if I should stop”. Employee recognition on the Intranet is an easy way of boosting employee morale. I have seen some companies making great use of “gamification” and badging, but this is very rare.

  1. I want to be able to use a device of my choicemydevice

Mobile Intranets are seldom found. And if they exist, it’s usually all about the news. Content and document collaboration on mobile devices, whether or not they belong to the employees, is sporadic and hard to use.

Is email really on its last legs?


I remember a few years back, a very well known thought leader said that email would die by 2014. Well, 2014 is here and I see no funerals. I keep hearing that the “younger” generation do not use email much and that’s true, however, I think they do not use it because they have no reason to use it.

I cannot imagine my nephew of 16 needing to use email much as all of his purchases are carried out by his parents and thus, all confirmations go to them, frankly he does not care to see them anyway. However, I think as the younger generation “mature” and enter the world of transactions they will appreciate email a little more.

1- Financial Transactions

I do not see any social vehicle having the privacy of email (at least not yet) so that I can be notified about my financial purchases and transactions. My debit card was recently targeted by hackers and I cannot imagine how my Bank would be communicated with me if I did not have my personal email (all suggestions are welcome), OK, they could call me I guess Smile

2- Attention Level

OK, here it comes a confession, even from the “Social Guy”. I must admit, I am still getting more attention and hence reaction even from my most social colleagues when I email them as opposed to sending them a “private message” which is subsequently emailed to them anyway!!!!

3- Email Dependency (Chain of Commands)

Most managers still feel they need to use e-mail to ensure their instructions/expectations are followed/met, put it this way, if I receive an email from my boss, I am more likely to react in comparison with receiving a post/tweet!!!

4- Lack of Trust

Yes, I know, email is as wide open as social media in terms of the applications of social listening and inquisitive analysis, BUT, not always!!! Let me elaborate, I feel people, STILL, trust email more, even though they know it’s as easy to intercept email as their tweets, somehow however, due to the very notion of social (being open), in the social world, at least they know a private email is between them and those whom they write to, not necessarily those whom they follow or being followed by. I know for sure the same applies to the corporate world. If something applies to my team that I really do not want to share with anyone, where would I put it? Yes, I could create a community for it, but what if it’s a one off and creating a community for a simple conversation seems like an overkill? I do like the notion of “spheres” for this though, Newsgator were the first social sofware to come up with this, even though I used it, I felt I could not fully trust it.

5- Social insertions to email and Vice Versa (email goes social)

When I see reputable social software trying to include social posts into emails directly from news feeds and activity streams, I think twice about the death of email. Recently, Microsoft/Yammer invested a lot in Office 365 and Yammer to ensure SharePoint and Yammer conversations can easily be included in emails, YES I KNOW, it’s hard to believe. So, you could simply add someone in your post (by adding their emails to the conversation) to ensure they see it too. SocialCast and Jive are doing the same. Hold on, even Facebook, Twitter and LinkeIn use email to notify their customers (one way or another), so why is that?

I also encourage you to read this rather informative blog about “Reports of death of email may be greatly exaggerated


Hey, I love social and anything to do with social, BUT, I think of email of yet another social vehicle. Yes, it’s more monolingual but I think it can still be a powerful tool to help social adoption. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to see I could send status updates directly form my email client (Lotus Notes and Same Time) to Connections, I think that’s a fantastic way of getting more people to use Connections.

Now let’s see what kind of attention I get here 🙂  I am wondering though, should I email this blog????


Will Yammer become your de-facto Intranet?

We have seen Yammer in action for a while now. By looking at Yammer blogs, I am beginning to see a pattern developing and that is the users want to turn Yammer to something more that it probably is capable of. Requests like:
– Ability to create HTML pages on Yammer (you can only do notes right now)
– Having versions on documents
– An entry to the companies News page
– A place where user profiles are updated
– Assigning tasks to colleagues and co-workers

Sounds familiar? Are these not the basic uses cases for enterprise collaboration on a given Intranet? Having designed and provided solution architecture for many Intranets word-wide, I have never seen a tool evolving so fast almost taking over the traditional intranets.

So why users and content managers are beginning to prefer their network on Yammer over their intranet? The answer is simple, better User Experience (UX). In fact, this phenomenon is better defined as Attentional Experience (AX). People not only find it easy to post and receive information (basic social requirements), they also feel they can make connections to those in their company that otherwise would have been virtually impossible.

When you can get the opportunity to get connected with your c-level executives and have your views and ideas easily published and even get praised, well, why not get the same visibility (attention) on your documents, lists, blogs publishing and webpart pages?

Are we asking too much of Yammer
Now, here comes the more complex/sophisticated requirements I have seen develop.

– Building API’s between various systems and Yammer
– Ability to do your project management on Yammer! yes, for real.
– Getting your transcriptional and transactional data into your colleagues

This bears the question, should anything you do within your intranet should have a social element wrapped around it? The answer in my view is, why not?

Microsoft’s vision
In fact Microsoft realized this last year which led them to purchase Yammer. This clever move positioned SharePoint in a much better state from the UX perspective. Moreover, the announcement of moving Yammer files onto Sky Drive proved to be yet another another incentive for using Yammer alongside SharePoint on the cloud.

What’s next
I believe should you choose to have your Intranet and Yammer running as 2 separate instances, Yammer will eventually take over and you will have fewer and fewer visitors on your intranet, but, should you choose to have a social intranet by integrating Yammer throughout your intranet, whether you choose today’s basic integration with SharePoint, or the deeper integration through Open Graph. Either way, you are paving the way for a great social intranet to come.

Meanwhile, for prototyping purposes and building good API’s with Yammer, I recommend you use Zapier to get familiar with it I created a Jira integration with Yammer literally within minutes using Zapier.


Information, documents or articles or any other form of written statement published on this website/blog do not represent the official views of the Organizations mentioned
on the blog, nor do they represent the views of the company the publisher of the blog is employed with.
Suggestions and recommendations on this blog are guidelines only and may not be pertinent to your organization. You must always ask for expert advice before implementing any of the guidelines.