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Unicorn startups, tigers, and leopards - they're all-in on cloud apps

Michael Hickins Profile picture for user Michael Hickins November 13, 2018
Customer experience, AI, cloud apps are common threads connecting successful unicorn startups with wise tigers and leopards, writes Oracle's Michael Hickins

Leopard making impact © mstnurjahan - shutterstock
The biggest unicorn startups of 2018 have one thing in common – and it’s not what you’d expect. Given the emphasis on – and occasional handwringing over – artificial intelligence, AI doesn’t actually dominate the list of 35 startups worth $1 billion or more published by Business Insider this week.

What all these startups have in common, though, is a laser-like focus on resetting the bar for customer expectations. Indeed, while many established companies are chanting some version of the “we’re actually a technology company that happens to do X” mantra, the business model for most these unicorn startups isn’t about technology at all. They’re about significant paradigm shifts in servicing customers, be they consumers or other businesses.

Cloud apps and AI

However, whether you’re talking about fleet management or call center software or the ubiquitous gaming-cum-lifestyle provider Fortnite, there’s no getting around one common theme – each of those startups is leveraging cloud applications to redefine their markets. And almost a fifth of those startups are using some form of artificial intelligence to power their services.

Indeed, the last few years have seen remarkable improvements in and convergence of foundational technologies such as unlimited storage, processing speeds, wide-pipe networks, lean and efficient software, sensor presence and natural language processing. As eWEEK editor-in-chief Chris Preimesberger summarized during a TED-sponsored event he moderated in New York earlier this month:

The trend is always towards scale, speed and solutions that satisfy customers. IT is all about CX – the customer experience, whether for business or consumer customers. The convergence of all these factors has made heavy apps like 'AI everywhere' possible.

“AI everywhere” is right. According to Tom Bianculli, CTO of Zebra Technologies, the market for AI is expected to grow by 50% CAGR to $58 billion by 2021. Companies that are able to leverage AI and other emerging technologies to provide extraordinary experiences will have an almost insurmountable advantage over those who can’t. “Convenience is a competitive advantage,” he said during the New York TED event.

Living in a hybrid world

The challenge for most companies, however, is that they’re living in a hybrid world, already subscribe to multiple clouds, own a number of (sometimes large) software licenses, and aren’t in a position to completely reinvent the wheel.

Too often conversations around emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are divorced from the reality of today’s business applications – which is why Oracle’s focus has been to “pervasively infuse emerging technologies into our product lines, not as a sidecar,” Juergen Linder, Oracle’s senior vice president of SaaS told the Cube.

So while it may be true that a tiger can’t change its stripes, cagy leopards can certainly connect their dots.

As Ovum Research’s Tim Jennings put it in a blog post:

Now organizations are looking at their core applications as a platform for innovation, particularly as their digital transformation projects extend deeper into the core. Capabilities such as AI and machine learning, blockchain, and IoT are all seen as opportunities to innovate around products, services, and business models. Implementation approaches are changing to match these ambitions, with a move away from lift and shift – and replicating existing customizations in the cloud – toward making a fresh start on a modern platform, with a phased agile implementation and a regular and frequent rate of new functionality.

Oracle's cloud applications strategy is moving closely in tune with these trends, incorporating machine learning extensively across the portfolio and building targeted solutions using blockchain and IoT. Most parts of Oracle's application business have settled into a cycle of quarterly releases, encouraging customers to take advantage of new functionality for further innovation.

Impact of customer experience

The technology sands may be shifting rapidly under everyone’s feet, but the imperative to adapt nonetheless exists. Once consumers come across an experience that wows them, Zebra’s Bianculli notes, they not only pick a winner in that category, but expect all businesses to provide the same level of convenience and excitement – and not just within a single category of experience:

Each amazing experience becomes the new standard to which all others are compared. If I can have that experience buying coffee, why can’t have it at my doctor’s office?

Having scoured Business Insider’s list of 35 unicorns for 2018, I don’t see one that offers a skinny latte macchiato at your doctor’s office – or prescription refills from your barista either, for that matter – but you can be sure that someone is at this very moment hatching something similar. It hardly matters which industry they’re in – the impact will be felt everywhere.

The challenge is not just being ready – but to develop a cloud-based app strategy that can allow your company to become that rarest thing of all – the tiger reborn as a unicorn that can change its stripes, on demand.

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