Aera plots new era of automated decision-making

Who's making the decisions in this business? It could be the computer…

Today, companies rely on CEOs and boards to pull the big levers of strategy and on swathes of executives to steer other decisions. Every so often, big calls are made: verticals to target; how products and services are developed, marketed and distributed; which geographies are doubled-down on; whether to raise more funding; how to go to market and so on. Every day, smaller decisions are made on hiring; tweaks to sales tactics; keeping and upselling to customers and the rest. The fate of companies and their managers lie in getting those decisions right but in truth they are usually based on some blend of experience, domain knowledge, insights, hunches, market predictions, desire to hit goals and other criteria. But could machines do it all better?

In the AI and Big Data world, the ability to create software-assisted business management was always a possibility, and with Aera Technology it is here. The Silicon Valley company says it is in the business of "cognitive automation", "automated decision making" and supplying "a Cognitive Operating System: a giant brain you plug and understand what happens in the business". CMO Ram Krishnan describes it as "McKinsey in action" but I prefer to adapt another analogy it uses: Aera is the engine of the "self-driving enterprise".

Essentially this means that Aera acts as a supra-ERP with elements of BI and, most distinctive, the capacity to provide counsel or even automate decisions. Aera crawls, indexes and harmonises billions of transactions, sucking in data from inside and outside the organisation, including weather and on-device sensors. Those inputs are then processed and analysed against business rules across the business, from procurement to sales. Aera then delivers recommendations that can be fully automated or human-approved or rejected.  

With a nod to the world of Amazon Alexa, Aera even has a voice interface so you can ask it to tell you about your revenues, trading conditions, inventory or a backlog in Latin America, and ‘skills' can be added on a modular basis.

Infused with AI and machine learning, Aera should improve over time, providing better answers as it ingests more and more data, compares against its customer base and responds to more and more questions. Of course, Aera's blue-chip customers including Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Unilever aren't kicking out their boardrooms and replacing them with robo-advisors just yet, but they clearly view Aera as offering automated collation and analysis on mountainous data volumes impossible for human beings to fully parse and correlate as rapidly as a machine.

Gathering momentum

Yesterday, the company announced it had pulled in an additional $80m to take its total raised to $170m. Even that large sum might need supplementing, however, such is the ongoing R&D and other investments needed to fulfil what is an audacious vision.

To continue reading this article register now