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So long, Watson - hello, Noodle: Ex-IBMer launches AI firm for enterprises

Artificial intelligence has made significant inroads in the consumer world, but use of the technology in the enterprise is still in its infancy.

Stephen Pratt, who recently quit his job as global leader of Watson for IBM Services, is looking to change that. On Monday, he launched Noodle Analytics, a company that promises to bring the power of AI to businesses. Billed as "the enterprise artificial intelligence company," Noodle is built on the premise that AI is the next big thing that will set companies apart.

Anyone who searches on Google, navigates with Waze or shops on Amazon has already used a consumer AI service. "But when it comes to optimizing a company's sales force or supply chain, that's just in its infancy," Pratt, who is Noodle's CEO, said in an interview Monday.

The vast majority of enterprises are just beginning to establish an AI pathway, he said. But that will soon change.

"I think AI will be the biggest competitive differentiator in the next three to five years," he said. "Executives who aren't using some form of AI to help them are very quickly going to seem outdated and out of touch."

Most companies will implement "tens, if not hundreds" of AI algorithms to optimize every important business decision, customer interaction and business process, he said.

That's where Noodle comes in. Created with executives from GE Digital, Infosys and MicroStrategy, the startup hopes to set itself apart by complementing AI expertise with deep insight into business processes.

"Most AI firms are focused specifically on AI technology and using big data sets, running AI algorithms and making recommendations," Pratt said. "But in order to come up with really powerful AI algorithms, you have to have a deep understanding of the subject matter. Most AI firms don't speak both languages."

Years ago, Pratt started the CRM practice at Deloitte, he says, and Noodle has hired other business-process experts, with plans to bring more aboard in the coming months.

"What we eventually want to do is set it up so the head of supply chain at one of our clients is teaching and learning from their AI algorithm," he said. "We can help by being the catalyst."

Over the coming year, Noodle -- which also goes by Noodle.ai -- will focus on building relationships and "recruiting like crazy," Pratt said.

On his early departure from IBM, after less than a year on the job, he called it "a very hard choice."

"IBM is a terrific company with a great future in this area, but the market really needed a company optimized for this kind of work."

IBM might argue that it's already optimized for such work, given the substantial progress it has made building out Watson's AI services.

There are countless professional-services firms optimized for ERP, but enterprise AI projects "don't fit the ERP model," Pratt said. "They're much faster, much less expensive and require much deeper expertise in processes and technology."

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