In-memory databases and data aggregation techniques enhance powerful new decision support.

Terms like heuristics and expert systems sound so 1980s. They conjure mainframe computers and programs written in LISP. But expert systems are back. They’re using AI techniques like machine learning to provide intelligent systems to make and guide decisions. Expert systems are also available beyond the back office, in use cases for private industry and for everyone on Earth with access to a computer.

The broad application and use of the newest expert systems are possible because of the availability of massive, affordable, compute, storage, and networking resources. But they also owe a big debt to lightning-fast in-memory databases and the ability to capture, ingest, process, orchestrate, compute, and consume data of diverse types at tremendous scale.

Guided Decision Support

One of the most exciting uses of expert systems is as a knowledge interface for human beings, like the AI chatbots that provide help on the Web. These expert systems ask questions and use algorithms and access to huge data stores to aggregate and understand the answers they receive and generate responses. The transactional encounters between person and system can be applied to online shopping, healthcare, education, financial services, and many other aspects of our lives. As life has gotten more complex and we’re faced with more choices and decisions, expert systems have the potential to help us make better decisions, faster, and easier.

Case in Point: Helping High School Students Navigate College Admissions & Cost

Get Schooled is a five-year strategic alliance on education between Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its mission is to help high school students in the U.S. graduate and then to turn their dreams of going to a four-year college or university into a reality. The Gates foundation discovered that one of the big barriers for young people wanting to study at a four-year institution is understanding the college system, from testing to application to costs, financing, and scholarships. These challenges are especially daunting for young people from low-income families where no one has attended college. There is no knowledge of how to attain admission to institutions of higher education or, once admitted, how to successfully weather the challenges of being away from home and being disciplined enough to complete a degree program.

The Get Schooled Web site provides an array of tools to help students get the information and resources they need in their college search. Strategies for succeeding in high school. Programmable wakeup texts to keep students from over-sleeping. Games that teach college application tips. A database of scholarships and tools to find the right college. And help from Get Schooled specialists via text. It’s all technology-based, geared to today’s tech-savvy high school students — 73% of whom had a smartphone in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center report. The percentage today is probably much higher.

Adding an Expert System to the College Journey

SAP was invited to help design an expert system to bring all of the pieces of the Get Schooled interface together. A prototype was designed in 12 weeks by a small team of designers and a data scientist, who provided greater context for the system’s content and datasets. Students and guidance counselors were invited to attend discovery workshops, where challenges and approaches to the high school-to-college journey could be better understood to inform the design.

The result was a proposed design of an expert system that functions like a hardware setup wizard, guiding young people through a series of questions and steps to get them the appropriate support and information they need. The system draws on a variety of data and aggregates it for use by a cost of attendance calculator, database searches, and information resources. Using SAP HANA in-memory database technology and the SAP HANA Data Management Suite, the system will be able to handle huge amounts of different types of data to learn quickly and generate results.

This decision-support tool can be used by young people for their entire journey from high school to college. It will simplify the exploration, research, and decision-making processes that each high school student must complete.

Catering to a Next Generation Audience

Expert systems have come of age just as the newest, most tech-savvy generation in history expects instant access to information, resources, and answers to their questions. Real-time processing speeds and the ability to use and make sense of massive volumes of diverse data types have made all the difference, making AI-based expert systems newly viable.

SAP has been helping enterprises to understand how these systems can add tremendous value to every department. Now our efforts are reaching a much broader audience through the use of big data, AI, machine learning, and the Internet of Things by many different kinds of organizations that see the value of helping people make better, faster, and more informed decisions.

Learn more about how the SAP HANA Data Management Suite can help you combine all data types – from all sources – in real time for more accurate decision making.

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