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Another day in the year 2023, another big-time AI partnership is announced: This time it is Cohere, the white-hot Canadian generative AI startup focused on building enterprise-grade large language models (LLMs) and tools, and McKinsey, the 97-year-old global consulting firm, where half of its 30,000 employees were already using gen AI as of last month.
The collaboration will be spearheaded by QuantumBlack, McKinsey’s AI division, responsible for deploying thousands of experts in fields like data engineering, data science, product management, design, and software development.
Together, Cohere and McKinsey intend to offer secure, enterprise-grade generative AI solutions tailored to McKinsey clients’ needs — including cloud and on-premises AI software that will safeguard a client’s data. Among the New York City-headquartered McKinsey’s clientele have been some of the largest firms in the U.S. and the world, including GM, Ford, Exxon, Pepsi Co. and American Express — most of the Fortune 100. However, the firm has also raised controversy for allegedly exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities and working with companies contributing the most to greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are moving from discussing productivity and growth opportunities to capturing value on the ground, day to day,” says Ben Ellencweig, a McKinsey senior partner and global leader of alliances and acquisitions for QuantumBlack.
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The collaboration will define generative AI use cases, design a comprehensive IT architecture, develop and train AI models, build employee capabilities and implement necessary organizational changes, all with the aim of evolving to meet clients’ needs.
A logical partnership
The Toronto-based Cohere has seen a meteoric rise in its profile and funding in recent months, as enterprise leaders rush to embrace AI with additional safeguards in place beyond what’s currently offered through consumer-facing models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Anthropic’s Claude 2.
Yet OpenAI’s backer Microsoft is moving swiftly to embed OpenAI’s tech such as ChatGPT and the underlying GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 models into its enterprise-grade products, launching Azure OpenAI Service for government last month, and just today, announcing an AI copilot for enterprises geared toward sales. OpenAI, too, is striking up its own alliances to get more firms to use its tech in exchange for access to their data, announcing team-ups with news organizations the Associated Press and American Journalism Project in the past two weeks.
By contrast, Cohere is a newcomer to the enterprise tech space. Co-founded by Aidan Gomez and Nick Frosst, both Google Brain alum, and Ivan Zhang, just four years ago, Cohere says it is committed to transforming enterprises with its in-house gen AI models. Cohere says it can stand up AI services on the cloud provider of their choosing, or entirely on premises, depending on a client’s privacy and security needs.
The company recently announced a $270 million funding round at a $2 billion-plus valuation, struck an apparent deal to provide enterprise generative AI to Oracle, and has offices in Toronto, San Francisco and London.
“Our approach is independent and cloud-agnostic, allowing enterprises to implement AI solutions on their preferred cloud, or even on-premises,” said Martin Kon, COO and president of Cohere, in a statement. “Data privacy, data security, and customization are critical to creating strategic differentiation and real business value.”
Initial case studies show promise
Some businesses have already begun reaping the benefits of this collaboration. An unnamed financial-services group has used generative AI to manage routine customer feedback in over 100 languages, significantly reducing customer wait times.
Generative AI is helping another McKinsey client with product development, synthesizing product requirements and past designs, which the companies said has led to significant savings and faster time-to-market.
“Cohere’s technology will allow McKinsey and its clients to improve search and discovery capabilities across a company’s own internal documents,” the companies shared in a joint press release.
Beyond current capabilities, tools are being developed to automate processes by connecting AI models to third-party apps.
With generative AI quickly transitioning from a topic of curiosity to a practical tool for value creation, the alliance represents one of the biggest moves yet in enterprise-grade AI.
Correction: This story misstated Cohere’s founding team. It has since been updated. We regret the errors.
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