Artificial intelligence is making an impact in many areas of business, but we are only at the start as AI services, security, smart chatbots and connected services become the norm. Here’s how smart technology will make for smarter business in the next few years.
Business transformation continues at high speed, with the term ‘digital business’ now driving change. Companies have seen work move from the desktop to mobile, from the hard drive to the cloud, and services have moved from monolithic contracts to low-monthly fees for bundles of services that provide immense power and flexibility.
Data has changed too, spreadsheets and databases have moved from helping summarise the past into helping predict the future, something that AI can do live. The next phase in the transformation is the arrival of AI, already helping some businesses monitor their data flows for anomalies, helping others with decision making, and bringing a new raft of services to help them save time, revenue and boost the bottom line.
Your current business strategy might stretch as far as using Office 365 of Google G-Suite and embracing the cloud for storage. Businesses with a grander plan are already finding AI service options included in their latest Microsoft, Salesforce or IBM package offerings, while any size business can adopt an AI chatbot from providers like SnatchBot, AI-based cybersecurity from DarkTrace and so on.
What Is AI?
For businesses and startups considering AI adoption, there are plenty of vendors offering services and solutions. But first they need to understand the various forms of AI and what they offer.
When it comes to dealing with company data, in most cases, there is so much of it that people can’t analyse it. And, while your spreadsheet, database or CMS can provide dashboard-like results, all they do is parse the data and run traditional predictive computations on it.
In the era of big data, AI offers the ability to monitor streams of data from all types of sources, be it warehouse robots, Internet of Things smart city devices, online sales or aircraft engine performance and give advice or make judgement calls. SAS categorises AI as ‘the ability to make decisions like those a human would make given the same information.’ Except no human can handle terabytes of data each day.
There are many types of AI service available. Machine Learning is where the service or computer monitors a flow of data and creates its own rules or models based on what it sees, either in the data, or when inspecting images or video feeds. Machine Learning in a chatbot, for example, can watch customer service agents at work, monitor the most successful types of conversations, and register all of the out-of-the-ordinary questions that users might have and suggest improvements.
Deep Learning Systems can use neural networks to scour various knowledge repositories and capture data and analysis, using it to create new models, or ideas for business. Other offerings include pattern recognition to spot repetitions that might be a new trend or need that the business can take advantage of.
AI isn’t just for the science boffins or nerds in your business, there are major benefits that can be discovered and leveraged.
Artificial Intelligence in Business
For a start, someone needs to be in charge of any office AI projects. Either part time or full-time in larger organisations, an AI chief will be needed to understand the technology, promote it to the business and find instances where it can be deployed.
Some of these are obvious and already mentioned: data security solutions and chatbots are easy wins and an easy sell for a vendor. Niche or bespoke businesses with custom needs will require dedicated tools or services, even if only to link data to a cloud service and provide some particular form of feedback.
ComputerWorld has a good list of real-world use cases in action through the likes of Tensorflow, big brand solutions and startups, all providing actual benefits and boosters to business from insurers to retailers, power utilities and more.
For any project, the AI manager will need to understand the security implications of data flying around between company and provider, and how the results are returned. A big ‘but’ for AI is what happens if the data or advice turns out to be wrong. If it comes from some black box that the company can’t analyse, then how will it know or be able to make amendments? This is one of the problem areas for AI and one that will require careful study as businesses use cases emerge and are implemented.
The Future of AI
While AI continues to sneak into businesses via small pilot projects, a growing number of businesses already rely on the technology. IT research firm Gartner highlights that $1.2 trillion in global business value will be derived from AI in 2018. That’s up 70 percent on 2017, with more than double that growth predicted by 2022 for $3.9 trillion in value.
That’s a lot, but the growth rate is slowing, so the adopters now will be the companies that take best advantage of the move to AI services. Governments around the world see the benefits and are encouraging investment. China is racing ahead in investment and adoption. Due to the mobile-first and sheer scale of data in Asia, those countries have so much more information for their AI engines to work on and less of the privacy regulations in the west.
Encouraging investment and adoption, the EU aims to increase public and private sector initiatives by at least €20 billion between now and the end of 2020. To support these efforts, the Commission is increasing its investment to €1.5 billion for 2018-2020 under its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to connect and strengthen AI research centres across Europe and to encourage testing and experimentation. The Commission will also support the development of an ‘AI-on-demand platform’ that will provide access to relevant AI resources in the EU for all users.
AI And Your Business
All of this might sound fine and grand, but how does this affect your business? The tools are already available, with chatbots the most common factor, boosting customer service satisfaction and saving time and money.
AI services are being used in financial industries, with most startups focused on AI as making their offering better than traditional banks. In retail, AI can help put the right product in front of a customer at the right time and soon those ludicrous memes of people being followed online by endless toilet seat adverts months after they bought one from Amazon will be replaced by more subtle promotions.
Supply chain businesses are also seeing AI helping improve the flow of parts or products and it’s only a matter of time before self-driving trucks will deliver those goods, all powered by AI. In marketing, events footage can be sorted by AI to create the perfect ‘best of’ highlight reels, already a growing use in sports, where the AI monitors the crowd reaction for the most exciting points of an event.
Soon, there won’t be anywhere that AI is not present. The trick is to find where it will help most in your business. That can be done either by seeing what early adopters are doing or investing in AI experts who can highlight where it can boost your business.
Just as companies have grown to adopt cloud and big data, AI smart services are the next step in that journey. It will definitely prove to be of value, as long as the business deals with the technology with a degree of pragmatism and realism and doesn’t fall for the vendor hype. What is certain is that younger or more forward-looking businesses are adopting AI and will use it to outpace those who don’t.
Even small businesses can benefit with AI being used to improve sales techniques, encourage employee engagement, create better marketing among other uses. Don’t think that just because AI and big data go together, it can’t benefit a small, traditional business.
As with any technology, AI can go wrong. Systems could feed it bad data, or the results might be ambiguous and send the company in the wrong direction. That’s why businesses of any size need clear goals and scope for an AI project. Building a clear plan will help the business work with AI toward a better future.
Whatever the business, whatever the goals, AI will play a key part in driving companies to succeed, and starting today is always the best time to get up to speed.
Chris Knight writes about where technology will take us next, from the power of neural networks, artificial intelligence and chatbots, to the endless worlds promised by augmented and virtual reality. From the latest in gadgets and hardware to how digital businesses can use technology to grow, Chris makes the future clear and understandable to all.