Artificial intelligence (AI) has become something of a buzzword in recent years.
It is a comprehensive topic with lots of different chapters to explore.
In this post, we are going to take a high-level view of AI and touch on some of the key areas it will impact your business. In subsequent posts we will drill down into more detail.
First, it is important to outline just what we mean by artificial intelligence. In Microsoft’s 2018 AI report, it is defined as:
“A set of technologies that enable computers to perceive, learn, reason, and assist in decision-making to solve problems in ways that are similar to humans”.
While the real-world use-cases are already numerous and exciting, the applications and benefits posed by AI in the business environment are often misunderstood.
It is important for organisations to understand the power and capabilities of AI in order to successfully incorporate the technology into their wider business practices and process.
AI can be deployed across a range of functions to take over manual, repetitive and time-consuming tasks from employees. In addition, it can provide valuable insight into new data.
It is very much here to stay, and over time AI will be augmented into people’s roles so that they are working with the technology on a daily basis.
This will allow employees to focus on more important aspects of their job role. This, in turn, improves productivity, drives efficiencies and boosts profits.
But in order to unlock its full potential, businesses must take a considered approach to AI, identifying where it can have the most impact and how to successfully integrate the technology into existing operations.
Given the scale and scope of the technology, it is best to identify one area of your business where it can be deployed and then increase its usage from there – walk before you can run, if you like.
In its report, Microsoft says that organisations starting their AI journey must do so by asking the following questions:
- What are the business problems we want to solve – and how can AI help?
- What are the opportunities we are missing?
- Is our data ready? Are our people ready?
- If not, how can we re-skill and re-train them so that technology augments their role rather than simply automates it?
The power of AI
To understand the power of AI, first you need to become familiar with what it can be used for in the business environment.
Key capabilities include:
- It can take over manual functions and human processes, performing them in a faster and more thorough way. This includes inspecting, repeating and analysing actions automatically.
- It can gather, analyse and process huge volumes of data, and help identify key trends that humans might not spot or interpret accurately.
- It can do all of this in real-time, taking seconds to complete tasks that would take humans days, weeks or even months to work through.
In short, AI allows organisations and employees to work smarter, better and faster.
AI in action
AI can be rolled out across a range of business functions, from accounting to customer relationship management to logistics.
At a recent BCN Group IT manager workshop, the majority of attendees said AI now played some role in their respective businesses.
For example, a representative from a Yorkshire-based flexible safety barrier specialist said the company was using AI to improve safety and efficiency.
Their bespoke solution, identifies instances of where forklift trucks hit pillars on warehouse storage racks and automatically notifies nominated users when repairs need to be made.
While each bump is logged in real-time, managers are only alerted when the damage is significant enough to impact the structural integrity of the pillar, but prior to it becoming critical.
This means repair costs are reduced as damage can be fixed instantly before worsening and unproductive downtime is almost eradicated.
As another example, an attendee from a major clothing retailer said the company was using AI to help track parcels and reduce false complaints. Results have been impressive: in just six weeks, claims were halved by using AI technology.
These examples clearly show how AI can give businesses a competitive edge by improving processes, saving time and opening the door to new opportunities.
Things to consider
To harness the full power of AI, organisations must take a considered and strategic approach to adopting and integrating the technology.
This means bringing together senior managers from all sections of the business – operations, finance, marketing and, of course, IT, to ensure its potential is maximised.
It is important to understand what benefits AI can bring to your business – you might want to gather more data, or perhaps better segment and analyse that data, or you might want to improve safety or make cost savings to increase profit.
By getting it right from the start, you can ensure you invest in the correct technologies and implement them in the areas of your business where they will have the biggest impact.
AI may seem like the future, but in reality, it is very much the now.
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