Artificial Intelligence in Business – “The Future is Already Here”

William Gibson, a Canadian Science Fiction writer and the inventor of the term ‘cyberspace’ before the internet existed, has said of Artificial Intelligence: “The future is already here. It is just not widely distributed.” That quotation captures the essence of where we stand today on the cusp of a major explosion in the use of artificial intelligence. An explosion that will create the dynamic for many businesses to reinvent themselves, lifting themselves to a whole new level of productivity, product development and market penetration.

In many ways we are seeing the proliferation of AI in our own lives. It has slowly and subtly been making its presence felt it all aspects of what we do and how we do it. Anyone who has a ‘virtual assistant’ like an Amazon Echo or a Google Assistant, or uses Siri on their phone is already enjoying the power of AI. Today it is quite common for people to control home automation devices and media playback via voice, and manage other basic tasks such as email, to-do lists, and calendars with verbal commands. Some of these can even be done from a remote location. People turn on lights, adjust their heating systems, view callers to their house via video from afar. No longer is this the stuff of science fiction where many of us would have first encountered the concepts. That future is already here.

There is a saying that anything that can be digitised can be monitored. And that is the premise that underlies the development of many of the latest AI inventions. Nowhere is this seen more as in the development of businesses. This development falls under the acronym of IOT – the internet of things. IOT refers to any ‘thing’ that is digitised and connected via the Cloud. Obviously, the home gadgets such as the Amazon Echo fall into this category, but so too do such things as cargo ships, container lorries, product shipments, medical devices, lost mobile phones just to name a few.

An example of a company successfully deploying AI in business is the huge retailer Walmart. They have become a pioneer in the use of AI. They have partnered with SAP and now widely use SAP’s product called HANA. This product allows Walmart to hoover up statistics from across its huge network of 11,000 outlets servicing 250 million customers annually. The collection of this data in real time using AI, enables their backroom team to spot trends, monitor stock changes, identify possible areas of difficulty in logistics, compare outlet performances and make real time adjustments where needed. Walmart claims its system allows them to process half a billion data records per second.

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And indeed, the fuel to the AI engine is data. What the Cloud, high speed networks and powerful cost-efficient front ends have provided is the infrastructure needed to make the AI revolution a reality for many businesses. Add to this the ability to digitise almost anything and you get an idea of the power AI is bringing to the world of industry. An American company called Domo Inc spotted a desire in the market to better control and exploit the potential of such data collection. The company, which specialises in business intelligence tools and data visualisation, invented a cloud-based ‘Dashboard’ product that allows companies to pull data from multiple sources such Facebook, Salesforce, Shopify, accounting packages, company mobile phones and laptops and to render this information in real time on a Dashboard. The information is collected, collated and sorted in seconds and provides top management with an insight into market movements and customer sentiments, it generates reports, flags trends and slices and dices the data to whatever level management need to help them in their decision making. It also has a powerful predictive analytical function, an AI ability more and more companies are seeing as a powerful and necessary tool.

Anyone who has worked in sales can identify with the heart break involved between getting a customer to move from showing interest in buying a product to actually closing a deal. The churn and stagnation in the sales funnel is something many companies see as a weakness in their selling process. To address this challenge some companies have turned to products such as Apptus. That company provides what it calls “middle office” solutions, utilising artificial intelligence to optimise various financial and commercial functions, such as quote-to-cash, revenue management, and e-commerce management. Amongst other things the software allows is the identification of a customer’s intentions to buy and then works to close the sale. It also interprets the data mined to pinpoint a customer’s preferences and maps and predicts buying behaviour. Its success is underlined by the fact that it has now been integrated with many of the leading sales platforms, such as Salesforce.

The benefits and growth in AI can also be seen in the field of healthcare. A common use of AI in healthcare can be seen in the area of implantable devices. These devices, such as pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) are now digitised and allow practitioners to monitor a patient’s real time health. Data gathered by the devices is relayed to a central server where it can be monitored, and issues identified, and possible problems detected. The practitioner can also see if a device is performing below par, or even if it needs its battery replaced. The digitisation has transformed them from being dumb, reactive devices to smart, predictive mini machines.

AI programs have also been developed and applied to practices such as diagnostic processes, treatment protocol development, drug development, personalised medicine, and patient monitoring and care. Additionally, hospitals are looking to AI to support operational challenges such as cost savings, and management of staffing and workforce logistics. Software companies have identified healthcare as a growing market for AI and are developing predictive analytics solutions to help healthcare professionals manage patient needs, improve accuracy in diagnosis and better predict the efficacy of treatment plans.

So, AI is on the move across a swathe of industries, that cannot be denied. Yet the future that is now here is not yet being adopted by many companies. According to a 2017 www.bcg.com survey only 23% of companies had begun using AI in some capacity. At the low end of use were those who used chatbots. Those who were showing a more determined uptake were companies who had hired data scientists and had nominated CEO-driven AI programs. Those earlier adopters are having the successes others are missing. According to www.zooinfo.comearly adopters have achieved significant benefits – including efficiencies, cost reductions, improved customer experiences and a revenue growth.”

Making the move into AI is for many industry leaders is a no brainer. Yet, according to www.bcg.com… the gap between ambition and execution is large at most companies. Three-quarters of executives believe that AI will enable their companies to move into new businesses. And almost 85% believe AI will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage.”

Yet, for some executives it is seen as a challenge too far. However, one executive talking to www.bcg.com advised: “I don’t think that every frontline manager needs to understand the difference between deep and shallow learning within a neural network. But I think a basic understanding that—through the use of analytics and by leveraging data—we do have techniques that will produce better and more accurate results and decisions than gut instinct is important.

AI is on the rise. Its use is ubiquitous at many levels of business and society. It is clear, the future is here to stay.

(Many of the company examples given above are based on http://www.bcg.com reports).

Aidan Collins is Marketing Manager at KantanMT.com

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