Myths about artificial intelligence (AI) have made many professionals fearful about how their roles may be impacted. However, this is not an entirely new phenomenon. Major shifts in productivity have occurred in the past, usually coinciding with industrial revolutions, and indeed these shifts did transform entire professions. Eventually, AI may affect almost every occupation, but so did computers. People were also afraid of how their careers might change when computers started to become more commonplace. Now, most people work with digital technology comfortably and productively. On top of that, we have seen new industries formed while others have been greatly enhanced.
A look at the potential for AI technology reveals an exciting new world where jobs become less mundane and new business opportunities emerge.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
AI is a field of computer science and was originally aimed to create a machine capable of mimicking human intelligence. There are multiple approaches for creating AI, including really well scripted procedures, which too may seem like a human controlled process from outside. Nowadays, the majority of these smart systems are based on Machine Learning (ML). Using approaches that copy from how human brains function, technologies created systems using things like Neural Networks in order to perform functions once reserved for humans. The list of what AI can do is constantly growing and includes tasks like recognizing speech, identifying visual elements, making choices, and translating languages.
There are a few definitions in this field that are important to understand. Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) focuses on one specific task, for example, interacting with a customer, like what chatbots do. ANI functions are created to take care of specific problems and can be tailored to unique company needs.
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a hypothetical system that can perform many different types of tasks, moving seamlessly between functions and serving as a centralized place where multiple functions are performed. A system with this level of intelligence would easily be able to pass as an actual human being. However, AGI does not exist yet, and likely will not for the next few decades.
Beyond AGI, scientists have imagined an Artificial Superintelligence (ASI), which may exceed human intelligence to the point that our finest thinkers wouldn’t be able to keep up. ASI will encompass business and scientific innovation, as well as social skills, and even wisdom. Some have assessed that it may be as long as a century before something like this will exist.
How Does AI Affect Business Today?
While the superintelligence everyone has seen in the movies is a long way from reality, today, AI is actively revolutionizing existing business processes.
Chatbots are a good example of this recent inflow of AI based technology. Companies have always provided customer service representatives to handle calls, complaints, and orders. Those representatives may have also been chatbots, based on pre-generated scripts. The new chatbots with AI are capable of a lot more, like recording customer tastes, tracking previous conversations, and adjusting responses automatically based on hundreds of parameters. This would have been impossible to achieve using old technology or human equivalent. Surveys suggest that many people who call helplines are starting to prefer chatbots because of their efficiency.
Another area that is being revitalized by AI is supply chain management. Managers used to spend long hours planning and monitoring the shipments and storage of raw materials, work-in-progress and finished goods. AI can now manage the entire supply chain by analyzing levels for materials, work, and statuses of final products constantly. AI can track not only current inventory, but also external factors, like current market conditions, weather, and other factors which affect buying behavior. It can then automatically submit purchase orders only for those products which are forecasted to be in higher demand. The new inventory management systems enhanced by AI are able to maintain optimum levels of inventory much better than humans or algorithm based systems, further eliminating the cost of excess items on warehouse shelves.
Paperwork bogs down many businesses. Busy executives do not have time to read every memo, report, plan, and guide. This effort to keep up with the amount of written text has long been a drag on productivity for professionals. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) can help digitize printed materials but still requires a human eye to review the content in most cases. Adding AI into this process, allows a document management system to continuously learn about what it stores. This can significantly simplify the process of configuring such a system and setup of fixed workflows. Instead, an end user can perform a freehand search on all content stored in the system without worrying if documents have been properly categorized.
A rapidly growing field where AI is starting to show significant improvement is Marketing, Lead Generation, and Business Development. Some customers produce more revenue for a business than others. However, the view from the corner office may obscure who these customers are. Busy professionals often focus on overall sales numbers rather than evaluating individual clients for their earning potential. AI enhanced prospecting or lead tracking tool can identify more lucrative customers on an ongoing basis and notify relevant account managers about potential revenues. Constantly staying in touch with customers and clients has always challenged companies. Time on customer communications could have been time spent on new clients acquisition and prospecting. Automated consumer journey and sales funnel systems based on AI augmentation can now send out pertinent communications, while automatically selecting the right channels and timing in order to achieve the best response rates. These systems can also automatically check to see if retail customers received their orders and resolved any outstanding issues.
These are only a few areas, where AI enhanced technology created, much more productive and efficient processes. Most of the time, this technology, enhanced already existing roles. Sales forecasting used to vacillate between wishful thinking and hard-headed evaluations of past sales figures. AI based sales forecasting tools gather insights from data both inside and outside of a business, creating more accurate projections of company revenues. Executives can now focus more on improving sales rather than understanding projections. Since payroll typically ranks as the biggest expense for a company, executives have often had to add employees to ramp up, cut employees during slow periods, and hire temporary help to meet short deadlines. Tools with predictive intelligence can now determine the most efficient workforce size and staffing needs on an ongoing basis, eliminating the “crisis management” approach to hiring.
Areas like accounting, bookkeeping, communications, infrastructure, security, fraud prevention, and many others are now gaining significant benefits from AI based automation. All without significantly changing or displacing the workforce.
How AI Improves Your Company
AI has the potential to boost the bottom line in many ways, through increased productivity, and by creating new business models.
AI makes existing processes more efficient. Don’t think in terms of replacing employees; think in terms of making them more productive. Many manual and repetitive internal functions can become more efficient when they are augmented by technology. Customer service automation mentioned above isn’t about replacing a human touch, but more about providing them with intelligence to do their jobs better, reducing the amount of non-productive time spent looking for additional information, and connecting all the dots. Similarly, areas like accounting will have fewer errors, if any, and networks will experience less downtime resulting from misconfigurations or outside attacks. Resource allocation can be maintained at optimum levels throughout seasonal dips and peaks, and payroll hours can be predicted even more accurately.
AI can also create new revenue streams. Technology like chatbots can create new sales channels, allowing companies to reach customers in a way they previously couldn’t. With better insights and analytics, executives can spend less time on managing existing processes, and instead focus more on exploring new ideas and products. AI can also help identify new market trends, giving company time to adjust their marketing, sales, and product development to take advantage of the emerging niches.
The Bottom Line
People have feared their regular will be replaced since the first tales of smart machines and electronic brains. AI merely serves as a tool to solve existing problems. Business improvements from AI have yet to be fully imagined. The most successful companies will be those who stay on top of this changing technology and adapt it quickly. Those that identify problems and apply AI will do the best, whereas those who adopt AI just to “keep up” will only create confusion in their organizations.