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Practical applications of AI for the future of business

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gudron)

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to be the breakthrough technology to effect significant changes in the way we live and work. And, in fact, 48 percent of global CIOs plan to adopt the technology within the year, according to Gartner. However, some business leaders still question the impact and benefits of AI.

Historically, AI has been met with varying levels of fear, regardless of industry, that this technology will replace human jobs. And while this has not proven to be true in broad terms, reluctance still exists to apply AI to business processes. However, those that refuse to, or are slow to adopt, AI will be at a significant disadvantage. They risk being out-competed by those who are better able to leverage AI across the business to drive change faster.

The truth is businesses are very aware of the importance of digital transformation and most recognize that AI is a part of that. Nevertheless, we still see two major barriers to the adoption of AI in businesses. The first is a general lack of trust in the capacity of AI to deliver reliable insight for complex business decision making. The second is the challenge of identifying where best to apply AI in businesses to deliver the most value. Rather than investing in AI solutions all at once, brands must consider where AI can have the greatest impact and start from there.

At a time when most industries are experiencing massive levels of disruption to their businesses, how can AI support the success of the business on a practical operations level? And where should companies focus to get the most out of the technology?

Importance of analytics

One area AI is seeing provable and meaningful results in business is in augmented intelligence. This brings together the analytic capabilities of AI with the capacity of humans to include context and empathy in a work setting. This approach builds on the unique strengths of both machine and human, where AI can extract insight rapidly from very large sets of data, and a human can overlay the analysis with broader market context, and empathic understanding for the motivation of customers or partners. Each reinforces the power of the other, and at the same time the process actually builds long-term trust among human users that AI is capable of delivering meaningful, trustworthy insight that helps deliver the right outcome.

For example, a financial services loan officer evaluating a business loan application requires a high level of knowledge and understanding. That individual will have to determine whether that business is a good risk based both on their understanding of the individuals involved, and prescriptive guidance delivered by an AI evaluating a myriad of financial and market factors. Focusing the machine on the more technical data analysis frees up the human to factor in the less than tangible aspects that go into making these decisions, and therefore building trust that the process works.  The same is true when examining broad customer trends or market changes – an AI can spot the pattern much sooner than a human could, but the human can overlay their experience and understanding to make sense of the changes and behavior.

An augmented approach to the sales process

So, where should a business decide to implement AI in order to reap the most value? One area is B2B sales. Companies that want to be truly customer-centric need to be leveraging AI if they are to keep pace with their competitors. This is simply because the volume of data, and the complexity of their business, makes B2B sales organizations a great place to apply the analytic power of AI coupled with the human insight of experienced sales professionals. Such a pairing enables businesses to deliver exceptional buying experiences to their customers.

Prospects increasingly want a bespoke, personalized experience. Buyers expect the sales executive to have a significant degree of information about their business and the products, and to be able to customize and personalize the overall offering – including product and pricing – to their needs.

This is why AI-powered Augmented Intelligence in the sales process is particularly effective in the B2B sales world. The significant complexities of B2B sales with its many potential channels, product mixes, pricing options and configurations demand that large volumes of data be analyzed in real time to respond to highly-specific customer requests. Therefore, one of the most impactful and direct applications of AI in businesses today is the delivery of analytic based insight and guidance to sales people who operate in omnichannel enterprise sales in order to help them better understand customer needs, personalize offers and ensure engagement to deliver a better customer experience. Not only does it enable them to accurately identify opportunities and shape winning deals, it allows them to do so fast – a key requirement in the world of digital selling. The truly transformative power of AI starts where your sales meets your buyers, with the ability to use data to spot buying patterns, understand what customers want and respond to their needs accurately.

As the current global pandemic grips industries around the world, businesses are turning to the power of AI to personalize offerings to customers and to automate time-consuming tasks. But more specifically, successful companies are prioritizing customer-facing aspects of their business that will generate the greatest financial return. They are augmenting and informing their sales process, to both steer them through the disruptions they face, and shape their long-term strategic direction as new buying patterns and needs emerge.

The instinct to cut costs and save money is understandable during a period of economic uncertainty but to scrap investment on all digital transformation projects would be an oversight. Not every tech investment is business-critical but now more than ever, businesses need to make use of technology that protects their bottom line. The perception of allocating budget to AI needs to shift from “spending money” to “making an investment.” The modern business is sitting on a wealth of data that is waiting to be turned into actionable insight that delights customers and increases the likelihood of making a sale. At a time when understanding the end user is more crucial than ever, and traditional ways of working in sales are altered, AI can offer a more practical, reliable and trusted ally to the journey.

Geoff Webb, VP of Strategy, PROS (opens in new tab)

Geoff Webb is vice president of strategy at Micro Focus. He is globally responsible for product marketing, communications and solution strategy across the business.