The AI revolution is here, whether your business is ready or not. Organisations failing to keep up will inevitably lose out on the benefits and be left behind.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a place in every organisation, no matter its size, the industry, or IT budget. While AI is nothing new, with the foundations being laid by luminaries such as Alan Turing and John McCarthy decades ago, the application of it within a commercial – and not just academic – environment is only just being realised.
However, before embarking on an AI journey or upscaling your capabilities, it’s important to understand how it can help your business and what you want to achieve, whether it be more informed decision-making; improving your recruitment processes; providing better customer service or making more accurate predictions on the future of your market.
Here’s how you can leverage the latest developments in AI to improve vital functions today and future-proof your business.
Today’s buzzword, tomorrow’s reality
Compared to just 20 years ago, we now take many technologies for granted which used to be the stuff of science fiction.
Artificial Intelligence is a classic example. For years, AI was synonymous with the likes of Hal 9000 or Skynet, cinematic examples of how malevolent AIs could outsmart and turn against the humans who created them.
Yet the reality of AI is very different to the movies. Today, people are realising there’s nothing to fear as AI becomes part of everyday life, with most not thinking twice when barking commands at Siri, Cortana and Alexa to play music, order their shopping or send a text message.
AI is the buzzword of the moment. As a growing global industry, AI is expected to increase by almost 150 per cent every year until 2022. This is great news for businesses, but it also means IT skills, practices and regulation need to adapt, quickly.
In the context of business, AI can mean many things but the one thing which underpins any AI technology is data…and lots of it. That’s because immense amounts of the stuff is needed for AI to be created, trained and deployed. At its best, AI can amplify human capabilities and cut the time and effort it takes to make decisions.
A journey, not a destination
According to IDC surveys, 67 per cent of organisations globally have already adopted or plan to adopt AI in the near future. As such, the market for AI services has exploded over recent years, making it more and more difficult to navigate and decide what’s worth investing in.
The first rule of AI is it should be viewed as a journey and not a final destination. The first step is an important one – making sure your business has “clean” and well-organised data structures, otherwise any investment will be worthless.
In many organisations, data is still extremely fragmented and this needs to be cleaned up before AI enters the equation. Duplicate and incomplete data is polluting storage, holding back progress and wasting money.
Then, you must identify a current problem which can be eliminated using AI-based solutions; it could be predictive analytics, automation or a virtual assistant. For example, if some of your most creative or tech-savvy minds are being held back by mundane and repetitive admin tasks, AI can help free up their time and energy for more productive endeavours.
Human Resources is a particularly logical area for businesses new to AI to start and, as such, is where its being utilised heavily. It can review CVs and applications at lightning speed while reducing human bias, support in training by delivering personalised learning programmes, and respond quickly to questions from candidates and employees via chatbots. Solutions such as these underline the importance of good data and oversight, as AIs can both mirror and magnify the biases of their creators and training data sets.
To buy or to build? That is the question
Once you’re ready to invest in AI and understand what you want to get out in return, you’ll then be faced with the decision “to buy or to build?”. The right choice will depend on your in-house capabilities and your budget but it’s worth bearing in mind a hybrid of the two models may be the most valuable for your business.
If you lack internal know-how, buying AI as a service can be a great introduction. However, you need to be clued up on the current market and value of different offerings so you can strike the best deal, in the same way as you would do for any other third-party service. If you go in blind, it’s likely you’ll pay over the odds for something you don’t necessarily need.
Having said that, every business should have a plan for building their own internal AI capabilities to protect their competitive position long term, particularly when it comes to “gold mine data” which is strategically critical.
Onboarding employees with intermediate to expert data skills, as well as offering training to your current staff will put you in a good position across the business. A centralised IT team with knowledge of how AI works, but separate from other departments, is not the answer. Instead, it is better to build a data-centric culture across the organisation, with enabled individuals in every team to have an on-the-ground perspective of the problems which need to be solved.
When embarking on an AI journey, it’s important businesses start small and constantly review and learn from their mistakes. In this dynamic environment, AI is evolving at a faster rate than many other commonly used business technologies and as such, strategies, training and vendor relationships need to be a constant state of flux too.
If buying AI is the right decision for your business today, it’s very likely it won’t be for much longer. Just like the electricity supply to your building, AI will become a core part of “doing business” and you won’t need to buy a nuclear power plant to enjoy the benefits.
Craig Lodzinski, Chief Technologist for Developing Technologies, Softcat
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