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AI Future of Business Technology

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

| AI + T |


"Over 40 per cent of businesses believe that the model they're using today will cease to exist in five years," suggested Clare Barclay, chief operating officer of Microsoft UK. "All sorts of technology, AI included, is changing the shape of the business landscape."


Data from Microsoft's Maximizing the AI Opportunity report shows that early adopters of enterprise AI have already seen a five per cent improvement in productivity, performance and business outcomes compared to those that have yet to explore this exciting new field.


The AI tools they're working with include chat-bots for first-line customer support and sales, forecasting and data simulation algorithms, and automation functions such as process simulation for science and manufacturing, allowing production lines to be made more efficient.


The report combines survey data from 4,000 employees and 1,000 business leaders at enterprises with expert guidance, all to help shed light on the rise of artificial intelligence and help businesses approach AI in an informed, ethical and cost-effective manner.



THE STATE OF TECHNOLOGY


How can technology play a role in helping businesses solve problems? Machines can analyze data, but human skills remain critical for interpreting artificial intelligence.


More than half of UK businesses don't have an AI strategy in place. But the data increasingly tells us that they should. Although many companies are concerned about the future of their business models, only half of them are looking at anything to do with AI.


Part of that reserve comes from a lack of understanding of what AI entails, Barclay suggested: "Technological disruption isn't new, but what's different with AI is the pace of change. Every year there are more advancements, and businesses are struggling to keep up with that."


But the tech that so many leaders are cautious of could save their business model and help them survive in the long term. Better yet, organizations that have adopted ethical, rather than purely functional, approaches to artificial intelligence outperform their rivals by an average of nine per cent.



WHAT DOES AI DO PROVIDE FOR BUSINESSES?


AI technologies can support staff in many different sectors, from medical research and clerical document filing, to driving optimization for logistics firms.


Detailed in the Maximizing the AI Opportunity report, Newcastle City Council has begun introducing AI systems to assist residents. Digital transformation program manager, Jenny Nelson said: "Our WasteBot has turned the process of applying to take household waste to the tip, which could take up to two weeks, into a 90 second task."


Meanwhile, in the food and agriculture sector, Agrimetrics is using AI tools to analyze vast data sets to identify vulnerabilities in the world's interconnected food supply networks and protect against supply collapses in the face of natural disasters and shifting weather patterns. That can range from broad analysis of complex systems, to putting very specific data into the hands of farmers.


"One thing we're working on at the moment is a very simple application, with a fairly sophisticated model behind it, which can give advice to farmers on whether it's safe or not to cultivate an agrochemical into a field," declared chief scientific officer and co-founder Richard Tiffin.


"It requires information about the soil, the weather conditions over the recent past, the weather conditions coming up, the type of crop that's in the field, the chemical that's going to go onto the field. And all of that must be processed in quite sophisticated ways to understand whether it's safe or not. But then the insight to the farmer is very simple: green, you can spray; or red, you can't spray."



WHAT IS THE RIGHT APPROACH?


More than half of UK organizations surveyed for the report said they had no AI strategy in place. If that describes your firm, now is the ideal time to start preparing one.


It's important to get swift so businesses are not left behind by the pace of technological development in their sector. Moreover, it's also vital to assess where AI could benefit businesses and create a concrete plan of how it should be implemented.


Barclay explained the most important aspect about AI for business isn't the technology: it's the business problem they're trying to solve.


"If you start thinking of the really big things, you do nothing," she explained. Nonetheless by focusing on small improvements, many of Microsoft's AI customers have been hacking their approach to business by initially asking "what's the problem you're trying to fix?" and then working with Microsoft and other partners to see how technology could play a role in doing that.


Depending on the organization, that could be a chat-bot or automated telephone system to improve customer communication, robotic process automation to make payroll and invoicing more efficient, or machine learning to help employees with repetitive tasks.


Approximately 67 per cent of leaders and 59 per cent of employees say they're open to experimenting with AI, but almost everyone involved is likely to need some training and development to equip them for your organization’s AI future.


The key is to find employees who are excited to work with AI and nurture that interest, giving them tools, knowledge, and opportunities to experiment with artificial intelligence and have a meaningful influence over the way AI is used to assist in their work.


This approach removes a lot of fear that staff can have around automation, Barclay said. "It gives them a good idea of the things they have to go and do. And by involving employees, you're culturally engaging with them around the things that are going to change, and you're equipping them with new skills.


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