How AI can add value to your business today
Read any of your favourite news sources and it will be littered with a range of stories about Artificial Intelligence (AI).
These stories range from how AI will change the world of work to how it will revolutionise our approach to healthcare and even drive our cars. AI is now the fastest growing deep technology in the world. It is becoming more and more commonplace as part of our daily lives – both home and work without us always realising it. According to IBM’s “2021 Global AI Adoption Index” nearly three quarters of companies are now using AI (31%) or are exploring the use of AI (43%). The UK Government have weighed in too and in September 2021 published their “National AI Strategy”, a ten-year plan to make Britain a global AI superpower.
But beyond automated robots, driverless cars and government papers, where does the AI revolution fit into your business and how can you take advantage of this?
The definition of AI – by the dictionary is:
The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages
You may also come across the term “machine learning” which is an application of AI and computer science which focuses on the data and algorithms – providing systems with the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.
How has AI’s move from science fiction to the device in your pocket happened so fast?
AI as a concept has been around for a long time. Back in 1956, the term artificial intelligence was coined by computer scientist and professor of mathematics John McCarthy at Dartmouth College. Over the past decade hardware, infrastructure and processing power performance have all advanced considerably to help ideas and concepts become a reality.
Historically if you needed some decent computing power, you built it yourself (very expensive!). Or you borrowed computing power from a specialist organisation, expensive and logistically difficult. Today, using a provider such as Microsoft Azure, anyone can spin up high end computing power on demand with little or no effort.
This means that for everyday business, AI is both affordable and accessible rather than being a specialist requirement for those with deep pockets. Consequently, AI’s range of abilities have expanded to make it relevant to your operations.
Where is it used today?
The most obvious examples are voice assistants such as Siri or Alexa. These services use a combination of AI skills to deliver a helpful personal service. AI converts your speech to text and understands the question’s intent to produce the response. You can ask a voice assistant about the weather in dozens of ways, with AI interpreting those questions and returning the results.
AI is more than speech to text; you are likely using some subtle capabilities of AI without realising. At the forefront is Microsoft with clever features spread across its Office suite. For example, insert a picture into a Word document and the alternate text is completed for you, making your document more accessible to screen readers with no extra effort.
The range of AI use continues to grow with new applications of the technology never ending. Inclusivity and accessibility have benefited from applications of AI to modern problems, for example Google’s Live Transcribe app allows a mask wearer to communicate with someone who lip reads. Our day to day lives are benefiting from AI now in examples such as:
- Transportation – AI assisted car software is leading us to fully automated self-driving cars
- Education – bespoke lessons based on engagement assessed by facial recognition
- Healthcare – disease diagnosis and drug discovery could be made a 24hr operation, no longer reliant on individuals reviewing images and results
- Manufacturing – predictive machine maintenance, keeping factory downtime to a minimum
How can I start using it in my business?
Your biggest asset is your data, but like a lot of companies, your data is in many formats spread across distinct parts of the business, making data-driven decision-making difficult, if not impossible.
AI can be the first step in taming your existing data. Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Search offers ‘Search as a Service’ which are a range of Azure based services such as Keyword Search, language analysers, suggestions, forms recognisers and many more. The services effectively ingest your data from a range of sources, Word documents, pdfs, images, and any unstructured data. Once ingested, Cognitive Search presents simple and powerful searching capabilities that open lots of opportunities for integration and application.
Now your data is in shape, what is next?
AI presents a dizzying number of possibilities and is sometimes difficult to imagine where this can add value to your business! Thinking about your current practises can be a good starting point and planning through how an existing process may take advantage of AI. Two common areas we deal with are chatbots and reporting.
As a business, you often present your customers with data on websites, such as FAQs or knowledgebases, to help customers self-service when they need to. Whilst this information is invaluable, simple website searching, or the amount of information, can overwhelm some, who will revert to the more traditional contact channels such as telephone or direct email.
An AI powered chatbot can offer a direct contact who understands your customer’s enquiry and finds the information your customer needs any time of the day. A chatbot can be more effective, with the end user having a conversation rather than keying in search terms, e.g., “when are you open on Sunday?” is far simpler and friendlier and represents the first step in customer engagement.
Chatbot personalities can be constructed to represent the brand identity of your company. It may sound counterintuitive, but chatbots can give your customers a more personable face to deal with.
Once your data is in a recognisable format, we can apply AI assisted search and reporting tools like Microsoft’s Power BI to report on your data. Useful reports for daily operations are no longer static bar charts and tables of numbers. Power BI offers comprehensive metrics, natural language searching and interactive dashboards that can give real insight into your business trends to help you make informed decisions.
Power BI is now full of AI tools to help you not only see what is happening in your business but to also understand why it is happening. For example, it can look at the underlying data and automatically find any irregularities in your time series data and provide explanations to help you identify the root cause and, using the Smart Narratives feature, it will present an instant analysis of the data for you often providing completely new insights.
AI undoubtedly has the power to transform all our lives and major advancements will be made over the next decade, accompanied by much debate on ethics and responsible AI (a topic for another day!). However, as my article hopefully demonstrates, AI is already making businesses and governments around the world more efficient and productive and is delivering new transformative services.
If you would like to find out more about how the practical implementation of AI could help you increase productivity or improve engagement with your customers and staff, please get in touch.