For those of us raised on '80s sci-fi flicks, it's hard to believe that artificial intelligence is now part of our everyday lives. From the Google search algorithm, to Spotify's personalised playlists, or your Alexa personal assistant, AI is being used in ways we could never have imagined back in the '80s. And the technology is becoming more intelligent and accepted every day, with lots of opportunities for business.
A study by Accenture found that businesses that use AI could increase their profitability by an average of 38% by 2035. And if you think your industry won't be affected, think again. News reports might focus on how many jobs will be replaced by machines, but plenty of business models will also change beyond recognition. So, if you're not already thinking about where AI could fit into your business, it's time to start.
Here's some steps you can take now to ensure your business stays relevant amid the AI revolution:
A finger on the pulse
Now might not be the right time for your business to harness the value of AI, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be keeping up to speed with how others are using the technology. Reading the IT trade journals is a good place to start, focusing on how businesses in your sector or similar are leveraging AI. Understanding the possibilities now will make it easier to spot opportunities when they arise further down the line.
Piggyback on the innovators
There are also lots of practical resources from industry leaders, that will help you to implement AI. For example, Google has developed a machine learning system, TensorFlow, which it has released as open source software. Meanwhile, Amazon has released Amazon AI, which enables developers and researchers to harness its technologies for natural language understanding (NLU), automatic speech recognition (ASR), visual search and image recognition, text-to-speech (TTS), and machine learning (ML).
Brainstorm potential uses with your team
Start to get your team engaged by encouraging brainstorms on the areas of the business where AI could potentially be deployed. The processes that are most likely to benefit are those that are data-heavy, inefficient, or time-consuming for staff. So, find out where these exist and ask for ideas on how AI could be used to solve them.
Start small and focus on creating real value
Don't rush into using AI, just for the sake of it. Yes, it's innovative and has a lot of potential, but it's important to stay focused on your objectives, and the best solution for achieving those. It's also best to dip a toe in the water, before jumping in head first. That means finding one specific aspect of a process where you can run an AI pilot, see how it goes, and measure, learn and build from there.
Prepare the ground
Before you're in a position to maximise the value of AI, it's vital to ensure your current processes are working in the best way possible. For example, are you collecting all the required data on areas of the business that could be improved? Are you storing it in a logical and secure way? Do your employees have the necessary skills, or do you need to look at investing in training and new hires? Thinking these questions through now will help lay the foundations ahead of implementing AI, while giving you the greatest chance of success.
Another great way of getting started is to collaborate with a non-competing business that is further down the road in terms of programming and enabling AI. For example, the carmaker Volkswagen recently announced a collaboration with Nividia, a leader in AI computing, to help it maximise the technology throughout its operations. In some cases, this can be more cost-effective than starting from scratch yourself.
AI has the potential to transform how business is done, from customer service to data analytics, manufacturing to cyber security. And just like in the movies, we could one day live in a world where humans are left to put their feet up while the machines do all the work. But getting there won't be easy. It will require lots of small steps and lots of trial and error to find the best way of harnessing the technology. And that means starting now.