Research points to artificial intelligence (AI) as the future of technology in Asia
Whether you are looking at American, Global or Asian technology trend research, there’s one common thread, Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s at the centre of every discussion about the future of technology in Asia. Gartner Research listed AI as its No. 1 Strategic Technology Trend for 2017. Integrated Facilities Management leader Sodexo includes “new-gen robotics” among its list of Global Workplace Trends for this year, and Tech in Asia boasted “AI will improve the customer experience” as one of its four tech trends to look out for in 2017. “It’s critical for business leaders to recognise the underlying trends driving change, to evaluate their significance and stay ahead of, rather than follow, them,” stated Sodexo CEO Sylvia Metayer. How is AI transforming the workforce environment? Here’s a look at how IT managers can embrace this unstoppable trend.
AI is Not about Replacing Jobs
At the mention of AI, people automatically think about machines taking human jobs. On the contrary, Matt Gould with UK-based Arria recently stated in an interview with Fast Company, “Far from killing the jobs of knowledge workers, this tends to free them up to do what they are paid to do – innovate, model, refine, and improve on the expertise of their business.”
For IT teams, AI gives them more time for creativity, innovation and development. Managers across all departments report that 54 percent of their time is taken up by administrative coordination and control, while strategy and innovation are only allocated 10 percent of their time. Imagine the productivity level of an IT team with a manager who could flip those ratios. AI makes that a real possibility. Some research estimates labour productivity will increase up to 40 percent as AI technologies are implemented. That increased productivity leads to innovation that benefits the entire organisation. In fact, economists predict that AI will double annual economic growth rates by 2035 simply by changing the nature of work and the relationship between human workers and machines.
Huge Gains Across All Departments
IT is not the only beneficiary of AI. Human Resources stands to benefit immensely from AI. Imagine a workplace where IT managers could set up their HR colleagues with data and analytics that will give them a holistic view of employees and productivity. Data that focuses on employee behaviours and feedback is invaluable, allowing managers to efficiently build employee teams that are perfectly suited for certain projects. AI would process employee behaviours from their hire date through their successes and failures. The result is long-term goal achievement for the company and a highly satisfied workforce.
AI is also transforming HR by replacing time-consuming tasks. Consider the onboarding process. By using a chatbot, HR managers can slowly disseminate the right information at the right time instead of bombarding the new employee with piles of information within the first couple of days, much of which they will not retain. Introduce pertinent information when it’s relevant, increasing the chances it will be retained. Chatbots are not intended to replace the face-to-face onboarding process. The use of AI technology will compliment it. In fact, Forbes called Chatbots “the hottest segment of the hottest trend.” The potential for HR is immeasurable since it tends to be the most administratively-burdened department. Huge gains for HR means huge gains for the rest of the organisation.
Along with HR, financial teams stand to slash mounds of administrative tasks. AI can deliver in seconds what takes controllers days to compile. It is “as though an army of analysts are constantly on call to provide the expert insight,” continued Gould.
Transform the Customer Experience
AI is the key to unlocking all the data mining that businesses have been doing. “With AI, customer interactions become fine-tuned and ultimately smarter with every interaction and additional piece of data,” says Vanessa Thompson, SVP at Bluewolf, a consulting agency that works with Salesforce customers, in a recent TechCrunch interview. Companies are using AI for everything from mining social data to Customer Relationship Management (CRM). For example, AI is enabling companies to more effectively engage their employees with a greater social presence and provide immediate responses to customer queries, all in a personalised format. Bots are being used to handle initial contact with customers, taking care of simple tasks and allowing human operators to handle the more complex interactions.
The customer experience is transformed from the business perspective. Companies have been collecting data for years now. There’s now a data overflow. AI makes sense of data that has been ignored or even thrown away. Conversely, AI gets better the more data you feed it. AI is the key to creating truly user-centric applications by processing massive amounts of data.
Get Ahead of the Trend
AI is not a trend that is expected to fade anytime soon. The AI market is expected to top $16.06 billion by 2022. Growth is so substantial in the Asian market that MIT’s Technology Review included an entire section on China’s AI boom in its article “5 Big Predictions for Artificial Intelligence in 2017.” China-based company Baidu has a well-established AI focused lab that is making huge gains in the areas of voice recognition and natural language processing. China’s ride-sharing giant Didi opened a lab last year to focus on driverless car technology.
Is your company struggling to get ahead of the AI trend? The applications for AI technology are endless, trickling through every department. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the possible applications within an organisation. Follow these steps:
Identify productivity issues.
Where is the company losing productivity? As with any new technology or endeavour, have specific goals and benchmarks that will demonstrate the potential ROI of AI technology. AI implementation will vary based on industry, size of company, region of operation and numerous other variables.
Prioritise problem areas.
Exploring AI possibilities is like diving into a black hole. Don’t get blinded by “pie in the sky” ideas. Prioritise the identified problem areas based on financial value. Each new initiative should be tied to a tangible value.
Understanding your organisation’s capability gap can be challenging. Before launching an AI implementation, understand the difference between what you want to accomplish and what you have the organisational ability to accomplish. This part of the process may also entail changing certain internal processes. Your business must be ready from an organisational and technological perspective. Does your staff have the specialised skills to implement an AI initiative? If not, include outside consulting in your timeline and budget. AI initiatives must also take into consideration policy and security issues around new technologies. Be realistic about your organisation’s ability to handle these various factors.
Once you have a strategy with definitive goals in place, launch a pilot program to test your ideas. Use a small team to test the program for about two to three months. Be sure your team is a cross-section of employees that know the business and those that know AI. Consulting with an external firm is advisable at this stage of implementation. Once completed, you will have the data to decide if the project is worthwhile in the long-term.
Harvard Business Review encourages IT managers to “treat intelligent machines as colleagues.” View AI initiatives as more than just advancements in technology. Regardless of industry sector, AI has the potential to revolutionise productivity. AI is just one trend reshaping technology in Asia and throughout the globe.