For the past few years we’ve seen big data and machine learning take more of a foothold in companies, with many believing the era of artificial intelligence (AI) is here.
What is clear is that with advances being made on an almost daily basis now, businesses need to prepare for a vastly different future. But, in order to take advantage, some companies may need to make a dramatic adjustment in how they work.
At the moment, for many companies, AI and big data are viewed in a way that limits the potential they have to offer. They are often seen as something that can help cut operational costs, rather than as a fundamental approach for generating increases in productivity, output and improved certainty over corporate direction.
In order for AI and big data to be successful, companies must combine them with business expertise and insight – making it something the C-suite can’t ignore.
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Expanding the use of these technologies can help a business’s leaders answer some big business and organisational questions – and deep domain expertise is a vital part of that.
To ensure businesses get the most out of big data and AI, here are some tips for the C-suite to follow.
Stay ahead of the curve
The success of today’s AI is predicated on big volumes of data. The more data it receives, the smarter it becomes. And businesses continue to generate data at exponential rates.
This combination dramatically improves the ability to analyse, asses and predict not only the traditional areas scrutinised by company leaders — such as revenue, spend and sales — but also to bring together a range of data sets from internal and external sources to generate new sources of insight and prediction. As a result, the C-suite will be able to anticipate potential issues or opportunities that may arise.
Allowing the technology to take care of these steps — which have until recently been the responsibility of number-crunching teams — should enable better and faster decision making. Or even validate decisions the technology suggests leading to an increase in strategic thinking.
Review your processes
As companies begin to make this shift, one of the initial steps for businesses will be to take an overall review of their organisation to determine which functions would benefit from big data and AI solutions.
There will be business gaps that can be filled. Staff will need to be retrained, and processes will have to be adjusted to take advantage of the new environment that’s been created.
One example of how this concept can be put into action is security. Many companies are struggling to deal with the multitude of threats out there at the moment and struggle to establish clear protocols to protect their assets.
MIT developed an AI based system which detects over 85% of attacks by reviewing data from billions of log files entries each day. Over time it learns attack patterns, continuously improving its ability to predict threats.
Using such systems improves threat detection whilst freeing resources to fill other security-strengthening activities — or any other part of the business that requires them.
Flexibility is key
The pace of technological change is staggering and will only continue to gather pace, creating new science, new techniques, new companies and new products.
The ability to identify and then incorporate the best solution for a business, and at the right time to maximise advantage, is a major challenge. Nowhere is this more the case than in the AI and big data domain, where hundreds of start-ups are competing to be the next industry leaders.
Businesses must ensure they have a well-structured architecture framework that enables CIOs to respond with the flexibility required to incorporate the new and replace the old.
This way, should something be found not to be working or a better solution is discovered, the leaders can decide to remove or replace it with something that might be a better fit.
Automated approaches and technologies can be applied to most processes, so businesses should look for places it can aid and remove any unnecessary work.
AI is increasing its contextual awareness and can sift through large amounts of data, helping to support roles that until now needed human teams to execute.
However, AI and big data provide support far in excess of what we can do, because available computing power provides a massive delivery capacity.
There are a number of areas where AI can offer added value such as contract management, compliance, finance, human resources and supply chain.
Through AI, businesses can effectively augment the work of teams by rapidly providing valuable insight. Some standard robotics mechanisms can emulate human interaction with a system, thereby using robotic techniques to deliver in the same way a person can — but quicker and with less mistakes.
Invoicing, financial close, payroll, claims management, order management are several areas, where this has proved to be the case. And robotic systems are rapidly increasing their cognitive capabilities.
Rather than being programmed with the rules needed to mimic human activities, the software is advancing through machine learning which means that over time they are acquiring the knowledge required to execute business processes.
We have just begun to scratch the surface of what big data and AI can do for us. Their potential is virtually unlimited. They can create a business foundation with greater efficiency and a better-managed cost base, and even help us see into the future.
However, businesses must remember that these tools are not a replacement for humans. Human nature and intuition remain the unique traits that drive organisations forward in a way that automation simply can’t.
Big data and AI can help the C-suite tremendously, as long as their current limitations are understood. If they are implemented properly, our ability to innovate is limited only by our capacity to imagine how these technologies can benefit us.