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Artificial intelligence in business – what’s stopping you and why you should use it

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Do you sometimes wonder how other companies are using Artificial Intelligence? Do you think AI could bring value to your company but are afraid it could do more harm than good? Do you ask yourself where it should be applied in your organization for real added value? And if the effort of investing in AI is all worth the while…?

Artificial Intelligence can seem scary when you think of applying it to your business. You might be afraid that it could be overshoot, useless, complicated, irrelevant or too much effort – basically, that it isn’t worthwhile.

While these are legitimate concerns, the fact of the matter is that, applied relevantly, Artificial Intelligence brings value. Through its applications, it makes our lives – and businesses – easier, more efficient and convenient. It is evolving very quickly and has applications across a wide array of things and industries including defense, healthcare, travel, marketing, automotive, travel, security and banking. Although there is naturally no point in sprinkling AI over everything, applied adequately, it can definitely bring improvement and enhance capabilities. 

In this article, let’s take a tour of what AI is used for, how your company could benefit from using it, and explore some of the reasons that make people afraid of it. 

What is AI?

Before we dive in the applications of Artificial Intelligence, it’s important you have a clear understanding of what it is. 

Business News Daily defines Artificial Intelligence as a broad term that refers to any type of computer software that engages in humanlike activities – including learning, planning and problem-solving. It’s a program’s (or machine’s or system’s) ability to adapt and learn by experience. It should be looked at and used as a supporting tool to human intelligence and judgement, rather than a replacement. 

AI is often used to process large amounts of data extremely quickly – like face ID. It can also perform more advanced functions, analyzing different factors at the same time – like with self-driving cars. 

Daily use of Artificial Intelligence

Today, Artificial Intelligence has become commonplace in our everyday life, often without us even noticing. 

On your way home, if traffic is unusually dense on your usual route, your navigation app will automatically take it into account and recalculate the best alternative route home, thanks to AI. Entertainment platforms show your favorite shows and the ones you might like, thanks to AI. AI will also hint that your kids may have used your device – teen video games popping up? Autonomous vehicles are no longer science-fiction, AI is driving them. Face ID unlocks your phone thanks to AI – sometimes giving a good laugh to twin siblings. Because keyboards are powered with AI to switch to detected languages, provide corrections and predict words or languages, you can write messages without hardly even typing…  

In 2022, most leading businesses (91%) are investing in AI technologies, according to NewVantage Partners. Gartner reports that in 2015, 10% of organizations reported they used AI in the workplace; in 2019, they were 37%. The analyst firm also reveals that the number of companies using AI increased by 270% between 2015 and 2019. 

The fear factor

However, for some companies the threshold to start using AI seems to be high. 

When a company is running its business the way it always has, it may appear difficult to see where to apply Artificial Intelligence and how – even if – it could improve things. You may think that those spreadsheets are doing the job just fine – and it might be the case – but maybe things could be more effective done otherwise… Cobelpro, a Belgian company that manages professional Real Estate, is a good example. Their finance team was spending a lot of time reporting the financial results of the buildings they manage to their owners. “Each report we did for a client would easily take several hours.” They decided to switch to an AI fueled software: “Now we can get the information directly. We’re talking about 50% time savings for our finance team” comments CEO Gille Naeyaert.

Transitioning is not easy. Any company who has had to migrate its data, in part or in whole, from one software to another, knows it’s challenging. However, the potential of AI, when applied accurately, is so big, no company wants to be left behind because of conservatism. If you or your company are not willing to innovate, you could be left in a vulnerable position, and even more so if the ones around you are taking the leap. 

Let’s look at it the other way: imagine a business keeps its status quo, what are the risks? 

Profits, not loss

With an overly cautious attitude, businesses are likely to keep doing their accounting on spreadsheets or separate documents. Imagine your marketing data spread across your internal users, without any common access point, duplicates here and there, and file names revealing nothing useful. What these companies risk on a daily basis is inaccurate and unstandardized data, decentralized information unfit to be shared and reduced efficiency; on the longer term, the risk is also outdated software and media, making use of and accessibility to information harder – maybe even near to impossible. Bear in mind what happened with floppy disks. 

Another risk to not making the jump, is to be left behind. Artificial Intelligence is widespread, applied across practically every industry and in an untold number of ways. The number of applications and the technology are going so rapidly that it is hard to remember that, just a few years ago, they were not available. Think of keyboard prediction or Face ID. When competitors will start using AI to offer better experiences to their users, they will be followed by their customers – and joined by new ones who expect the quality, speed or prediction AI offers.  Bank and e-commerce applications provide a good example. Today, would you want to use an external device to validate a payment? Probably not. 

Change in customer behaviors also pose a risk to less innovative organizations. Challenging times and complex circumstances trigger more unpredictable behaviors that can waver business as usual. Applied accurately, AI can prepare and arm businesses when it comes to dealing with the unexpected. As an example, let’s take the current inflation that is giving context for change in behaviors. Customers who have always been loyal and timely when it comes to paying their bills might suddenly be facing payment issues. Business who can predict this in a targeted manner will be better armed to engage with their customers and offer them adequate customer services. They can also be the first to reach out to collect payments – and will therefore be more likely to get paid before their customers’ money runs out. 

AI is a tool, not the solution

However, AI is not a magical cure-all to every modern issue. Human beings still have – and should keep – the sole responsibility of their choices and actions, whether they are submitted or not through AI. 

An article in Scientific American points out that:  “The belief that AI is a cure-all tool that will magically deliver solutions if only you can collect enough data is misleading and ultimately dangerous (…) we need to both build AI responsibly and understand where it can be reasonably applied.” 

As users, we should bear in mind that the data and algorithms used in AI have been selected and crafted by people, and include their intentions and values. Human values and choices are part of the process – and are revealed in the AI tool. 

AI is making life so easy in so many ways that it’s easy to get used to – and want more of it.  

But perhaps because AI suggests that it knows better or can do better than human intelligence, must we be even more vigilant in recognizing it and in the use we make of it. 

Tips to use AI successfully 

A few questions and focus points can help you keep a clear mind and defined goal should you consider making use of Artificial Intelligence within your organization.  

1. Focus

Keep in mind why you are using AI and what application of it is useful to you or your business. AI will not solve all of your problems at once, and not all of your problems need it. Define a scope in line with the goal you expect AI to achieve. Carefully select the application of AI relevant to what needs to be solved. As Maslow once said: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail”. Not everything is a nail, nor does everything need a nail. 

2. Users

Next to why you need AI, remember who will be using the tool within your organization. Choose or adapt the AI application that will help the ones using it – in its application and pursued goal. Craft it so it fits their needs, resources and purpose. The tool should be serving the team and it goals, not the opposite. Transition is not easy. Moving toward AI can scare one away. So, if there is a transition, let it be for the best. 

3. Data

Data feeds AI. Organizations with a few years history or more have a lot of it. In order for it to be of use to AI, the data needs to be accurate, digitalized and standardized – and the more there is, the better the AI tool will work. Don’t be afraid to gather the data you probably have scattered across time and people. If using it with AI can improve your business, it is worth the while.  

4. Judgment

AI is a tool. You – as in a human being – will always be required next to AI. Applied correctly, it is certainly helpful and useful when it comes to work optimization. But people – and their judgment – will always be required to make sense of the information AI provides. Human-machine collaboration is essential. Machines may extend and enhance human capabilities, they will not replace people. Take the example of a library: AI can process the data of every book within a library and tell you exactly how to organize and categorize those books. However, since the size of the books and shelves are likely not digitalized, AI will remain unable to tell you exactly where to put them, because it doesn’t know if they fit. This is why, AI is not a threat to the quantity of jobs available, although it might be the reason to create new ones – created by and for AI.   

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