To Unleash the Real Value of Artificial Intelligence, Let Go of These Common Myths

Shane Paladin
President, Services, SAP
Board Member at Analytics2Go

In the past year, a rising number of companies has started to infuse artificial intelligence (AI) into their business operations and for good reason. AI can solve a myriad of business challenges—from managing and automating IT infrastructure to getting new insights about customers and improving customer service. And even though IDC forecasts AI technologies will grow to $97.9 billion in 2023, there are still many myths around AI that businesses need to address to unleash real value.

Myth: Huge Data Quantities Automatically Yield Business Outcomes

The first myth is that feeding vast amounts of data into your AI system will automatically produce a perfect business analysis and solution. As with every analysis, you have to ask the right question and set parameters for your data to get the right outcome for your business.

Let us say we want to recreate Noah’s Ark using AI. This starts by defining the business problem: building a boat for all types of terrestrial animals that can be self-sufficient in rough waters for 150 days. Equally important is to define the data points that are relevant for this analysis, such as the classification of the animals, their usual habitats and food as well as the resources we have at our disposal to build this boat.

We need taller rooms for giraffes and cooler temperatures for polar bears. By analyzing these requirements, the AI system can provide a design solution with the features and functionalities that mimic the animals’ habitat. The more animals the boat needs to fit, the more complex the design task will become. That is why it is important to keep the analysis focused on the values that define the perfect design for the ark within the budget and time left to build it. When a flood is approaching, there is little time for exploring various options.

The same applies in today’s new business reality. We need to be able to solve specific business challenges quickly. The ability to extract strategic value from data quickly with AI is the new currency in business transformation.

Myth: AI Is Only for Strategic Problems

The second myth is that AI should only be used to solve big strategic problems. In reality, AI is primarily used for IT-related applications such as analyzing IT infrastructure for anomalies, automating repetitive maintenance tasks, or guiding the work of technical support teams, based on a recent Deloitte survey. Across all functional areas, roughly two-thirds of implementations are used for automation or optimization versus enhancing the capabilities of individuals.

Companies that are planning to use AI exclusively for big strategic problems will miss out on the biggest advantage that AI is already offering today. AI and machine learning can super-charge efficiency and performance, especially when paired with data analytics. In particular, AI can help individuals make better decisions and enhance their experience by freeing them from repetitive tasks.

Fact: The Real Power of AI Is to Automate Mundane Tasks

There is a limit to how many tasks employees can accomplish per day. Many tasks are menial and repetitive. They clutter our time. AI and machine learning can remove that clutter and enable people to work smarter, more efficiently, and become more specific every day. For example, a customer service representative has a mix of daily tasks. They typically include recurring activities, such as scheduling, data entry, processing service tickets, and answering common questions. Automating 20 out of 100 customer service tasks can free up time that can be spent on customer interactions. This not only creates more customer value, it also improves the experience for customers and employees alike.

Fact: Removing Clutter at Work Sparks Joy

Think of AI as the Marie Kondo principle of decluttering the workplace. Companies can analyze the list of daily and repetitive tasks based on whether or not they spark joy for the customer and the employee. This classification is the foundation for using AI and machine learning to automate the more mundane tasks that distract employees from their main priorities and hold them back in their career development. By focusing on the human element and helping individuals with specific tasks, AI can spark joy at work.

The business impact of AI increases with scale. Imagine the possibilities an organization with 100,000 employees has when it can empower everyone to make at least one better decision per day and alleviate 20 percent of their daily menial tasks. It is a win-win for all. The company, the employees, and the customers.

Best of all, it is already possible today. You can go where no one has gone before with AI. Just start with one specific task at a time and scale it.Published January 26, 2021 in Forbes magazine. Shane is on the Advisory Board of Analytics2Go.

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