While the science-fiction version of artificial intelligence may be decades away, businesses right now in 2018 can still get excited about AI algorithms that can be used to make their practice more efficient and productive.

The type of AI that exists today can impact any business from an enterprise with tens of thousands of employees, to a small business of just a few, in any industry. Whether it be solutions that help with business processes, chat bots, or even smart home devices equipped with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant, these solutions are available now to take advantage of.

“There are numerous use cases right now. Everything from making smarter sales and marketing decisions to optimizing the supply chain and improving the customer experience in a variety of ways. It’s making interactions more relevant, more efficient, etc.,” Mira Perry, IDC Canada’s leading analyst in cognitive/AI and analytics solutions, told ITWC in an interview.

Perry pointed to use cases in the public sector around crime prevention and providing citizen services more efficiently, and in healthcare where solutions like image recognition can assist healthcare professionals with diagnostics. In finance, AI algorithms can be used to identify fraudsters and make banking more secure. For manufacturing and retail, it can help with supply chain optimization.

“Supply chain optimization is also big for retail, as is building an omni-channel experience where the company recognizes the customer regardless of the point of contact and more importantly, can target relevant communications to the customer. For example, recognizing if the customer is coming to them for support for a potential sales transaction,” Perry said.

Perry will be speaking at IDC Directions 2018 as one of the top analysts discussing market trends, opportunities, areas of risk, and growth opportunities in Canada. IT World Canada is a sponsor of Directions 2018, which will take place on April 26, 2018 in Toronto.

Perry underscores two shifts in AI research: using AI to improve the efficiency and productivity of an organization, and embedding AI into common software applications. For instance, using a chat bot on a messaging platform that allows you to do expense report submissions can make that process easier and more efficient. An accountant could spend less time managing expense reports, and employees less time filing them.

“A great aspect about this embedding of AI into software applications is that it’s no longer reserved for the large enterprises. It’s no longer a thing that takes a lot of finance or resources to implement. It isn’t free, but it really brings it down to a much more accessible level,” Perry explained.

Accessibility is an important aspect for Canada, which is dominated by small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) all across the country. Perry uses small law firms as an example, who can use AI solutions from Canadian companies like Kira Systems that can help sift through piles of documents or Orenda, that uses sentiment analysis technology.

“The success of SMBs is really important for Canada – they are the backbone. AI is absolutely accessible to this space – for improving the customer experience, gaining insights from unstructured data, and incorporating intelligent assistants into the business. There are a number of great examples,” Perry said.

Small outfits can also use smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home to take advantage of those devices’ respective smart assistants to simplify business processes.

“It’s understandable that [SMBs] would think it’s out of reach, because the buzz in the market is all about these massive solutions that cost multi-millions of dollars. But I think that there’s a lot of tangible places where AI can help them,” Perry said.

For both Alexa and Google, there are skills around appointment scheduling; or businesses could use the smart speakers as intercoms. In situations where an employee or business owner is often busy with their hands, being able to ask a smart assistant to do simple things like book appointments or answer calls can be a good first step into AI. Perry calls it a “gateway technology.

“That’s not heavy AI, but it certainly is aiding in productivity. I look at that as a kind of a gateway technology, because what we find is that when organizations adopt some piece of AI into their business, they tend to like it enough that they want to adopt more,” Perry said. “If you’re a small business that delivers things, you may use mapping technology that gives you a smart route for your delivery. That’s accessible to small businesses.”

Stepping through that door may lead a business to find addons to existing software that could help with better understanding their sales pipeline or better target their marketing.

However, a challenge for businesses getting into various AI solutions might be limited data available for some solutions to truly be as effective as possible.

In that case, businesses can turn to the growing trend of Data-as-a-Service. Businesses can potentially look at broader sets of data with the understanding that while it may not perfectly fit their business because it isn’t their own data, they can still gain insight from it.

“AI is of course very data intensive and some of these systems work best with data specific to the company. In these cases, SMBs with limited data may need to approach their AI choice from a different angle  – one that perhaps includes data from other sources or employs a different type of AI technology,” Perry said.

It may not be the AI we have dreamed of, but an ‘Okay Google’ can be a great start.



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