Salvatore Minetti, CEO and Founder, Prospex
There’s no denying the disruptive potential of artificial intelligence in transforming the way businesses interact with consumers and clients. The term naturally evokes images of human androids and space travel, yet in reality, AI has already become integrated into the daily processes and routines of most individuals. Take for instance Google Maps, Siri, Facebook, Netflix – all these common household applications use AI as means of enhancing the user’s experience.
The core purpose of AI is to improve efficiency and provide deeper, more valuable insights. It achieves this by processing huge sets of data to identify common variables, or indeed anomalies, and provides this information to inform a better decision or outcome. Yet despite the exciting innovations currently on offer, not all private sector entities are embracing AI.
According to a survey of 4,000 international business leaders, 42% said that they did not believe that human lives would be made easier by offloading undesirable tasks to machines. This is an interesting statistic to consider and exposes the level of distrust that currently exists when it comes to AI. And yet despite this cynicism, 75% of business leaders also said they plan on hiring an AI chief. Clearly, there is a realisation that this new collective of technologies will play an increasingly significant role in the way businesses operate. The challenge, then, is removing some of the suspicious sentiment towards AI from certain sections of the private sector.
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Increasing industry awareness
It is natural for people to be wary of something they do not fully understand. And this principal can be applied when it comes to business attitudes to AI technologies, just as was with cloud computing and big data. While there is a general awareness of AI’s disruptive potential, there exists a knowledge-deficit when it comes to the practical applications of artificial intelligence itself, as well as the different forms that it can take. Indeed, people’s perceptions of AI can be unnecessarily convoluted, and instead of thinking of practical and simple AI-powered solutions such as email spam filters, they can immediately be drawn to popularised images of supercomputers becoming self-aware.
Take, for example, lead generation. The basic premise of any sales function is to find new leads most relevant to a business and, in turn, try to turn them into clients. At the moment, sales teams have to review countless spreadsheets, CRM systems, social networks and databases to find potential leads before they can even begin to attempt to sell their product or service. This is a time consuming and often frustrating process.
However, new AI solutions significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to find relevant leads by analysing relevant data sources and creating a list of people that have a profile most relevant to the business. Importantly, this does not remove the human element required to complete a sale. Rather, AI can provide a sales team with a constant list of relevant leads, allowing them to focus on the actual selling function. Put more generally, AI provides a business with insights and intelligence so it can enhance its processes, products and profits.
Furthermore, it is all too easy to be led astray by industry buzzwords. For example, the terms artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML) are used almost interchangeably, when in reality there is a difference between the two. An awareness of the industry is vital, including a base-level understanding of the key terms that collectively make up the AI sector. Increased knowledge naturally leads to greater awareness, and this can help businesses go beyond their surface level understanding of AI to properly appreciate its practical benefits.
So where should businesses begin?
Fortunately, it seems SMEs and startups are more willing than larger companies to adopt AI. A recent survey of 1,000 small and medium sized businesses found that the majority of firms see the potential of improved productivity as a major benefit arising from new technology.
Yet to ensure that AI is being used effectively, businesses need to be critical of their own operations and identify the key challenges undermining their overall performance. Simply relying on AI as a problem-solving solution that will lead to higher revenue is a naïve approach that will fail to deliver long-lasting results. Just as one uses Google Maps to navigate from one location to the next through AI, the same mind-set should be adopted by business leaders, applying the technology to reach an identified goal.
The potential of artificial intelligence to improve the operational processes and sales strategies of businesses, both large and small, is immense. To make sure it reaches its full potential, however, there must be concerted efforts to improve private sector awareness of AI technologies through greater education and focused knowledge-sharing initiatives. In turn, this will ensure businesses can employ AI in an efficient and effective manner.