Unrelenting daily headlines about the so-called AI revolution are delaying businesses from realizing the tangible benefits that AI tools can have on day-to-day operations.
Simply put, thanks to all the hype, too many business leaders are unsure of where to start when it comes to integrating AI solutions. Meanwhile, too many other organizational decision makers are not even sure if they should jump on the AI bandwagon.
Members of this latter camp don’t just have security and privacy concerns on their minds. They are seriously worried that integrating AI will prove to be an extremely daunting task—one that will require blowing up existing data management systems, retraining employees, and putting in place rigorous regulatory compliance controls.
Thanks to doomsday predictions, there is also a fear of unintended consequences, such as unethical AI behaviour that puts organization at risk.
But believe it or not, AI will not transform an ethical business into an unethical one, nor will it take over the world or automate jobs en masse. It won’t even replace most employees that work in creative industries because it cannot connect unrelated ideas or concepts in a way that produces innovative ideas or solutions.
We are not really reinventing the wheel with AI, at least not in all use cases. As a result, it is wrong to characterize AI as a potentially dangerous technology that will fundamentally disrupt the way organizations that deploy it operate. It should be seen as a dramatic improvement on a long-standing business practice that can help return productivity to the workplace.
Keep in mind that many of today’s commercial applications of AI are basically just about organizing and finding content. Think about an Excel spreadsheet. When we create one, each column has its own label while each data cell has content that pertains to that label. There is nothing threatening about that. Now consider browsing for movies organized based on labels that help define the content in question by categories such as horror, comedy, or action. Society has been doing this for a long time.
What’s new with AI is the advancement in hardware components that allow labelled information to be accessed instantly. But the technology still operates within the parameters of its programming. That’s why when ethically deployed, it should be seen as something practical—like a research assistant or analyst—that allows business leaders to have a more comprehensive understanding of how their companies operate and where improvements can be made to achieve desired outcomes.
It’s really that simple.
And once skeptical business leaders realize this, they can focus on identifying ways that AI can help them achieve their business goals, including boosting employee productivity by giving workers much more freedom to do their jobs.
Employee productivity has become a major issue for businesses that adopted digital collaboration tools and platforms amid the pandemic to make it easier for remote workers to access documents, share files, and collaborate with team members. Unfortunately, workers are now overwhelmed with information from various sources and this so-called digital debt is impacting their ability to do their jobs effectively.
As highlighted in Microsoft’s latest report on work trends, today’s employees are struggling to keep up with the volume of information and documents that they need to manage across various collaboration platforms. In a survey of 31,000 workers and managers across 31 countries, Microsoft found a whopping 68 per cent of respondents said they can’t find enough uninterrupted focus time to effectively do their jobs.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. As the Microsoft report noted, “There are only so many minutes in the day—and every minute we spend managing this digital debt is a minute not spent on the creative work that leads to innovation. In a world where creativity is the new productivity, digital debt is more than an inconvenience—it’s impacting business.”
That’s why business leaders need to explore how AI can free employees to focus on what we hire them to do.
There are, of course, other applications of AI that should not be ignored. In addition to boosting productivity, the technology can help simplify complex business decisions by doing things like analyzing competitor pricing, detecting infrastructure vulnerabilities, assessing supply chain disruptions, drafting purchase agreements, and more. In addition to improving your ability to make sound business decisions, this can reduce costs, drive revenue, and improve the customer experience.
AI can also assist in ensuring businesses stay on track with compliance reporting, audits, and risk assessment. By aggregating and analyzing data from various sources, AI can generate compliance reports, highlighting potential gaps, areas of concern, and recommended actions. By leveraging machine learning algorithms, it can identify compliance risk, providing real-time insights and alerts to ensure businesses are abiding by applicable laws and regulations. Perhaps the most important advantage of AI is its commitment to continuous improvement in this area. AI can learn from past compliance audits and identify areas where processes can be optimized.
As noted above, the business case for integrating AI solutions goes well beyond improving the customer experience with chatbots. But many business leaders—especially at enterprise organizations like banks or insurance companies that lack a startup mentality— prefer to sit back and watch other organizations experiment with new technologies or processes. Instead of being early adopters, they wait for some verdict before thinking about whether it is worthwhile integrating something new into their own day-to-day operations.
This “wait-and-see” approach hasn’t always proved fatal in the past, but it is driven by fear of failure, and ironically, when it comes to AI, it will lead many businesses to fail. After all, in today’s market environment where technology moves at breakneck speed, it is the competitors who are willing to experiment who will end up with more efficient ways to do just about everything (employee recruitment, training, audits, purchasing orders, scheduling, maintenance controls, data analytics, competitor analysis—the list goes on and on). And this will free their employees to fully engage in strategic visioning, which will fuel creative and data-driven insights that will drive company growth via competitive advantage.
The public debate over the merits of AI will not be settled any time soon. But the bottom line is that most businesses can’t afford to wait if they want to benefit from AI. This is especially true for large enterprises. After all, it only takes one major market player to fuel systemic, industry-wide change. And companies that wait to see what competitors do with AI will find themselves playing catch-up for years to come—if they survive at all.
That said, we are not talking about chasing every “shiny new thing” related to AI. The focus needs to be on understanding how you can get value from your data, and that starts with understanding what data influences your business outcomes. And this doesn’t have to be a monumental task requiring months of retraining or reskilling.
You do not have to migrate all of your information into a “new” system to take advantage of AI. In fact, the only thing that businesses really have to do now is determine what data inputs are important to the decisions that drive your business and label them accordingly. Once the key inputs have been identified and proper labels applied, your business is ready for AI integration.
As boring as that might sound, the benefits you stand to gain speak for themselves.