Artificial intelligence, real value

Science fiction writer William Gibson famously said that “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”. He could easily have been describing the current state of AI and automation. While some companies are wholly built around machine learning, and sectors like financial services and online retail have used it for decades, others are still only scratching the surface.

The hype has left many organisations in a sort of decision paralysis. They’re overwhelmed by the sheer range of possibilities, and the potential effects on society and business. We've already looked at how to tackle this uncertainty and start figuring out what AI and automation could mean to you.

But how are organisations using these technologies now? How will they use them in the future? And what benefits can they expect in the short and long term if they're willing to start experimenting?

Businesses are getting real value from AI right now

We've worked with AI and automation technologies hands-on for years, helping clients with issues from robotic process automation (RPA) to advanced machine-learning analytics. We've seen really exciting examples of what these technologies can do:

  • A Dutch tram operator using predictive analytics to save €240,000 a year by doing preventative maintenance instead of emergency repairs
  • A European pension provider using algorithms to analyse social media feeds and get up to a week's warning of corporate events that could affect investments
  • IMI Critical Engineering using augmented reality to train engineers who install equipment that controls the movement of fluids in environments like nuclear power stations. The training is better than before, takes half the time and costs 75% less.

We've found most organisations want to use AI and automation to become more efficient, and more innovative. We believe the best approach is to try for both. The more you use these technologies, the more you'll bring costs down. But you'll also find out what genuinely new direction your organisation could take.

If you want to be more efficient, automating routine processes is a good start, whether you're a bank screening loan applications, an insurer screening claims or an airline handling reservations. Being more innovative means going deeper. Like Enfield Council, which is using a chatbot to field citizens' phone and online questions, and potentially handle applications for licences and permits. Or the UK's National Health Service (NHS), which is exploring how to take pressure off the 111 phone service with a chatbot triage system. AI will affect companies across most functions. The approach you take depends on what benefits you want most.

Store up knowledge for tomorrow, get benefits today

It's vital to build up your AI and automation experience and capability. This knowledge is a strategic resource in itself. And it will pay off as the understanding of how they affect our lives deepens, as we use them in more ways, and as the technology advances. Building a strong capability in machine learning and advanced analytics can be particularly important.

From working with clients on early-stage AI and automation, we know that real short-term benefits are possible, including:

  • Freed-up resources – automating routine and bulk processes and tasks gives you options for cutting cost and getting the best out of valuable people.

  • Happier customers – moving those freed-up people to better things can help you offer better, faster customer service. Using learning algorithms and chatbots to answer customer queries and complaints will add to the effect.
  • Happier people – taking mundane tasks off people's desks makes them more likely to enjoy their work and stay with you longer, cutting your recruitment costs.
  • A reputation for innovation – those happier customers will spread the word. But being innovative is a great lever for marketing too. And being known for embracing AI will attract the tech experts who are in such short supply.

More advanced uses of machine learning and predictive analytics might take longer to produce benefits. But as you get to know your own data better, you'll reveal patterns that hold the key to more quick wins – opportunities that would otherwise have stayed invisible.

Bring technologies together for bigger benefits

Different AI and automation technologies tackle different problems and offer different possibilities. They can also reinforce each other, giving you a very potent toolbox if you can learn to master it.

Being able to orchestrate complex automation tasks using cognitive technologies will unlock the true potential of AI. Most organisations will need to experiment with the different technologies and tools to understand how to use them. But the long-term goal should be a holistic approach to creating value from AI and automation.

AI and automation does seem limitless in its possibilities. But you can make it work for you by:

  • Making your long-term goals part of the process from the start – work towards them in increments, using AI in steadily more advanced ways
  • Seeing beyond individual AI and automation technologies – even if you do your first experiments on separate technologies and smaller use cases
  • Harnessing all the data you can get from inside and outside the organisation. AI is data-hungry, and the best applications find new patterns from seemingly uncorrelated information. Being able to control, understand and use your own data sources is vital. So is partnering with others to get access to new ones
  • Breaking down and re-engineering processes to take full advantage of the new possibilities of cognitive technologies. Don't just automate your existing processes, but imagine new ones.

As you start scaling up your AI and automation, be ambitious and think about how you can combine technologies to become more and more advanced. If you do that, you'll find more of the future distributed in your organisation.

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