The digital revolution in the 1990s transformed businesses, with digital systems helping to manage basic business functions. That revolution streamlined companies’ underlying processes – and now, say tech experts Susanne Chishti, Ivana Bartoletti, Anne Leslie and Shân Millie, digital systems affect how companies interact with customers and how consumers buy products. The coming digital innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) won’t derive from technology companies, but from people with hands-on knowledge working in industries with problems that need solutions.
- Businesses once used software to manage operations. Now, they use it to engage customers.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming businesses and creating different types of organizations.
- Bring AI to bear on all of your company’s activities.
- To transform your business, integrate AI into all its activities.
- In an AI organization, AI must transform everyone.
- An AI organization needs a culture that aligns with AI.
- AI needs data, so taking advantage of the “data estate” proves crucial.
- Create a company ethos that attracts talent.
- AI should evolve within a morally responsible company culture.
Businesses once used software to manage operations. Now, they use it to engage customers.
When businesses began using digital technologies – and specifically, software – to facilitate basic operations, it affected such processes as bookkeeping, payroll and supply. The digital revolution’s first wave transformed business functions. That change occurred mostly within corporate operations and core processes – rendering them more streamlined and efficient – but it did not affect companies’ central purpose.
“As big a change as it was, the digitization of the core processes didn’t alter the primary business of a company, it just made it more efficient.”
In recent years, that has changed. Repurposed, advanced software expanded into systems of engagement, so companies could interact directly with their clients and customers. Software proves crucial in determining how people purchase a company’s products and services, and how they utilize them. Software is now integral to all companies. Its creative and intelligent use forms part of every company’s competitive advantage, shaping enterprises at every level.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming businesses and creating different types of organizations.
When businesses go digital across functions, they generate data in epic quantities. The software they use creates records of their activities, whether managing the books or monitoring inventory. Companies that oriented their digital systems toward engaging customers gained access to vast amounts of information about their clients, and about the way consumers utilized their products and services.
This provided the opportunity to create “systems of intelligence,” or “expert systems,” that can analyze and deploy data to enhance a firm’s success and help leaders anticipate its future. In the past, AI referred to actions that at least approximated human intelligence. With the increasing sophistication of intelligent systems and the advent of machine learning, the term’s usage expanded.
“Think of the AI transformation as a journey.”
Given the degree to which the media promote and exaggerate AI’s capabilities, many people remain confused about it. Today, AI is authentic, not hype. Companies use it to transform their businesses. AI’s capabilities include the ability to see, hear and speak, the capacity to analyze and calculate, and an aptitude for learning new things in many ways. AI’s capabilities changed the creation of digital systems and their deployment. Since AI changes and shapes the customer experience, AI-driven businesses operate differently from non-AI businesses. AI organizations simultaneously consider how they operate, how they engage customers and how they support their employees.
Bring AI to bear on all of your company’s activities.
You can reconfigure and transform every aspect of your organization by using the capabilities that AI provides. It can affect the departments responsible for technologies such as software, as well as departments that manage money and sales, and more generally, all your employees. Adapt and apply AI’s diverse abilities in all these areas. The IT department, for example, should integrate AI into its current and future software. Other departments should work with the IT department to reconfigure and improve their practices to take advantage of AI. Include all your employees in this change. AI should shape and improve everything they do.
“At the end of the day, you can consider AI as better software. As long as you continue the journey, starting with the technical aspects will give you a strong foundation to build on.”
AI should be part of all of a company’s software applications, especially those involving customer and employee engagement. Software designed to engage customers should help you facilitate sales and increase the amount of time customers are engaged. To build customer engagement, introduce the kind of “recommender systems” Netflix deploys. Tailor the software to respond to your customers’ specific needs, interests and wants. Software designed to engage employees should use AI to help increase their productivity – for instance, by reducing the time they need to perform their tasks.
To transform your business, integrate AI into all its activities.
AI is a technology, and its initial impact on any company is technological. But you cannot access AI’s full impact unless it reaches into and transforms your company’s basic functions and processes. To move toward a complete AI transformation, a company needs to assess and balance different areas, which include the opportunities that AI opens, the company’s principal source of revenue and its overall productivity. This might encompass new projects the entire company pursues, improving current ways of bringing in revenue, boosting the company’s efficiency and decreasing its expenses.
“Every business process can be optimized or completely redefined with AI. The question is where to start.”
An IT department can introduce AI to the software that various parts of a business use, but it can’t transform how different parts of a business operate. Establish communication between your technology people and your business people. Finding the areas in which to deploy AI requires collaboration between experts in technology and business professionals. With this in mind, train your people in AI’s principal capabilities, so they can discover how to apply it to their activities. Help them collaborate with technologists to explore how AI can improve their work and solve their problems. Compile a master list of AI’s potential utility across your business’s various areas, and establish priorities.
In an AI organization, AI must transform everyone.
The final way AI can transform a company goes beyond its operations and customers to its employees. In this, the AI revolution resembles other revolutions in many respects. For example, computers transformed business practices early on, but businesses further transformed when most of their employees attained their own computers and learned to use them. The same could be said of the internet. Only when a technology is available to all employees can they (and management) reimagine everything they do.
“A wave of AI democratization in the enterprise is coming.”
Eventually, many people, including your employees, will be capable of creating AIs and using them to address their specific problems. They will become “citizen data scientists.” Companies need to provide an appropriate context and atmosphere to enable employees to take this crucial step. In the future, traditional specialists will not be able to fulfill the demand for AI. Companies can initiate this process by providing employees with access to information and to AI.
An AI organization needs a culture that aligns with AI.
Creating an AI organization means supporting an organizational culture that embraces AI. Organizations whose cultures align poorly with AI can change. A company’s structure, leadership and management can evolve. The most important element in developing an AI organization is how people collaborate.
“Without a culture aligned with AI, any attempt at embracing it will also feel against the grain and won’t stick.”
Technology department managers typically approach their responsibilities on a project-by-project basis. More recently, IT management has come to focus on products rather than projects – and, for that reason, to focus on consumers. Unlike projects, products such as software constantly evolve, as do user needs. In this context, AI is especially complex – it’s a constantly changing and evolving universe in and of itself.
A company’s AI setup will be subject to constant change. Given that, managing technology needs on a per-project basis would be impossible. Even thinking about those needs in terms of products is problematic. An AI organization is a web of interconnections among technology, business and employees, and the result resembles a platform. You must embrace a “platform-based” approach.
AI needs data, so taking advantage of the “data estate” proves crucial.
Data fuel AI, and addressing problems with AI requires still more data. Every level in an organization generates data, so you must effectively manage and leverage your company’s data estate. This includes data from your basic operations, websites and mobile devices, as well as a variety of employee features such as emails and spreadsheets.
“No matter what scenario you are targeting, chances are that without relevant data, you won’t be successful in delivering an AI solution.”
One of the challenges for a developing AI organization is that data arise from a wide variety of sources. Project-oriented organizations tend to create countless systems insulated from one another. Data stored in those systems usually are designed for that specific project, not for broader use. AI systems that have undergone training with data from diverse sources are more powerful and reliable.
Companies have a number of viable options for managing data from diverse sources and using it to train AI. These include “data warehouses” that store data from different sources in a way that renders the data easy to consolidate, and “data lakes” that store data in an unstructured form.
Create a company ethos that attracts talent.
Because AI is a complex, transformative technology, some people regard the advent of AI as a “fourth industrial revolution.” Such a revolution will require people with singular skills – and, at this point, few organizations have such people. Indeed, in many instances a lack of people with appropriate skills has been the principal reason companies didn’t move forward with AI. This is hardly surprising. The AI revolution happened with lightning speed, and educational institutions haven’t yet caught up.
“AI is a technology wave unlike any other we have experienced.”
Organizations can address this problem with a “reskilling strategy,” which must be broad and inclusive because the AI transformation affects all aspects of an organization. Any approach to reskilling should cover a company’s technologists, its business people and its employees. The technical people must help everyone else. The business people will enable AI to transform the company’s core functions. AI will help everyone else make better decisions and work more efficiently.
AI should evolve within a morally responsible company culture.
Business leaders shape their organizations’ ethical cultures. An AI organization must establish a morally responsible corporate culture in order to build a trusting relationship with its employees and consumers. In addition, an ethical, responsible AI organization will promote AI’s positive role in society.
“Putting in place a strong culture of responsibility in your organization will be critical to developing AI that can be trusted.”
The world is unjust, so take care to design AI templates that don’t reproduce people’s prejudices or enhance inequalities. AI requires the acquisition and storage of people’s data, which must remain private and secure. Since AI is on the cusp of transforming companies and political institutions’ relationships with people, it should be available and accessible to everyone.
For AI to be judicious and diverse, its operations should be open for people to analyze and scrutinize. An AI system cannot fulfill these expectations unless it can be held responsible for execution. Everyone involved must work toward creating an ethical and responsible AI organization.
About the Authors
Susanne Chishti founded the FINTECH Circle Institute to teach technical skills. Ivana Bartoletti is global chief privacy officer at Wipro. Anne Leslie is a consultant at IBM security, and Shân Millie is co-founder of GreenKite.
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