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Yes, you really do need an AI strategy

The age of AI is upon us. More than 40 million Americans already own a smart speaker like Amazon Echo or Google Home, and experts predict that as many as 7.5 billion digital assistants like Alexa and Siri will be in use globally by 2021.

The potential – both technologically and in business terms – is staggering. And digital assistants are only one small segment of the artificial intelligence universe. Never mind the wealth of opportunity unfolding through data science, machine learning and countless other applications. AI is paving the way for a world we can’t even imagine right now.   

As a result, most of the business leaders I consult with are at least curious about leveraging AI to develop a more intelligent organization. But success depends on one critical understanding: 

AI does not result from implementing a particular technology. AI is a transformative journey.

Every proof of concept, every chat bot, every technology you assess or implement is but one step on your path to an AI-enabled future, the purpose of which is to fuel growth, efficiency, opportunity, customer delight, and even employee happiness.

Thinking of AI as a journey rather than a technology implementation will shift your focus from project delivery to organizational transformation. Which is why every company needs an AI strategy – a big-picture, goal-based plan to manage the unforeseeable challenges of change. Here’s how to begin your own journey.

Think people first

It may seem counterintuitive to associate people with artificial intelligence. Many would argue they’re diametrically opposed. But on your AI journey, humanity is your greatest asset.  

In fact, more and more evidence is available about how people are working with AI to perform functions better, faster and of a higher quality than ever before. The fear that machines will completely replace humans can be left to science fiction for now. For the foreseeable future, having a human “in the loop” is essential for success – i.e., people must guide, train, observe and correct operational AI to ensure technical and ethical standards are met.

The goal of AI is not to have machines think for us. Instead, we must continue to fulfill our uniquely human functions – critical thinking, creative problem-solving, ethical evaluation, etc. – while enabling AI to take over those tasks that machines can do better, faster and more predictably than we can – computational analysis, repetitive processes, etc.

Companies simply looking to shave headcount by implementing AI will undermine their own potential and miss out on a much richer value proposition. To take full advantage of AI’s real potential, you need to involve your workforce in the transformation. Educate your entire team on the capabilities of AI to help your best and brightest reimagine how your company could do business in the future. Invest in your subject matter experts, as they will be the ones to envision and shape how AI will transform your business. The real power of AI is in the collective intelligence of humans and machines.

Reimagine the future 

AI is already being normalized in certain contexts – suggesting content for us to consume, recommending products for us to purchase, helping us navigate between destinations, even building and driving our vehicles for us. And our growing comfort with this relationship means consumer expectations are evolving faster than many companies can keep up.

Gone are the days when we could predict product requirements with any hope of longevity. Most rules we try to set today likely won’t be relevant two years from now. The only way to overcome the challenges of such rapid and aggressive change is to build intelligent processes – processes that can anticipate and mitigate exceptions (like finding and fixing data issues).

What I’m talking about goes beyond just automating your existing processes. Sure, AI can support automation, but more importantly, it can enable continuous improvement by helping you find ways to improve product quality, reduce workplace injury and increase customer satisfaction. For example, AI can detect subtle abnormalities in raw materials or collect real-time data about product use and performance. And as we’ve seen from the commoditization of social media, the power lies not in the gathering of data – but in how you use it.

Replacing a dozen employees with one state-of-the-art machine, or shifting computational work from a person to a bot might feel like a successful AI implementation, but until your organization itself is able to analyze the information produced, draw conclusions and act on them, you’ll have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Every day, organizations are leveraging new and exciting AI opportunities. Machine learning is helping us find patterns in vast amounts of data. Natural language processing (NLP) is making it easier for people to interact with machines and find highly specific information. Biometrics are being used to secure physical and digital assets. And computer vision is enabling companies to analyze images in new contexts such as cheque deposits in banking. You need to be part of that renaissance, either as leaders or adopters, to survive in business today. A wait-and-see approach just won’t work.

Start now

Initiating the conversation about AI’s potential within your organization is easier than you think. Most of your employees are aware of AI because they use it every day in one way or another. Addressing it as a business strategy will enable everyone at all levels to talk about the future in a common language. You’ll be surprised by the number of potential use cases that emerge.

And don’t get overwhelmed by the idea of an expensive, multi-year undertaking. A good AI strategy is an iterative process. One that starts with a small problem that will have measurable benefits from a quick deployment of artificial intelligence. Proving that you can not only solve your problem using AI, but that there is also a viable business case for cost savings, efficiency and/or competitive advantage, is the starting point.

Following a successful proof of concept, the roll out, adoption and scaling of that concept comes next. But don’t forget that failure is just as important as success. It will help you understand where your organization should focus its efforts to make the most of AI in the future. And it may take time to collect and curate the data needed to fully take advantage of particular technologies. These learning phases are essential, as every company, regardless of size, needs to understand AI’s potential impact so they can start collecting the information today that they’ll need tomorrow.

Even if you think you’re a long way from an actual implementation, an appropriate strategy is key to guiding your organization toward an AI-enabled future.

How cShell can help

cShell is here to help you understand the business strategy implications of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. Engage one of our C-level experts to help educate your team on the current state of AI and how it’s being used today in your own and other industries. With deep experience in organizational transformation, we can help you set a foundation for lasting success.

Whether you’re aiming to develop potential use cases for AI in your business, kick off a proof of concept for a specific solution, or formalize a short- or long-term AI strategy, cShell can help. Let’s reimagine your business together.

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