Behind the Buzzwords - Artificial Intelligence through a business lens

Guest User Jul 13, 2020 1:00:13 PM

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be having a moment, the lack of a simple universally agreed-upon definition for AI can make it difficult to understand and adopt within a business context.

The AI Forum New Zealand defines artificial intelligence as advanced digital technologies that enable machines to reproduce or surpass abilities that would require intelligence if humans were to perform them. This includes technologies that enable machines to learn and adapt, to sense and interact, to reason, predict and plan, to optimise procedures and parameters, to operate autonomously, to be creative, and to extract knowledge from large amounts of data. Ultimately in the simplest of terms, AI relies on an element of self-learning and subsequent adoption of various techniques such as algorithms to automate learning.

But while this definition is all-encompassing, when you talk about AI in terms of business versus robotics, they are very different things. Robotics is a whole other, and very complex, kettle of fish. With help from Emma Naji, a New Zealand AI expert, CEO of the AI Advisory and Executive Director of the AI Forum NZ, we will be discussing AI within a business context, including how businesses can embrace the next wave of technology.

Why the increased interest in Artificial Intelligence?

Although AI technology has gone through peaks and troughs over the past 70 years, it’s exploded over the past number of years because the conditions and components for success are becoming more readily available.

Artificial intelligence requires extensive amounts of data. With the ability for companies to now source, mine, cleanse and store huge amounts of customer and company data via the cloud or otherwise, artificial intelligence is having its moment as organisations recognise the power for technology to extract knowledge and learnings and automate previously manual tasks. Because from another perspective, AI is just a natural progression in technology.

How do you convince leadership teams to adopt Artificial Intelligence?

New Zealand is currently behind the curve in the adoption of artificial intelligence. To catch up with the rest of the world, companies need to unlock how to communicate the benefits of new technologies with their executive teams and incorporate messaging to educate and inform senior decision-makers. Overwhelmingly the focus needs to be on ROI. Put the benefits in practical language that the c-suite team speaks and understands to detract from the fear of the unknown. While AI is a natural progression of technology, there remains a sense of fear around data protection and security, the automation of human tasks, and the reliability or validity of algorithms used for machine learning. 

The reality is that AI is already being adopted within different business functions. One of the most common is within paid digital marketing with the micro-segmentation of audiences to create better return on marketing spend. 

Your customers and identification of any pain points can be an additional justification for embracing AI. Is customer retention decreasing due to sub-optimal service delivery, or is market share being gained by agile new businesses focussing on new solutions? Bringing such issues to the forefront of senior decision making and providing practical recommendations for how artificial intelligence can solve said issues can be the first step in implementing organisational change. 

What’s next for Artificial Intelligence in New Zealand?

Discussing the adoption of AI in New Zealand it is apparent that even as one of the world’s top technology exporters, we are behind the curve. While universities have stepped up to address the talent shortage and ensure there is a pipeline of future talent for the technology sector, the government needs to provide more support and guidance in this space before widespread adoption will occur. 

Large corporates and banks have been using AI and been building it into their organisational systems for some time. But it takes a lot of work to get to this stage. AI doesn’t exist without data so the first step is for corporates and SME’s to really know and understand their data, and put data governance measures in place. Only then can businesses adopt different elements of automation, machine learning and AI. Just like Microsoft Office and Salesforce have changed the way we work, and made life earlier, it’s no different now. 

The next wave of technological advancements will change the future of work. Organisations will shift the balance meaning manual, admin-heavy tasks are automated with computer programs and machine learning, and humans are able to focus on the tasks they want to focus on to add more value. This is particularly pertinent post-Covid where many organisations are looking at how they can decrease costs, increase productivity and return greater value.

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