It’s not what AI can do for you

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

Virtually any company that I work with is exploring its data sets and business processes to identify opportunities for productivity improvements, higher accuracy or lower cost. The constant question that these companies struggle with is how can artificial intelligence, and specifically machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL), support existing processes and ways of working. This results in a number of challenges.

First, the data available for training ML/DL models was typically generated for use by humans. This leads to data scientists having to spend significant amounts of time to preprocess and clean that data to make it suitable for use by machines. Second, the typical mindset is that AI solutions are there to assist humans to do a better job. In many cases, though, the best approach forward is to completely automate a specific process rather than creating an intermingling of automated and human actions. The primary challenge, however, is that the approach of looking to automate parts of human-oriented business processes will only allow for smaller, limited improvements rather than the order-of-magnitude improvements that we would like to see.

A fundamentally different approach to exploiting the opportunities around artificial intelligence is to redesign the entire business around AI. This means that the core of the business is fundamentally re-evaluated from the perspective of a fully automated, AI-driven approach. The intent is to identify which business processes are truly needed and which are superfluous. Subsequently, the remaining processes are then redesigned to become fully automated without human involvement. The more central the business process is, the more energy should be put into automating it and driving it through ML or DL techniques.

Achieving full automation, however, requires the standardization of data streams and events in the system. In addition, the interface to ecosystem partners that are part of the business processes needs to be standardized as well, in order to allow for fully automated management and execution of these processes.

An illustrative example of the above is the rapid growth of companies like Uber and Lyft. Rather than putting a human in a taxi call center and having people call that phone number, the core business process is fully automated and AI driven. It involves humans only as drivers who can accept or reject a ride and passengers who order through their mobile device.

The key point is that the question is not what AI can do for you, but rather what you can do to put AI at the center of your business. The businesses that are going to be successful in the future are those that can achieve order-of-magnitude improvements in efficiency, quality and personalization by putting AI at the center of their business and organizing everything else around AI-driven value delivery. You may not like the idea of working for an algorithm, but for most businesses, this is exactly what is required to stay in business at all.

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