Don't worry about robot armies and sentient computers. Artificial intelligence is one of the marvels of the 21st century. AI can already handle many of the mundane and repetitive tasks in companies. It enables us to do a lot more, and it keeps improving all the time.
No, it can't go shopping or pick up the kids - not yet. But soon all businesses will use an AI somewhere.
'AI helps us deal with complexity and to help make better decisions," explained Wessel Oosthuizen, AI Competency Co-Lead at Deloitte Analytics. "It helps us solve problems and find new efficiencies. In the long term, we'll have AI that produces radical new perspectives. Still, much of the AI available today focus on learning and automating tasks.'
AI seems very advanced, so you might conclude that it's only for large companies. But AI is available for small and medium companies as well. Let's look at some examples.
We all use AI every day. Every time you hail an Uber or find new songs on Spotify, an AI is making decisions for you in the background. These AI services run on large cloud platforms, which are also where you can find different types of AI for your business. Popular cloud-based business software such as Salesforce, Office365, Acumatica and Sage use AI for various tasks.
These can include analytics about customers (see whose relatives are having birthdays soon) or staff (is anyone struggling to keep up with their workload?). Cloud software is often the easiest and cheapest way to start using AI services. If you already use popular cloud software, do a bit of searching and see if it has AI features you can try out.
Robotic Process Automation
Advanced AI can be very expensive and challenging to create. It's not exactly playing in the same pitch as most companies. Fortunately, AI has a lighthearted cousin that is ready for just about any business and can juggle repetitive computer tasks with ease. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a simple way to automate tasks that people do.
The software watches what a person does on a machine, then repeats the same actions over and over again. RPA can combine tasks to follow some pretty complicated processes. But it can also handle basic tasks. If you have a little time to learn some technical know-how, you can create an RPA bot for free using open-source software.
Every business has to answer questions every day. They may come from customers (what are today's specials) or from employees (what's the new form I need to get Friday off?). Many questions are asked repeatedly. Someone has to answer them, which causes interruptions and takes up their time.
A chatbot can 'talk' on instant messaging platforms. It could be a pop-up chat window on your website or through popular services such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. The chatbot can do something as simple as asking someone' name and inquiry. It might then direct the information to a human operator, or it can juggle several questions around a more complex issue. Many cloud platforms offer chatbot services to experiment with, but it needs some development.
Maybe your business doesn't need AI. Perhaps it's you who could use an AI assistant. Not to be confused with virtual assistants (people who work as remote assistants over the internet), AI assistants are pieces of software that follow instructions from people.
Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant are commonly used AI assistants that can manage some natural voice tasks such as taking dictation. At the cutting edge are services such as AI Linda, which can schedule meetings on your behalf, even exchanging emails with people trying to book some of your time. AI assistants might be a bit ahead of the curve for many, but they show how soon AI services will be doing a lot more for businesses. They can't water the office plants, but maybe now you'll finally have time to!