Although many have the perception that artificial intelligence (AI) is a new concept, it isn’t. In some form or another, AI has been around for many years, but lacking the capacity and capability that is has today. However, in the last few years, its true abilities are being realised, and it has become one of the fundamental pillars of digital transformation.
AI focuses on the creation of intelligent machines that work and react in a similar manner to people. In essence, AI is a cluster of technologies including machine learning, natural language processing, cognitive computing and deep learning that enable machines to sense, understand, act and learn, much in the same way a human being would, but from a far deeper pool of knowledge that a person would ever have the ability to.
“And as the world becomes increasingly digital, AI and machine learning are becoming critical due to the sheer volume of data that is being passed through platforms today,” says Fred Saayman, Huawei business unit executive at Pinnacle, South Africa’s leading local ICT distributor. “All this data needs to be filtered and analysed to understand, manage and service customers. AI can support human resources in this process, taking over the more mundane tasks, and allowing skill sets to be allocated to more strategic areas.”
According to Saayman, AI and automation are changing the game for organisations of every type and size. “Traditional business models are not up to the task in an environment that is being continuously disrupted. AI boosts efficiency; streamlines operations; increases productivity, agility and flexibility; and lowers costs. All this helps to spur innovation, and improve the end user experience.
“However, while some businesses are leading the charge, others are lagging behind when it comes to adoption,” Saayman says. “Many business leaders don’t fully understand the benefits to their organisations. While most may be aware of what AI and automation can do in theory, they don’t understand how it will solve their unique business problems, and if they do, they are unsure of the best AI strategy and path.”
So, where is AI heading in the future? “In years to come, AI will herald in a new age of disruption and productivity, where human imagination is boosted by speed and accuracy. I don’t think a single industry will be unaffected by AI in the next few years.”
He says that according to Huawei, today only 10% of enterprise applications are on cloud, only 13% of available data is utilised by enterprises and a mere 5% of companies have experimented with AI, and less than 1% have deployed AI solutions. “Huawei thinks this will change by 2025, a year it calls ‘pivotal’ for technological maturity. The telecoms giant predicts that by 2025, 85% of enterprise applications will be on the cloud, 80% of available data will be utilised by enterprises and 86% of companies will have deployed AI.”
However, he says that before rushing into an AI investment, first decide on the end goal. “What do you want to achieve? Evaluation is crucial here — don’t jump into unnecessary solution deployments unless you have a big picture of the entire business and what you hope to achieve. AI is not suitable for all environments, so just because solutions are available, it doesn’t mean that they are essential or that they meet a particular need within your business.”
He says the business will also need to establish two things. Firstly, what the groups of things that different people are going to need to do to achieve the goals of the project are, and secondly who the individuals are who internally or externally could currently fill those roles. “And as with every new big project, you will need executive buy-in, and someone to champion the initiative from the top.”
Over time, the business will need to decide on the top “impact versus feasibility” questions that need to be answered. “A methodology that enables the business to identify what the next priorities is also crucial,” says Saayman.
“Having a solid partner to advise you along the way is a good idea. They will help you to implement solutions as seamlessly as possible and ensure a minimum of disruption within your business environment. They will also be able to establish whether or not a solution will work with your existing software and hardware, or whether the business will need to invest heavily in new technologies before rolling out new solutions. They will be able to give you a true idea of the costs involved.”
Another thing to consider, he says, is whether or not your customers will adapt. “Never forget to carefully consider your client’s preferences and behaviours. Keep them in the feedback loop to make sure you are meeting their needs, that they are able to grow alongside your business.”
“The bottom line is that AI is the game-changer of our future. Its impact will be felt on all aspects of our business and personal lives. Business leaders need to understand this new world quickly, if they hope to not only thrive, but survive,” he concludes.
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