Business adoption of artificial intelligence is accelerating, fueled by an explosion of data, the rapid growth in cloud computing and the emergence of advanced algorithms.
In a survey of IT decision-makers that my company, CCS Insight, conducted in July 2017, 58 percent of respondents said they are using, testing or researching the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in their organizations.
Respondents also estimated that as much as 30 percent of their business applications would be enhanced with machine learning within the next 24 months — a bullish view, considering the technology’s well-documented problems with trust, cost and the lack of skills needed to train machine learning systems.
Speech-based and image-based cognitive applications are emerging at an accelerating rate for use in specific markets, such as fraud detection in finance, low-level contract analysis in the legal sector and personalization in retail. AI is also beginning to appear in systems designed for corporate functions such as customer service, HR, sales and IT.
These early implementations indicate that, over the next five years, AI will change the way we work and, in the process, transform businesses. And its full-scale arrival may be approaching more quickly than we realize.
The Intelligent Workplace
One of the areas where early AI activity shows the most promise is in workplace technology. Those nascent AI deployments are enabling what marketers are beginning to call the “intelligent workplace.”
Forward-thinking companies consider workplace AI as part of their digital transformation strategies and see it as integral to their efforts to improve the employee experience. They are doing so against a backdrop of high levels of employee dissatisfaction with workplace technology, poor productivity and low employee engagement. For example, almost half of the people who participated in a 2016 CCS Insight survey of employees in North America and Western Europe said their workplace technology did not fully meet their needs.
Employees are drowning in a sea of data and are faced with a sprawling array of digital tools. They use an average of 6.1 mobile apps for work purposes today, according to the 2017 CCS Insight survey of employees. Part of the reason we have seen a lag in macro productivity since the 2008 financial crisis is that we waste a lot of time doing mundane tasks, like searching for data, booking meetings and mixing cumbersome legacy technologies with a complex web of disconnected enterprise and personal apps on a daily basis.
In this context, new AI presents exciting opportunities to advance workplace technologies.
Tips to Get Started With AI
Businesses of all shapes and sizes need to prepare for one of the most important technology shifts of our generation. For those of you who have yet to begin implementing an AI strategy, here are a few things to consider.
New assistive AI features in off-the-shelf productivity and collaboration software are good places to start. They can help employees get familiar with the technology and its benefits. Smart email systems, improved document access and search tools, chatbots and speech assistants are simple and accessible technologies that can save time, improve workflows and enhance employee experiences.
Build and Buy
Take advantage of the tremendous amount of supplier investment in AI by combining the build and buy approaches to the technology. Buy off-the-shelf systems for horizontal applications such as security products that incorporate machine learning for threat intelligence and anomaly detection. Focus research-and-development efforts and talent-management strategies on building domain- and company-specific applications that improve your competitive advantage.
Mind the Fear
Not all employees will be immediately supportive of AI technology in the workplace. Although our surveys reveal that employees are generally positive about the technology, there is still a lot of fear and confusion about how AI could eliminate jobs, be prone to bias or violate privacy. Be mindful of the importance of good communication, ethical uses, transparency and, above all, employee engagement throughout the process of deploying AI-based systems.
AI will no doubt face some challenges over the next few years as it enters the workplace. But more organizations are now focusing on how the technology can be used more effectively to assist employees and enable smarter work and more intelligent workplaces.
There is much in store for AI as enterprises become more familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. The next 12 months will be fascinating.
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