AI is improving lives and business processes

Initial implementations of AI are creating efficiencies and more interesting jobs

Artificial intelligence is surrounded by hype. Some of it is fear-based hype that jobs will be swept away as an army of robots descend on the labour market. A more positive spin is that AI is the new solution to everything that troubles a CIO. The full impact of AI on organisations and society is yet to be felt, but in 2019, AI is having a largely positive impact on working life and the operation of businesses.

"Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Chatbots and Recommendation Engines are not bleeding edge," IDC AI analyst Neil Ward-Dutton recently said in a webcast by the analyst house. "The hype is robots and self driving cars," Ward-Dutton added that although RPA and Chat may not be "bleeding edge", they are good for business. 

Author and advisor on AI Andrew Burgess aggrees: "The hype leads to misunderstanding and excessive expectations or excessive fears. The reality is somewhere in the middle, it is some clever mathematics that can benefit your business." As with any technological development, Burgess says all organisations need to forget the hype and ask themselves: "What are the business objectives and can AI help solve them?"

Burgess talks of "excessive expectations" and there are many in the technology service provider community that have promised much with AI, just as previous technologies have over promised. In part the excessive expectations come from those organisations wanting to adopt AI too. Many vertical markets are fiercely competitive with decreasing margins, increasing competition and the challenge of new online entrants. These sectors are looking to AI to give them a competitive edge, some might say a lifeline. 

In markets with low margins, reducing the cost of business operations makes a massive difference and it is here that AI can deliver a major win. "A one percent improvement in the availability of a production facility is a massive difference," says Yves Le Gelard, Chief Digital Officer with energy and utilities firm Engie.

Dominic Howson, CIO with baking business Hovis says using process automation has drastically reduced the levels of manual data entry and paperwork across the organisation. As a result credit control, IT deployment, HR and warehousing have all seen improvements in efficiency and he reports: "There is real value in being able to change people's career paths. We had someone in the master data management team who is now part of the automation team and doing some really exciting work."

Michael McSperrin, head of global facilities and support services at Alexander Mann Solutions, says the talent and recruitment firm uses AI to streamline its core business process - matching candidates to jobs. At Hovis, Howson is using the Google BigQuery technology to improve the efficiency of product picking in the warehouse, transaction management and then adding in data about school holidays, weather and promotional programmes to improve the demand forecasting of the business. The CIO says this is vital for a fast moving consumer goods manufacturer as it can make a major difference to the usage of materials and labour costs to the business.

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