The hottest new recruits in 2022? AI bots

Contrary to initial fears, the digital era has created more jobs than it has replaced and now it’s up to intelligent content assistants to fill the gaps. With the talent shortage even more acute following the pandemic, John Bates, the new CEO of SER Group, sets out his vision for an AI-driven reinvention of everyday business processes where bots do more of the grunt work.


This is a contributed article by John Bates, CEO at SER Group. 

2022 is shaping up to be an immensely challenging year for all kinds of businesses, as ongoing pandemic uncertainty coincides with The Great Resignation, labour shortages, continued supply chain issues, and the rising cost of energy, supplies - and salaries. There’s only one way companies are going to overcome these challenges, filling gaps in the workforce while keeping quality high and costs low - and that’s to ‘recruit’ AI bots.

At the last count (in November), professional and business services represented the third highest proportion of resignations across the US workforce, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The losses are cutting across all levels of an organisation, too, as everyone from CEOs to frontline workers takes stock of their priorities and ongoing options. For the teams that remain, the pressures are growing rather than shrinking.

The financial fallout of understaffing

Today, companies are leaving millions of dollars in lost business on the table because they simply can’t keep up: they no longer have the people power to wade through the documents and data to unlock the insights they need or set next actions in motion. And the danger of heaping more onto the loyal team members that remain is that they will snap too and go off in search of that more flexible job with a competitor - or a simpler rural lifestyle with fewer financial demands. In the post-pandemic era, operating without a full complement of staff is likely to be the norm until everyone has recalibrated and found their new work-life balance.

No wonder strategically-applied AI is becoming ever more attractive as a solution. Last year, IDC predicted that global spending on AI would jump from $85.3 billion in 2021 to more than $204 billion in 2025, as organisations across all sectors strive for new levels of customer insight, greater employee efficiency, and accelerated innovation.

There was a time when company leaders spoke awkwardly about AI technology, for fear of spooking employees that their jobs might be at risk. In 2022, the reality is that no one wants to do those jobs – or not to the same degree/full time. The ideal - of AI bots picking up the slack - is actually very appealing to teams with soaring workloads/disgruntled customer numbers/piles of unprocessed invoices.

Smarter use of scarce resources

Technology-wise, things have move on from robotic process automation of basic form-filling or content lifting. The opportunity now is to harness smart AI assistants to shadow what busy knowledge workers and teams are doing, so that they can proactively find and feed to them more of the knowledge and insights they need - from right across the organisation.

If you’re an accountant, trying to scale your business without adding costs why wouldn’t you employ an AI bot to collate and validate incoming tax documents, convert all data into structured form, perform analytics and reporting - while flagging up anomalies (essentially all of the tasks a human assistant might perform)?

If you’re the head of sales, wouldn’t you feel better positioned to negotiate, cross-sell and upsell if an AI bot could be dispatched to collate current and historical customer insight from across Legal, Accounts and Customer Service, to build that elusive 360-degree of the relationship across all business touch points?

Or perhaps, instead of hiring 10 new telesales people, a bot could reach across all of your existing customer knowledge and present the equivalent value of new opportunities that might otherwise have been left untapped.

Smart self-service portals are just the beginning

Far from being science fiction, the convergence of AI with smart content and process automation is already happening today. From insurance companies and banks to enterprise legal and HR departments, all kinds of organisations are leaning on bot-enabled process automation to increase productivity and transform the user experience.

The shift can be seen in the switch to self-service portals for partners, customers and employees, for everything from registering and managing insurance or warranty claims, to reviewing tax/pension details, viewing and updating HR records, tracking orders, settling accounts, and downloading invoices and receipts. People aren’t collating these materials: it’s all happening automatically.

Inside companies, meanwhile, business functions are increasingly using intelligent ‘bots’ to extract, identify and process the contents of documents attached to emails. A trained AI bot can readily sort out contracts from invoices from letters of complaint, extract key information and decide and action next steps.

In capital markets, high-frequency trading algorithms have been in place for many years, identifying and exploiting opportunities in real time – activity that was once performed by humans. In the medical field, meanwhile, AI is making huge inroads into diagnostics, able to analyse and compare complex radiology files at a speed and level of detail that humans simply can’t match to identify the very earliest signs of cancer, for instance.

At a less glamorous level, where the legal or risk department of a large enterprise lacks the capacity to monitor contracts or other obligations for upcoming review, to maintain compliance or minimise financial exposure, AI bots offer a practical and very cost-efficient solution.

Learning to let AI take the strain

In the modern age, knowledge workers need to be pickier about how they spend their time: they can’t afford not to be. Think of a surgeon – so well supported in everything they do that they can just turn up to perform the appendectomy, do the job efficiently and move on, leaving someone else to close, clean up and complete the notes. In terms of content filing, filtering and ancillary decision-making, AI bots can perform equivalent supporting work for time-pressed knowledge workers.

Over time, as the technology is trained by experienced teams and as managers’ trust in it grows, the scope for AI-enabled process transformation will expand. Before long, we’ll see a whole range of AI bots working together to complete processes, drawing on resources from across an organisation (SAP, Salesforce, Workday, MS 365, etc.), rather than being confined to particular silos.

As organisations move to dynamic cross-enterprise content platforms, it will become easier for multiple specialist process-linked bots to call on the same resources to make a range of different things happen. (Gartner predicts that cloud-native platforms will serve as the foundation for more than 95% of new digital initiatives by 2025.)  

Add in a voice-based search option and teams won’t even have to consult screens or menus.

Recruit tactically: don’t wait until rivals onboard their own AI bots

Happily, enterprises don’t need to concern themselves with developing their own AI solutions. Deep learning engines, next-generation statistical analysis tools, natural language processing and image analysis capabilities are accessible via the cloud today, just as there are software and process specialists able to apply and use these techniques for the target business use case.

The challenge for businesses is more about deciding where best to target the technology - to address real points of pain, and deliver quick wins. Once they’ve worked out where to start, they can begin scouring the market to see what’s out there and establish a test case.

Certainly, enterprises that fail to make use of such aids will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage as the challenging market conditions persist. As companies review their recruitment strategies for the period ahead, they would do well to look to AI bots as highly-qualified candidates.

John Bates is SER Group’s big-hitting new CEO, an experienced technology CxO with a PhD in computer engineering from Cambridge University and a wealth of first-hand experience of working with advanced applications of AI. SER Group is a leader in Intelligent Information Management, headquartered in Bonn, Germany.