Getting Real Business Value From Artificial Intelligence

Today’s headlines are filled with news about artificial intelligence (AI), proclaiming variously that robots will take our jobs, cure cancer, or change industries in ways unseen since the industrial revolution. One thing is clear to those of us watching closely, however: It’s not all hype. In 2016 alone, the quantity of AI startup acquisitions was remarkable, but most of these massive investments were made by an elite corps of companies, such as Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and a few others.

The fact that these heavy hitters are leading the charge makes sense. AI investments, deployments, and resources are largely siloed within a small Silicon Valley circle, and the high cost of development or acquisition combined with the fact that there is currently only a small cadre of truly talented AI experts means that only a small number of companies have the resources to deliver AI innovation at scale. But what does that mean for everyone else? Does this signify that only the giants will profit from AI, while the rest of us languish?

The answer is an emphatic no. AI has the potential to benefit businesses of every size, but right off the bat, it’s important to understand that generating ROI from AI is not easy. There is still a gap between research into AI and delivering actual tangible business results in the real world; in fact, a recent Forrester survey found that while 58% of companies are researching AI, only 12% are actually using AI systems in their businesses.

Not everyone will be able to develop their own AI solution in-house, so to catch up with the tech giants, many smaller companies will seek technology partners to set up the least expensive, most effective way to harness AI and machine learning. To that end, here are the three keys that will help you achieve the most success in setting up your AI strategy.

Train Like You Mean It                 

Achieving value from AI requires training your organization in new skills, as well as creating a crystal clear plan about how investing in these types of technologies will generate ROI or achieve a specific strategic business goal. Integrating AI into your business model is a complicated strategic problem to which there is simply no one-size-fits-all solution. In order to succeed in this fast-paced, early adopter market, organizations need to create dedicated teams that are solely focused on getting these initiatives to market quickly, extracting key learnings, and optimizing them to deliver maximum impact and value.

It’s not enough to simply add an AI solution as a shiny new element to your existing product road map; your business and technology teams have to work together from the get-go, otherwise you’ll be left with expensive technology investments that are looking for problems instead of solving them.

Organizations that are winning at AI are doing so by establishing clear strategic objectives with the business team, and then handing their execution over to the professionals that live and breathe data and technology. Leaders in the roles of CIO, CDO, or CTO have the experience, mindset, and authority required to reorient your corporate culture to treat data as a strategic asset as well as the ability and flexibility to determine how best to leverage emerging technology to achieve the desired strategic business objective.

By placing your AI deployment under an experienced data executive and arming that person with clear strategic business goals and the organizational support needed to execute on those visions, you empower your company with the tools, talent, and mindset required to define and execute these initiatives successfully.

Hire and Grow the Right People

Because every business has different goals for its AI deployments, it is impossible to outsource these initiatives. Of course, adapting your existing teams to the task is essential. They know your business inside and out and have the experience and vision to know where you come from and where you need to go. That said, the complex nature of these systems means that almost inevitably you will have to hire dedicated AI experts to steer the ship in the right direction and plug knowledge gaps that your current teams might have. This means companies have to start thinking immediately about how to acquire and retain the talent they’ll need to successfully go to market with AI.

Right now there is a shortage of experienced AI professionals, and competition for their skills is fierce. You should make hiring the right talent a top priority, and focus on creating a culture where they want to stay. However, don’t forget that these initiatives are a team sport that requires a blend of experienced hands and new blood, so make sure you invest in keeping the talent that you have so that you can set, execute, and grow your AI strategy without disruption.

Find the Right Partner

Make no mistake: AI will transform the business landscape, with applications for every industry. According to an Ovum report on tech trends in 2017, machine learning will be the “biggest disruptor for big data analytics in 2017,” and become “table stakes for data preparation and other tools related to managing curation of data.”

But even as IBM Watson, Google Now, Alexa, Siri, and other platforms have opened the public’s eyes to the potential of AI, the fact remains that the advanced computer networks that make up the “brain” of these systems still struggle to match the ability of an average human in areas such as context and analytical capability.

To make these systems work will require advanced predictive analytics that can rapidly make sense of massive volumes of data, and it is critically important to find a flexible, scalable, end-to-end data and analytics partner who can help you see the past and anticipate the future. Choose carefully, as you are going to need to lean on that company’s expertise for years to come.

Get Ready for the AI Takeover

2017 will be a huge year for AI. Forrester Research expects “enterprise interest in, and use of, AI to increase as software vendors roll out AI platforms and build AI capabilities into applications,” as “enterprises that plan to invest in AI expect to improve customer experiences, improve products and services, and disrupt their industry with new business models.”

Until recently, harnessing AI was on the strategic agenda of only the most progressive companies, while most others viewed it as a futuristic concept and adopted a “wait and see” attitude. Such a posture is no longer viable. As money continues to pour into development, and businesses from every sector start ramping up their efforts to integrate AI into their offerings, companies must invest immediately into their own AI solutions or risk falling behind.


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