How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Businesses Today: An Overview
October 24, 2019 / Bryan Reynolds
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Artificial intelligence (AI) is all the rage in the business and tech communities these days. Everywhere you look, you find blogs, articles, and reports that prattle on about “leveraging the power of AI to” do just about anything.
Unfortunately, real understanding about what AI is and what it can do today seems to be quite thin. It’s become a marketing buzzword more than a functional description in far too many places.
At Baytech Consulting, we want to cut through the noise and help you do the same. We’re starting a series of posts on AI today. We’ll start general with an overview of how AI can help businesses today.
This is part 2 of our 5 part series on artificial intelligence and machine learning
How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Businesses Today: An Overview
Artificial Intelligence Empowers Business Analytics
One of the biggest impacts the modern business is seeing currently because of AI is in the realm of business analytics. We’re living in the era of big data. It’s the book-turned-movie Moneyball playing out across businesses large and small in nearly every industry.
But there are plenty of obstacles to doing business analytics well. First, you have to collect the right data. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say if you’re collecting useless data, your analytics results will be, well, useless.
Second, you have to have the tools in place to parse those huge troves of data. This is where many smaller, non-tech-focused businesses fall off the wagon. They may have the data, but they have no idea what to do with it. The tools that help humans process through these troves of data are algorithm based. The best ones have some element of AI in use.
Third, once you determine the trends and anomalies in the data, you need strong, capable human decision-makers to choose a path forward. Depending on the level of the decision, this could be a technical team lead all the way up to a C-level or board-level decision.
Understand that this is not a given. There have been plenty of examples of businesses ignoring or misreading what the analytics had to say. It’s entirely possible even to correctly interpret the analytics but make the wrong choice with that information.
Though it’s far from a path to instant success, AI-driven business analytics are empowering businesses today. If they aren’t empowering yours, you run the risk of running behind, as we’ll discuss later on.
If you want to take a deeper dive on how businesses should organize themselves to get the most out of artificial intelligence in business analytics, BCG has an excellent piece: Is Your Business Ready for Artificial Intelligence? If you’re wanting more on this topic than we covered today, BCG’s publication should do the trick.
Machine Learning Powers Data Processing in Analytics
The specific type of artificial intelligence that provides the muscle to process analytics data is called machine learning. Machine learning algorithms seem to learn over time. They may not be very impressive at the start. But as they process huge amounts of data, they get better as they go. The more data they absorb, the better models they create.
Machine learning is the solution for the second problem discussed above. Somehow, businesses need to take an overwhelming cache of data and turn it into information that humans can digest— and act upon.
Whether your industry deals in network diagnostics or manufacturing tires, your equipment produces troves of data. Humans are good at a lot of things, but they aren’t usually very good at looking at overwhelming stores of information and pulling out the patterns.
Machine learning is great at this, though. It can plow through incomprehensible amounts of information and discover high-level patterns as well as inconsistencies in a way that humans just can’t.
Of course, humans still have crucial role to play. As great as machine learning is at identifying patterns, it’s not good at deciding what to do with those patterns. Humans, on the other hand, excel at this kind of nuanced decision-making. They are great at seeing what those patterns mean and coming up with novel solutions for the problems that come to light.
That’s why we talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence empowering analytics. These technologies take care of a part of the analytics puzzle that humans aren’t good at. In so doing, businesses (and the humans that make up those businesses) are empowered to make better, analytics-based decisions.
Artificial Intelligence Powers Cyber Security
Another area where artificial intelligence is showing up in business is in the realm of cyber security. The principles here are similar to those we’ve already discussed. No human team of information security specialists or security operations center is omniscient. No group is capable of plugging all the cyber security vulnerabilities or promising 100% ironclad protection. The environment is too complex. There are too many variables.
AI-powered tools can do what humans can’t. They can analyze systems and attempt intrusions at a rate beyond what humans alone can do. And with machine learning and even deep learning, they can look for vulnerabilities in ways humans may not think of.
We expect artificial intelligence to play an increasing role in cyber security in the years to come.
Artificial Intelligence as Software 2.0
Another way to look at how artificial intelligence can help businesses is to think about how software did so in the latter decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. Ever since the industrial revolution, there’s always been fear of machines taking away jobs. It’s a well-rooted fear, but a misguided one.
Software solutions have greatly improved people’s ability to complete business tasks. And it’s true, software has eliminated the need for certain low-level, monotonous jobs. But mostly it has merely made people faster and better at doing what they do. Hardly anyone is doing mathematical calculations by hand in the business world today. Most people aren’t doing them at all: they’ve been automated through software.
But by and large, software hasn’t been able to make decisions for people. It simply does what they direct it to. All that is changing with the help of AI.
AI-powered software—or Software 2.0—has the ability to make its own decisions. It can process information at rates beyond what humans can do and calculate the results of decisions. It can present a recommendation or a range of recommendations based on its analysis. In situations where it’s been granted the authority, AI-powered software may even make some decisions automatically.
Through machine learning, AI-powered software can even make decisions in scenarios beyond what it’s been programmed for, and it can arrive at solutions beyond what its human programmers anticipated.
Still Aspirational for Too Many Businesses
One of the most alarming trends about AI in business is the massive gap between aspiring users and actual users. In a massive 2017 study from the Boston Consulting Group and MIT Sloan Management Review, 75 to 85 percent of respondents believed AI would enable new success in various business areas. Expectations were enormously high. But only 23% reported having actually built AI into their business systems. (Stats courtesy of Forbes reporting on the study.)
That’s an incredibly large gap between Aspirers and actual Implementers. Now, a lot has happened since 2017. We believe this gap has closed in the two years since this report, but there is still a significant gap between the Aspirers and the Implementers.
Those Who Have Implemented AI Are Pulling Ahead
Forbes also drew out of the BCG/MIT report that those companies that have actually implemented AI are pulling ahead of the competition. When asked about their analytics abilities, Implementers responded significantly higher that they believe their abilities outrank their competitors’. The Implementers also ranked higher in terms of data governance and belief in executives’ vision to chart a course through the changes that will come because of AI.
That last point is especially concerning for business leaders who are in the Aspirer category. If you don’t have a solid plan for navigating a transition to AI-powered tech, there is a strong possibility that your team is beginning to doubt your ability to lead through the changes that they sense are coming.
Today’s businesses can benefit from artificial intelligence and machine learning in a wide range of ways. Business analytics is likely the foremost. Cyber security is another area where we’re seeing key developments. Across a wide range of software types, AI is beginning to change the way we work with software. (It’s even in Microsoft Office now!)
Further, many companies that talk about the benefits of AI have yet to realize them in any significant ways in their businesses. And those businesses are beginning to lag behind their peers by several key metrics.
You don’t want your business to get left behind. And we can help you with this. Get in touch today for expert help with how artificial intelligence could improve your business. From implementation of existing solutions to custom software builds, Baytech Consulting is here to help.