Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and automation are all buzzwords which are being banded around the business landscape at record speed at the moment. But with so much noise in the arena, what should companies be asking themselves before taking the leap into the world of AI?

Phill Midwinter – CTO of AI and ML organisation Third Foundation – looks at the trio of questions that should be at the top of every decision-makers’ list…

1) What does a business require from automation?
First and foremost, the important thing to establish is what an organisation needs. When it comes corporate investments – whether in tech, IT, marketing or HR – the benefits and return on investment (ROI) play a big part in determining whether or not the purchase gets the official nod from the board.

Therefore, whether a firm needs template-built websites and chatbots, or automated email responses and personalised offers, automation is a tool which enables tasks to be done much more easily, and on a large scale. The beauty lies in requiring neither a big team nor an enormous budget.

It is vital to stress, however, that for companies that are afraid of AI ‘replacing’ the human element, this is nothing more than a common misconception. It is all about how a firm utilises and integrates AI, which determines whether it works seamlessly in tandem with employees, or in a conflicting silo.

Additionally, just because there are lots of automation solutions out there, does not mean that each one does the required job. This is where small businesses must be cautious when choosing exactly what they will gain from, or lose out on, by automating everything.

Before embarking on the AI journey, it’s crucial to establish a clear strategy and desired outcomes, as, only once these are in place, can business owners benchmark the investment against these corporate aims and assess whether it is suitable to drive its enterprise forward.

Ultimately, brands need to understand what automation is, what it will bring to their business, how it works and what its bottlenecks are. Without this upfront attention to detail, it will likely cost more in both time, money and staffing resource in the long run.

2) What are the advantages of AI?
But, what about data? The foundation of every marketer’s strategy lies with the information they have about their customers – and their ability to use this to be more relevant to them. This is where AI for automation comes into the equation.

All too often, company data is just that, data. But AI can make sense of this and transform it into a marketing asset, if done right.

In fact, increased data intelligence insight is one key component when empowering decisions – allowing marketing departments to track real-time data that forecasts customer demand, predict operational risks and analyse customer engagement. This is an obvious advantage for brands looking to connect with each individual customer on a more personalised level.

Arming themselves with maximum data visibility and transparency, savvy professionals can also utilise AI to inform, switch and adapt marketing plans to attract and retain customers – at a time when they need real-time insight the most.

Also, if a company is losing too much staff time to repetitive, administrative activity, automation tech could help to plug the gap and free up employees’ schedules to concentrate on more strategic, creative, and revenue-driving content. So, instead of worrying that technology will replace people, enterprises are recognising and becoming more in tune with the human-related benefits AI and ML bring to the table.

3) Operationally, how can an enterprise bring AI in seamlessly and produce instant results?
It’s no secret that embracing such technology can actually promote agility within the workforce and support firms in maintaining their competitive edge. In addition, it can also reduce expenditure and help to improve employees’ overall job satisfaction – by empowering them to carry out the more strategy and innovation-led tasks.

However, to make sure these ‘instant’ results are those of the positive kind, businesses should not presume that automation will solve all their worries, without having to give any input at all. This is where it can all go drastically wrong.

This lazy approach just means a business is jumping on the bandwagon, and unfortunately opens the door for adverse implications – where the investment is not solving the problems it was brought on board to do but is instead creating further complications. Establishing how automation will sit within your workflows is pivotal in ensuring full ROI, as well as reducing the risk of staff feeling increasingly frustrated by tech which is not doing what was promised on the tin.

The key to employing effective automation lies in the initial investigation process. If options have been considered carefully, then results should be visible at the start of the tech’s integration. And this can drastically improve the way an organisation is run, in every sense.

By Phill Midwinter, CTO of AI and ML organisation, Third Foundation

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