Harness the benefits of AI to benefit your business tomorrow – and today

Rob Lith, Business Development Director at Connection Telecom
Rob Lith, Business Development Director at Connection Telecom
Rob Lith, Business Development Director at Connection Telecom
Rob Lith, Business Development Director at Connection Telecom

Job loss. Depersonalisation. Irrelevance to certain industries. When it comes to discussions around the impact of AI (artificial intelligence) and automation on business, the popular narrative tends to be negative.

Forward-thinking company owners and decision-makers should brush off these concerns, though, instead considering the efficient operations and powerful insights that AI, through its application of algorithms to mountains of data – and its companion process, machine learning – can enable.

The potential economic benefits in South Africa are massive, with estimates being that the integration of AI into business could add a full percentage point to the national economy by 2035, doubling our output five years earlier than without it.

Still, there are many local businesses, especially SMMEs, who aren’t prioritising AI adoption at all. And while it’s possible to overlook some tools that hinge on AI, such as chatbots, dismissing the concept overall could hobble an organisation, especially as we advance into the fiercely competitive, fast-moving, and highly disruptive Fourth Industrial Revolution. Here’s why you need AI in your business life right now.

Job creation, not job loss

If you are hesitant to bring AI into your operations because of staff resistance, you can put employee concerns to rest. Fears about being replaced by machines are unfounded.

If you look at the introduction of chatbots to customer service lines, for example, experienced operators are still very much a part of the process. Chatbots frequently serve as a first point of contact for the consumer, gathering information on their needs before passing the call to a primed operator who already has all relevant data on hand. No need to repeat the same enquiry to a string of consultants. In some business spheres, then, there’s a very real possibility that employee numbers will need to increase to deal with the greater number of enquiries made possible by AI.

Even in those industries like mining and automotive assembly – where the integration of robotics and AI seems more likely to lead to job cuts – new positions will appear. The ability to code will be hugely beneficial to harness increasingly sophisticated data-crunching systems. Companies should begin the process of upskilling – or finding skill-equipped – employees to function in an AI-future.

Making customer experience more personal and meaningful

Still reluctant to leave business decisions to a piece of code, and believe your customers will be put off by interactions with non-humans? Don’t be. AI does not replace the final decision, but rather deepens the decision-making process by performing its programmed task – leading to smarter, streamlined consumer interactions that have real value for business and customer alike.

In the financial services sector, for example, AI is now assisting investment bankers in their product recommendations as it is unaffected by human bias and memory lapses. The same type of analysis could be used by a cellphone retailer to pinpoint the best offer for a customer by cross-referencing their profile with the business’s full deal and handset stable. In both cases, AI is drawing without emotion on a wealth of information to present options, but always leaves the final choice to company and consumer.

AI has uses beyond customer-facing interactions and hyper-personalised marketing too. For logistics companies it effortlessly optimises delivery routes, helping to save on time and fuel spend. AI can also play an instrumental security role – analysing global trends to predict and therefore prevent costly fraud and cybercrime.

What can you do to harness AI today?

The present and future of business operations requires both proactivity and rapid reactivity. Without AI technologies to enhance operations, an organisation runs the risk of becoming too slow to act – giving the advantage to more agile competitors as greater efficiency becomes the customer expectation norm.

Fortunately, even the smallest SMME is not alone. There is already a massive selection of AI micro services available from major providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google as well as other app developers. Leverage off these solutions, most of which are cloud-based and therefore remove infrastructure burden from your shoulders.

One final piece of advice is that even if you aren’t ready to plunge fully into the world of AI, any decisions you make now about your CRM platform should factor in the ability to connect to these services. A rigid standalone system will prevent you from taking advantage of their functionality.

In summary, ignore the mutterings. As its analytical capabilities becomes more sophisticated, AI is likely to become even more beneficial in business – and already has mounting value today. It’s simply a case of companies turning to solutions providers right now to harness its benefits for themselves.

By Rob Lith, Business Development Director at Connection Telecom