The whole idea of artificial intelligence, or AI for short, was the stuff of science fiction for decades. Then it was the next big thing that was going to change the world, accompanied by much hype. And while we were worrying about what it all meant, AI sort of happened without the expected fanfare. It is here, it is part of our everyday life, and we use it every time we ask our phones where the closest coffee shop is. We see it at work in online advertising, when our credit card company calls us about fraud on our card, and when we go see a doctor. Massive amounts of computer power and a dizzying combination of algorithms kind of snuck up on us and AI in all of its different forms is having a significant impact on your business.
We expected AI to replace experienced people doing deep thinking, but what it ended up doing best is to look at massive amounts of data and identify patterns. This is powerful because patterns tell us what people or businesses have done and to predict what they will do in the future. So now your supplier not only knows what products you like to buy and when you usually buy them, but they can predict how you and your competitors are going to purchase and charge accordingly. That little bit of mystery you had in the past, a valuable negotiation tool, is gone now. They may even know more about your supply chain than you do.
But it’s not all bad, you can use knowledge of those patterns to your advantage as well. You can apply advanced machine learning to understand what you need, where you spend, and how you behave in your market. You can compare patterns in your business to that of your competitors to see what is working and what is not. Being able to see and compare these patterns allows for more intelligent decisions. You can hedge on fuel or inventory by using AI to look at you and your customer’s behavior and predict what you need, as well as how market prices in general will change over time.
Of course, you can also use it in your marketing and advertising. Many businesses have wanted to move away from “spray and pray” marketing, to messaging that is targeted at specific customers. The problem was that it was very difficult to get the customer to identify themselves and their specific interests. With AI, identity and interests can be teased out of massive amounts of data, and custom messages can be delivered to just the right person. If this idea bothers you a little, that is natural. But also know that your competition may not have the same reservations about leveraging this new technology.
Business intelligence is already the most impactful application of AI, and it is just getting started. A large part of running a business is about looking at numbers, the data on the business, and using your human brain to find patterns and make intelligent guesses about where things are headed. That capability is being replaced by computer algorithms that are faster, more accurate, and not swayed by preconceived notions. If you find yourself looking at massive spreadsheets trying to figure out some useful information about your customers, your products, or your cash flow, you probably could benefit from some sophisticated AI applied in the right place.
So it is here, computers can apply advanced algorithms to understand data and make decisions better and faster than humans. What can your business do to take advantage of the possibilities? The first step is to understand that it is not magic, it is sophisticated software. A tool. Also, understand that the old computer science adage “garbage in, garbage out” still applies. The software is making decisions based on the information you give it – give it bad information and it will make bad decisions. If you do not have good data for the tools to work with, there is no point in spending money on the tools.
The most important thing you can do is get smart and don’t rush into anything. You can get smart by educating yourself or someone on your team on how AI has been applied in your industry and what the successes and failure look like. Then try small pilot programs. Odds are the first attempt won’t work. Learn from that and try again. Simple steps can turn into large ones and before you know it you will be seeing the significant benefits of AI. If you don’t learn and try, you will simply be subject to others applying the technology to gain an advantage over you.
Silicon Desert Insider is a weekly blog published every Wednesday morning on azBIGmedia.com, about the local technology industry. If you have an idea for a piece for “Silicon Desert Insider,” please email AZ BIG Media Digital Editor Jesse A. Millard at firstname.lastname@example.org.