IDG Contributor Network: AI: Going from sci-fi to business value requires some groundwork | Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is here and is no longer the stuff of science fiction novels or Iron Man movies. It's real, it's now, it's predicted to have massive economic impact and transform and our lives. All the hype and excitement surrounding AI make it hard not to jump on the AI bandwagon. It seems like every organization these days would like to leverage AI, and for good reason. AI can play an important role in digital transformation, improve customer experience, and contribute to an overall more successful business. Before you rush to add AI to your IT stack, pump the breaks for a minute and spend time doing some general research and thoughtful planning to gain meaningful value from AI and greater success down the road.

Getting organized before going AI

Organizing your data, although not a sexy, hot initiative like AI, should come before embarking on an AI project. It might not be glamourous, but if your data is messy and you know it needs cleanup, now is the time to do so before building a successful AI program. It's important to know your systems, processes, IT portfolio, and where and how your data is stored and collected before implementing AI – especially if you're planning to use AI for capturing information, process automation, and data collection.

Another must-do is determine what business challenges you're hoping to solve with AI. The more focused and specific your goals are for an AI program, the more likely you are to succeed and demonstrate real value. It's easy to desire unrealistic outcomes and hope AI will be the silver bullet for many business challenges, but it's better to be laser focused on the goals for your AI program. It's okay to think of big, exciting future transformations AI can support, but you'll see the most success with AI from starting off by tackling smaller, specific challenges you'd like to overcome.

Who should own AI initiatives?  

In Teradata's “State of Artificial Intelligence for Enterprises” report, 34% of respondents felt a major barrier to AI adoption was lack of access to talent and understanding. “Companies will overcome these barriers with more executive-level awareness and an enterprise-wide strategy for AI implementation and use. This is ushering in a shift within the C-suite: Today, AI strategy is typically under the scope of a CIO or CTO, but, in the near future, the majority of businesses surveyed plan to install a dedicated Chief AI Officer to lead the effort.” The report also determined “business leaders must re-imagine how AI will exist in their enterprise. It has the capacity to disrupt all areas of a business, from the boardroom down to the data center. Adopting a clear and agile strategy will help these decision-makers realize AI's potential by delivering new insights, creating efficiencies and innovating faster than the competition.”

AI brings digital transformation, not job loss

Many people share the concern that advancements in AI will put their jobs in jeopardy and soon robots will take over their role and people in the workplace will become obsolete. It's unfortunate this misconception persists because AI is about transforming business and operational processes and complementing humans at work, not replacing them. At this year's Gartner Enterprise Architecture & Technology Innovation Summit, Gartner shared its prediction that in 2020, AI becomes a positive net job motivator; creating 2.3 million jobs while only eliminating 1.8 million positions. This illustrates AI programs can partner with humans and work alongside us to accelerate digital transformation, improve customer experience, bring products to market faster, and provide value to so many aspects of a company without eliminating humans from the workplace.

In an article about AI assumptions versus the truth, Anthony Macciola, CIO at ABBYY, reminds us, “In reality, AI replaces mundane, repetitive and error-prone tasks so humans can focus on value-added processes that require creativity, problem solving and flexibility. However, workers carry unique characteristics like empathy and judgment that robots lack.” He goes on to point out, “Whether it's revitalizing the digital mailroom, streamlining the onboarding of new customers via mobile apps and smartphones, or expediting the processing of medical claims and invoices, organizations will use AI to retrain existing customers and acquire new customers. After all, digital transformation is in large part the desire to create an optimal customer experience.”

On your mark, get set, go AI

Now that AI is here, has the potential to make a massive economic impact, and is seen as a trend that's only getting started, it might be worth examining how AI could serve your business needs. Harness AI's power but do so in a thoughtful, planned, and organized manner. Starting with good data, a solid IT infrastructure, knowledge of your IT portfolio, and defined business goals and strategies will save you time, money, and frustration in the long run. Establishing concrete expectations for your AI initiative, along with having a strong desire to innovate and transform your business, are two additional pieces that should make embarking on an AI project successful and rewarding for both you and the business. Stay abreast of the latest trends in AI because this industry is moving, and it's moving fast!

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