The T(a)ime is Now:
digital solutions for real problems
The T(a)ime is Now:
digital solutions for real problems
How to successfully implement
AI in businesses - Part 1
My business partner Dirk and I had the right instinct. Six years ago, we founded the strategy and tech consultancy PLAN D with the aim of supporting companies with their introduction of artificial intelligence. Now, this topic is more relevant than ever before. There has been a veritable explosion of interest in the topic – and it is being hotly debated in the media.
But there is still a large gap between the potential of this technology and its application within the German economy. In conversations with potential clients, I encounter not only excitement and curiosity, but also a fair amount of scepticism and reticence. And in many cases, a certain level of ignorance.
How relevant is AI for our industry? What potential exists in our data? Should we really develop our own AI applications? How expensive is this going to be? What will all this mean for our employees? And how do we deal with data protection? My clients ask me these questions, and many more, every day.
I am happy to answer them. In personal conversations and, starting now, also in this article series. Step by step, article by article, I will guide you through the most important building blocks for the successful use of AI in your company - from data strategy to developing suitable models, all the way to ethical and regulatory considerations.
In Part 1, we will explore the fundamental relevance of data and artificial intelligence. Spoiler alert: for most businesses, investing in AI already is no longer optional – it has become strictly necessary. Does this sound like an exaggeration to you? If so, read on.
AI isn’t for you or your business? Most arguments in this direction fall short.
Almost every day, I speak to decision-makers who are considering whether to implement AI in their businesses. Again and again, I encounter three main arguments.
- Our employees have reservations
The spectre of AI replacing humans and putting jobs at risk has long haunted the public discourse. This is also influencing the decision-making processes of business leaders. Many managers, regardless of how motivated they are, hesitate due to concerns that investing in AI could lead to unrest amongst their workforce.
- We have more important things to do
Not enough time, nor patience or resources? You’ve only just completed a large-scale IT project and the next one is already in the works? There are a multitude of reasons preventing managers from broaching a massive topic like artificial intelligence. Often, the conclusion is, sorry, we have more important things to do, AI will have to wait.
- It’s just too expensive
Economic and financial arguments are also often put forward. It is argued that developing and implementing artificial intelligence is too expensive, the return on investment is unclear, or there is no clear business case. Considering these uncertainties, many leaders are hesitant. And naturally, it is difficult to convince shareholders or supervisory boards of an idea that one doesn’t fully believe in oneself.
Let us not misunderstand each other here: these arguments are, of course, understandable. However, I find it interesting that the responsibility that decision-makers have towards their employees, investors or board members is most often presented in arguments AGAINST AI.
I, on the other hand, am convinced that it is precisely this sense of responsibility that speaks FOR developing and implementing AI. Read on to understand why.
Artificial Intelligence is a game changer
Imagine the actions of your company to date as a continuous game of football. Occasionally, new plays were developed, football trainers developed innovative new tactics, and the players became better and better. The way of playing the game has changed, but the game itself has stayed the same. It’s just football.
But one day, everything changes. The playing field is suddenly much bigger than before, there are many more balls on the field, and many more goals to aim for. This is approximately the effect that artificial intelligence has on the courses of action available for companies. It is a game changer in the truest sense of the word.
The bad news for companies is that if you want to continue to be a successful player in the game, you need to adapt to these new circumstances. Even if you would prefer to continue as you had in the past…. You should at least kick around a few of those new footballs and try to hit some of those new goals.
Those who act now can come out at the top
Of course, these new circumstances are fraught with uncertainty. Your players have to get used to the new rules, and it’s entirely unclear where you will end up in the league tables. There is a lack of experience. In other words – the business case is unclear.
The good news is that most of your opponents are in exactly the same situation. They are just as confused and overwhelmed as you are. But your advantage is clear: if you act now and get involved in the new version of the game, you will have the very best chances of coming out at the top, even rising in the ranks. Not only will this have a positive effect on your business, but your players will also encounter attractive new career prospects. After all, you don’t want to lose them to the next best club.
But let’s put the metaphor aside for now. Which advantages can AI bring to your business? Allow me to argue my case using concrete examples.
The economic potential of artificial intelligence is enormous
At a first glance, it seems plausible that investing in Big Data and machine learning is too expensive. But the more we consider the technology itself, the more absurd this argument turns out to be. The economic potential of artificial intelligence is enormous. There are many use cases that prove this.
Artificial intelligence enables companies to increase their efficiency. Repetitive processes can be completely automated, in a way that is fast, precise, scalable, and cost-effective. Thus, AI makes you more productive and more innovative at the same time.
Furthermore, AI can be used to process large amounts of data and make in-house analytics more precise. This leads to data-driven decision-making. One of our projects for an insurance company proves the case: decision-making driven by data and AI can lead to huge savings.
Of course, examples like these don’t necessarily translate directly to your business.
You need to develop new use cases which fit your strategy and are economically and technically viable. This will be the subject of my next article.
Man vs. machine? The reality is far more complex.
From an economic perspective, the conclusion is clear. Even though exploring use cases and developing the technology will lead to higher expenditures in the short term – with the right strategy, investing in artificial intelligence pays off.
This leaves the ethical argument. The fear that machines will replace humans is real. But these dire warnings do not accurately reflect the complex reality we face. They paint businesses as a place of zero-sum games: humans vs. artificial intelligence, or jobs maintained vs. jobs automated away.
In the six years since we founded PLAN D, I have not once experienced employees being displaced by our technologies. Quite the opposite – I have come to believe that the winners of the AI revolution will not be those who quickly replace as many humans as possible. The winners will instead be those who use this as an opportunity to create new, better, more value-adding job opportunities for their employees.
AI creates better working conditions – and completely new jobs
Above all, AI achieves one thing: it frees up capacities. Allowing AI to take on certain tasks can lead to an improvement in working conditions. It gives me real joy to see how our clients’ employees focus more on creative, strategic, and interpersonal tasks, while machines complete the monotonous, routine tasks.
Additionally, AI provides the possibility to enter completely new areas of business. By developing AI-based products and services, businesses can enter new markets, thus expanding their entire business. This is how growth happens- and often, this creates new jobs.
Using AI to combat the shortage of skilled workers
An important aspect in the debate on AI and jobs is the current shortage of skilled labour. Instead of having more employees that they can handle, many companies are currently struggling to find the right talent. A small number of very experienced employees are just barely keeping the ship afloat. Once they retire (and a recent study showed that 70% of baby boomers wish to retire earlier than originally planned), there is often a lack of qualified successors to whom they can pass on their wealth of experience.
A current PLAN D project proves how data analytics and artificial intelligence can help mitigate this problem. Using digital technologies, we were able to transform the implicit knowledge of employees into an explicit, digitally secured knowledge base. An AI was fed with this knowledge and now supports the customer support team, thus safeguarding the company’s ability to provide its consultancy services in the long term.
AI and data: don’t miss out
It should be clear by now that data and AI are relevant for almost every business, across all industries. But still – one could argue - every CEO or board member needs to make the final call themselves on whether to pursue this strategy. Whether or not to play the new footballs on the field.
I disagree. After all, it is your responsibility as a leader to set up your company in such a way that long-term competitiveness and survival are guaranteed. But once a company misses the technological train, it can be very difficult to catch up again.
The consequences can be dire. Your competitors soon become more productive than you, eventually taking away your market share. They gain positive press coverage on their investments in AI and data and position themselves the real innovators in your space. This not only attracts new clients, it also attracts the best job applicants. Meanwhile, your window of opportunity to play along in the game of data and AI gets smaller and smaller, while the gap between you and your competitors widens.
Invest in the future of your company now
Leaders have a responsibility to optimise the capacities of their businesses. In my opinion, this statement alone is enough to make the case: invest in developing and applying AI now. Before it is too late.
AI and you. But how?
Of course, this is easier said than done. Once the fundamental decision for AI has been made, many open questions remain: Where do we begin? What are the possible AI applications for our business? What kind of knowledge and resources will be needed?
In the upcoming editions of this article series, I will answer all these questions.