5 Ways Businesses Should Prepare to Win with Artificial Intelligence

by Tom Goodwin

posted on 07-24-2018

We’re past predicting the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).

There’s already abundant evidence that AI has officially landed. For example, LinkedIn’s 2017 Workforce Report placed machine-learning engineers, which have seen 9.8x job growth over the last five years, at the number one spot on their “Top 20 Emerging Jobs” list.

Data scientists, with 6.5x job growth over the same time period, claimed the second-place spot. And a 2018 survey from BrightEdge Research reports that AI is seen as a “next big trend” in marketing, second only to consumer personalization — which increasingly requires AI to accomplish at scale.

Yes, AI is already here — and the impact on business will be tremendous. However, only those few companies that are prepared to use it will attain the benefit. Every company needs to figure out if they are doing small bets to learn or big bets to win in the future of AI.

An Adobe survey revealed that, among digitally mature companies (i.e., those with advanced digital practices) 47 percent have a well-defined strategy for AI. Among other, less digitally mature organizations, that number falls to just 27 percent.

In other words, while 72 percent of business leaders believe that AI represents a business advantage, relatively few of them have a plan to weave it successfully into their businesses.

How can you be among the progressive few to not only foresee, but unleash the benefits of AI? I recommend starting with these five often unconsidered steps.

Tom Goodwin shares his ideas about AI in the enterprise at an Adobe Think Tank.

1. Understand what AI is (and what it is not).

AI can be a topic shrouded in ambiguity. From the way we often talk about it, you might mistake AI for something you find and purchase on a website one day, after which it arrives in your office and is unpacked by your people, who happen to know exactly what to do with it. This false perception of what AI is can only end in disappointment.

A more successful route is to think of AI as a philosophical viewpoint, a transformative change in our relationship with data and processing, and a toolkit to do things better. The more we can think of AI in terms of a framework of modern behaviors and modern expectations, the better. This helps us figure out how the different types of AI can empower us to exceed customer expectations for the future.

2. Build new structure around problems

As AI emerges, we need to be mindful of how we apply it and be aware of its ambiguity — should we add it to existing processes or should we completely rebuild around it? The easiest and often the most effective way to do that is to work around a problem and figure out what the pain points are. Then we can establish what role, if any, this technology has in that scenario and ideate around that.

Another approach is to brainstorm the opportunities AI creates. In doing this, however, we should avoid giving very specific advice to very general problems. We like to ask questions like “What are your clients thinking these days?” or “What’s it like to be a bank?” when, in reality, every type of company has completely different problems right now. They have vastly different attitudes towards risk. They have vastly different attitudes towards their willingness to and ability to make change. Therefore, we must approach every single problem and opportunity in a very specific way that is precise to that person at that time.

3. Watch for a shift in human roles.

It’s true that AI will inevitably embellish some roles and make others obsolete. A new survey by PwC predicts that AI and automation could replace up to 38 percent of jobs. Rather than wringing our hands over an impending job shortage, however, we have time to adapt to this change in the way we educate and prepare the workforce. AI is a catalyst for transformation, and it’s essential that all of us prepare for a future where what we do and how we do it will inevitably change.

We need to ask if the kids undergoing today’s formal education are going to be equipped for this future, and how we can equip them for a new reality we barely understand. For instance, consensus is building that, for many, the increased productivity and efficiency from AI and automation will allow workers to focus on the most human — and dare I say, enjoyable and stimulating — aspects of work.

We are entering a very different environment where we outsource thinking and meaning to a computer. So we then need to consider how we embellish or invent those jobs that only humans can do. That will certainly involve creativity, relationship building, and empathy. Interestingly enough, these are the skills that very few formal education environments are currently discussing.

4. Anticipate changes in attitudes toward privacy.

Although it often feels that technology like smartphones and online dating have been around forever, the reality is that they are relatively new — and it shows in our lack of solid digital etiquette around issues like privacy. Companies often react to these challenges by depersonalizing what they can do based on legal or moral issues, or what they think is the polite way to behave. I believe we need to start a different conversation.

People today have grown up sharing their most intimate thoughts on Twitter. They broadcast their most intimate pictures on Facebook and Instagram. This idea that people grow up with an expectation of privacy, I think, is quite naïve — and actually prevents us from approaching that and similar issues in a productive way.

Instead, we should be asking questions about how we can use their data responsibly, securely, and to deliver value that the customer can see. How do we give people reassurance that we’re using their data for the right things? How do we act as stewards to keep it absolutely secure and abide by opt-in policies? Above all else, how do we maximize the value that people get in return for it?

The sooner we start thinking about this notion of privacy trading and what we can give in exchange, the sooner we will open a much more expansive and progressive conversation.

5. How we use technology determines its impact.

Will AI run off the rails and create an entirely new world of transhumanism and a new consciousness? Will humans rebel against such a movement?

The answer is we just don’t know. While such events are certainly possible, they are not nearly as certain as we might like to think. Other ramifications of AI are much more certain to materialize.

It’s essential that we all prepare for a future in which we will have to change our careers, change the ways in which we find meaning in our lives, and find new ways to create value in our workplaces. Like it or not, AI is moving into the workplace — whether a cubicle farm or an assembly-line floor — and it will touch every conceivable job role.

Even with so much potential for revolutionary change to take place, the possibility for that change to be underwhelming — even imperceptible — is just as likely. In reality, things often remain much more similar than different.

When it comes down to it, our ability to tap into the power of AI is less about the technology we use, and more about the way we think about it and the questions we ask. For those businesses willing to realign their training, strategy, and processes around new technology, the potential exists to amplify their effectiveness beyond anything their human resources could accomplish alone.

Did you miss the Adobe Think Tank on the Future of AI in the Enterprise? Watch the entire discussion here and see more articles here.

Topics: News, Digital Transformation, Leadership