There’s been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (AI) for years now and for the lion’s share of that time it has felt very futuristic. But now everything has changed. The use of AI technology is suddenly a few clicks away from anyone with an internet connection and its practical usability seems to be expanding almost exponentially. First it was for little things like “check this email for spelling mistakes” to the sudden realisation, wait a second, “write me the whole email”. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to the operational significance of AI, the possibilities are endless and that’s given birth to what is known as Enterprise AI.
As a simple definition, Enterprise AI refers to the strategic deployment of AI technologies within organisations to solve complex problems, automate routine tasks and enhance decision-making. It encompasses a whole host of capabilities that many of us are probably already familiar with such as machine learning, natural language processing, and predictive analytics.
But in all of this, the operative word is ‘strategic’. Done properly these advanced technologies have the power to be completely transformative. So what do you need to consider to implement them strategically?
1. Start with a clear business goal. What do you hope to achieve by deploying AI? Do you want to improve customer service, increase productivity, or reduce costs? Once you know your goal, you can start to identify the areas where AI can help you achieve it.
What are your current challenges? What are your long-term goals? Once you have a good understanding of your business needs, you can start to identify how AI can help you achieve them.
AI is a powerful technology, but it's not magic. Be realistic about what AI can and cannot do and don’t just implement AI for the sake of implementing AI. It’s not going to solve all of your problems overnight.
Similarly, be introspective. Focus on those challenges specific to your business rather than rinsing and repeating what other businesses are doing. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Review your goals regularly. As your business changes, your goals may need to change as well.
Communicate your goals. Make sure everyone knows the direction of the business and how AI is going to make that a reality.
2. Assess your current capabilities. Do you have the data, the people, and the processes in place to support AI initiatives?
Your artificial intelligence can only be as intelligent as the data it has got access to. Again, it’s not magic. You need to spend time training your AI and the effectiveness of that is reliant on how clean and structured your data is.
To train well, you need good trainers. This requires having the right people and process in place to give the AI what it needs. This takes skill and it takes time, AI isn't just a switch you flick, it takes constant nurturing.
Employ the right people. AI can often be viewed as free intelligence, but it will only be a true value-add to your business if it’s setup and trained properly.
Build a governance model. Like for a human being, effective training of AI requires consistency and discipline.
3. Identify the right AI technologies. There are many different AI technologies available, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. You'll need to choose the technologies that are right for your specific needs.
Again, your business goals are going to drive this decision. Make sure you’re investing in the right technology for the challenges you are facing today, but also that it’s future-proof against the direction of travel of your business. Can it support the challenges you are likely to face in the future? Is it scalable?
You also can’t forget your people. For a transformation to be successful, regardless of the specific technology behind it, you need to take your people along the journey with you. And the key to this is creating momentum. Ensure that the business is prepared and ready to accept the changes the new technology is going to bring about.
Start Small. Don’t take too much risk too early on, you may end up shooting yourself in the foot in the long-term if you do. Trust in technology takes time and requires the incremental build-up of momentum. This process can’t be rushed.
4. Create a culture of innovation. AI is a disruptive technology, this is its biggest asset but can also be a major source of friction if you don’t have a culture of innovation in your organisation. To take advantage of a technology like this, employees need to be open to experimentation and taking risks.
Communication is going to be central to managing this. Friction often comes from being caught off guard and not being involved in decision making around how technology is applied. Communicating clear goals and expectations makes everyone feel like they are a part of the process, regardless of whether they are directly or indirectly involved.
Providing the right resources to transition from a legacy way of working to a new AI-disrupted alternative will be equally essential. This allows people to train up and gain the knowledge they need to feel comfortable in what they are doing and why.
Creating a feedback mechanism is probably the most important vehicle for eliminating friction. This creates more engagement in the process and makes people feel like they have an influence. However, this only works if people feel like that feedback is being heard and received. Providing a feedback mechanism that doesn’t get responded to will only serve to alienate people even more.
5. Measure your results. It's important to measure the results of your AI initiatives so that you can see what's working and what's not. This will help you make necessary adjustments to ensure it remains fully business relevant.
What metrics matter to your business? It’s important that you have 3 or 4 core metrics that give you a complete picture of your success. This allows you to track your progress over time and see whether your initiatives are having a measurable impact on your business.
Again, communication of these results is going to be essential for maintaining and increasing momentum in what you are trying to achieve by drumming up excitement and support among your user base.
Consistency. Regular check-ups are essential for making sure you are on track.
Honesty. Be honest and self-critical. Don’t use the metrics to support your narrative, be honest about the true picture your metrics are describing.
I hope that leaves you with a more realistic picture of how to navigate this new AI empowered business world. If there's one takeaway it's this: AI is exciting, but it takes time to do it properly. Be patient, and don't forget your people.