Ben Bierman
JOHANNESBURG -  Artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful technology that has the potential to improve many processes and operations within a business. 

Essentially an area of computer science that enables machines to mirror human behaviour, AI business applications include pattern analysis, deep learning, natural language processing and cognitive computing.

According to the latest Gartner data, 85 percent of global chief executives believe that AI will fundamentally change the way they conduct business within the next five years. The adoption of AI across enterprises tripled in the last year alone. However, it is important to realise that while AI technology can help businesses to work smarter, it is not right for every business and cannot replace the “human touch” – not yet, at least. 

Herewith are reasons why AI can be helpful:

Analysis 

It goes without saying that technology can accumulate and process information much faster than humans. It can help with meaningful insights from data, like demographics and customer past purchases. Such high-speed data processing in real time can specifically help to create personalised customer experiences, which in turn can improve customer retention. A good example of this is Netflix’s content suggestion engine, which recommends suitable shows and movies based on viewers’ past preferences. 

Tasking

AI can help to mitigate repetitive tasks, which could boost productivity and the business more efficient. This is only helpful for areas that use lots of data and have clear outcomes that the business is trying to achieve. For example, retailers might use AI to automate labour-intensive and repetitive activities that are usually performed by humans, such as the in-store checkout process, thus reducing labour costs. This could also free up your employees’ time to do more engaging or strategic work. 

Efficiency

AI can streamline certain business processes with more accuracy like spellcheck helps to minimise spelling errors in writing. Machines operate for an indefinite period provided they have a reliable power source and are maintained correctly. 


The cons of AI

Expenses

Being a completely new field and requiring a high level of technical skills to implement, AI can be costly. Despite the potential benefits, most locals businesses do not have the budget to leverage AI for sufficient results.

Learning

AI takes time to “learn”, so you have to exercise patience. Due to being very specialised, AI is usually best for helping with specific problems – like predicting how many shoppers you will have at a certain time, so that you can order the right stock ahead of time – and, as such, needs a mountain of training data before it can start seeing patterns and predicting behaviours. 

Creativity

AI gives no guarantee that it can improve business immediately. On its own, AI lacks creativity and adaptability, which means it is only as intelligent and insightful as those who initially programme it, and requires constant tracking and measuring to ensure it is offering up useful results. Importantly, AI is also unable to replace the human touch. In this sense, a machine lacks a doctor’s ability to empathise with their patients when they diagnose them, or an accountants’ ability to give advice to a client on their new business venture.


Ben Bierman is a managing director at Business Partners Limited.

BUSINESS REPORT