Artificial intelligence, or AI, can seem a little intimidating. Although many companies view AI as an essential component to being competitive in today's marketplace, there is still a general lack of understanding about what exactly AI is and what it is capable of. What people don't realize, though, is that every time they activate Siri on their phones, they're actually interacting with AI.
The words "artificial intelligence" can conjure up different images for different people, from The Terminator's domineering Skynet to Facebook's covert Messenger bots. While the former is obviously a bit far-fetched, that perception of AI causes a lot of business owners to shy away from the rapidly advancing field.
Like it or not, AI is here to stay. The technology has tremendous potential to boost productivity and efficiency, in both small businesses and multinational corporations.
Think of this technology as a helpful productivity guru ready to help you learn and serve your enterprise. Here are five ways your business can leverage AI to do just that.
Many people complain about the amount of time they spend in meetings, but just as groan-worthy is the amount of time spent scheduling them. AI can not only find the free time on your calendar but also handle the scheduling and back-and-forth with attendees, freeing up your time and email inbox.
The AI system x.ai, also known as Amy, is performing that service for an increasing number of busy executives. Pete Polgar, CMO of Clikz Digital, used to think of AI as "creepy," but since using Amy to handle his scheduling, he's singing a different tune.
"I would recommend Amy to any owner who hates scheduling meetings and does not see a value in an assistant," Polgar said. "(Just) make sure you spec out the problems your AI tool is trying to solve and see if it is worth the cost."
Some users report that Amy saves them over 40 hours a year — hours that can then be used for more productive tasks. That's a whole extra work week every year.
Another way you can use AI to boost productivity is to outsource repetitive or time-consuming tasks to computers. This delegation can free up time for other projects, allowing smaller teams to work more efficiently and accomplish the work of a much larger group.
CouponHippo, a U.S.-based coupon site, uses AI to supplement its small team.
"Normal coupon websites have an army of people who scour the internet to find more things to put on their site. We use AI to listen and surface those offers to a tiny team. We are operating with a team one-tenth the size but competing with the bigger competitors," says CouponHippo founder Max Page.
AI can be used to speed up data entry and classification and to streamline workflows. Accounting firm botkeeper has gone so far as to base its entire business model on the output-boosting power of AI, offering on-demand accounting services for businesses around the country. The service's botkeeper offers would not be possible without the clever use of AI.
"At botkeeper, we built our entire business and business model on AI," said botkeeper spokesman Enrico Palmerino.
"Our company provides small (to) mid-sized businesses with bookkeeping that is more accurate, runs 24/7 and costs 50 percent less — all thanks to AI. By augmenting our accountants' work with AI, we have seen major efficiency boosts in the amount of work we are able to perform, in much less time, at a much higher accuracy."
AI can be used to handle simple or low-priority tasks and allow on-site employees to focus on bigger fish. Emirates NBD, a Middle Eastern bank, uses virtual assistants to handle basic customer service inquiries. The program was piloted with a select group of customers and has thus far proved to be quite successful.
The system uses chatbots with natural language abilities to either handle customer requests directly or route the customer to a human representative if necessary. This system removes the need for representatives to deal with the mundane issues that make up most requests while also streamlining the process for customers.
Emirates NBD isn't the only bank taking advantage of these technologies—banks around the world are doing the same thing, and there's no reason this concept can't be extended to nonbanking industries. Any business that deals with a lot of incoming customer support traffic could benefit from using AI. The systems could also be used for internal help desks, potentially freeing up valuable IT hours.
The learning abilities of AI can be leveraged in a variety of ways. Google has taken one creative approach by using its DeepMind AI to optimize energy use at its data centers. The results are staggering, to say the least: the company has seen a 15 percent reduction in overall power use in its data centers, which is expected to translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.
While most companies don't quite have access to Google's level of AI (and probably don't use nearly the amount of energy Google does, either), any organization can apply the concept. The savings can then be reinvested into the business to increase productivity in other ways, such as implementing a new social marketing campaign to increase sales.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to implementing AI in your business. As software continues to advance, new uses to take productivity to a truly new level will become available. As a business owner, big or small, this is the field to keep an eye on. In the meantime, these tips should get you off to a great start.