February 26, 2018

Exploring the ways AI affects businesses

Our world continues to change rapidly as the pace of technological advancement accelerates. One advance that most of us associated with science fiction until very recently is now part of many people’s daily lives, and that is artificial intelligence or AI. Whether it is through virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri, or purchase predictions or hailing a ride through an app like Uber, AI is now a mainstream technology that many people depend on.

As business leaders, when we discuss the effects of AI, we have to conclude that it affects our organisations in more ways than one. For example, many of us have seen how AI can make learning by individuals and the organisation as a whole more effective. However, what other kinds of impact does it have on businesses?

One other business function where AI is starting to make inroads is human resources. There are already computer programmess that assist in the talent acquisition process. AI applications offer the ability to screen — without judgement or preconceptions — possible candidates and shortlist them for a final interview with HR personnel.

In fact, Unilever has already started utilising AI to hire entry-level employees from the application stage, to even interviewing candidates for further shortlisting for a final interview with HR. The results have been positive, both in terms of bringing in more diverse talents and improving cost efficiency.

HR departments can also utilise AI for small or repetitive jobs such as answering FAQs with chatbots, or automating the payroll function, so that more attention can be devoted to tasks that require human judgement, such as employee engagement and retention.

Another aspect of business where AI can have a positive effect is marketing. From market research to email marketing campaigns, AI can help bolster marketing efforts in effective ways. In fact, we have already seen the power of AI in email marketing.

Most of you are already accustomed to receiving automated emails from companies you have sign up with via websites. If you have ever shopped online or subscribed to knowledge-sharing websites, an AI application in the background has collected general information on all of your purchases or articles you have read. In can then utilise the collected information to personalise an email to suggest other products or articles you may like.

Customer service is another business function where AI has had an effect, with chatbots and virtual agents among the most popular applications. A chatbot is a computer programme used to converse with humans, while virtual agents complement a chatbot with a computer-generated virtual character.

These types of AI are useful for 24/7 customer interactions with simple and even complex questions that the AI application can learn and put to use. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are some elements such as human empathy that AI is simply unable to replicate — at least not yet. Thus, urgent customer concerns still require human interaction.

Last but not the least, AI also affects departments that are heavy with repetitive tasks. The thing about repetitive tasks is that the work is monotonous and uninspiring for humans. Sometimes they will slow down, and at other times they can get distracted and errors will result. It is difficult to make such tasks appealing to humans from a standpoint of challenge and learning. But a robot or a computer programme doesn’t care how boring the work is.

There are departments with repetitive tasks such as data-entry for accounting and sending out payroll on a regular basis for HR. These tasks, though monotonous, are nevertheless important elements in a business. They can be completed more effectively, more quickly and almost free of error with the use of AI automation.

The effects that AI has on these business functions are positive for the most part, and many more aspects of business may also benefit from high-tech applications. However, the use of AI can also pose some concerns such as cyber security and the lack of human touch. The recurring concern, however, may be the job security of your people.

AI is clearly becoming more and more powerful and as much as it is a positive advancement, it does have negative connotations for people who fear their jobs could be filled by non-human actors. The point of AI, however, is not to replace people; rather, it should be used to complement their skills and enhance your organisation’s performance.

It is important to understand that utilising AI does not mean insisting on completely transforming your entire organisation into one run by computer programmes and chatbots. At the end of the day, your organisation will always be about your people. Providing them with ways to enhance their work performance, which can include appropriate use of technology, while also motivating them to learn new things will benefit your business as a whole.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@new.seasiacenter.com or www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa

For daily updates, visit www.facebook.com/seasiacenter