How to get started with Artificial Intelligence in your business? 

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence

By Alex Bartley Catt

Technology has developed at a tremendous pace in recent years, leading to the application of artificial intelligence for nearly every industry.

Developments in big data, improved algorithms, and superior hardware have led to a point where artificial intelligence is in many cases more effective at certain tasks than people.

Many companies have seen the potential and are already implementing artificial intelligence.

Yet AI is a rapidly advancing technology, and it can be difficult to determine the optimal route to success.

Companies need to consider where opportunity for improvement lies, how they can enable better outcomes, and when it’s time to get started.

Where to compete

Start by defining the challenges faced by both the business and its customers. Significant opportunities to improve arise when these problems are well understood.

With a focus on customer service, quickly identifying customer issues is the first step to resolving them.

The application of AI has enabled social listening that leverages Natural Language Processing and machine vision to identify customers and the challenges they face.

From here, a virtual assistant can respond to disgruntled customers automatically or assign them to a customer service agent who can help.

Identifying opportunities like this can create powerful differentiation and improved customer satisfaction.

However, it is important to work in areas where the company already has competencies and capability, to make the most of already-present advantages.

This will offer organizations the best chance of putting AI to good use for competitive advantage.

A study by McKinsey Global Institute found that there are almost 600 separate uses for AI that can be seen across different industries. Two thirds of these require at least some degree of machine learning, and half require deep learning ability.

A large number of AI solutions are only in the very early stages and have not yet been deployed to a mass market.

Given all the different possible opportunities out there, it is best to take a structured approach to narrow down the possibilities.

Consideration of different consumer needs is helpful within this analysis. For example, considering the case of autonomous cars, some consumers may be satisfied with cars where AI will handle aspects like braking, while others will want a completely autonomous self-driving  experience, even if this requires that they pay more.

How to compete

Like any new technology, companies must consider a number of factors before they commit to embedding AI.

Does the business have the required resources? Are relevant pain points defined? How is AI applicable to problems faced by the business? Many companies take a Design Thinking approach which looks to fulfill three criteria.

First, focus on the customer. A better understanding of the customer’s pain points provides a number of opportunities to improve their experience.

Second, define which technology is best suited to solve identified problems.

Finally, ensure alignment between the customer’s needs, the application of technology, and the objectives of the company.

The business case must be solid before committing to AI transformation.

When considering how to compete, it’s also worth taking an iterative approach. Start small and build up.

Note that this can only be achieved when a company has a detailed vision of their AI enabled future-state.

When this vision is understood, companies can focus on the most relevant AI solutions first. That may be determined by the highest ROI, or the lowest project risk. It all depends on the company’s objectives and readiness to innovate.

A primary benefit of AI is the ability to perform work done by people. Knowing this, well designed end-to-end solutions provide the most opportunity for competitive advantage and powerful differentiation.

When to compete

Here, the message is clear: The time to compete is now. Industry analysts believe that companies that wait before deciding on an AI strategy may not ever be in a position to catch up again, as the market is moving forward so quickly.

Those that enter the market early have a chance to quickly evolve and scale up, setting the direction for the industry, and shaping the standard.

Companies that think big now and look at how they can transform their strategies to deliver AI and get in quickly will be the most successful in this field.

Waiting until technology is perfected may mean that market entry is too late. While it is important to build solutions that are innovative and lead the way, focusing on perfection could result in being left behind.

Instead, developing solutions that provide a foothold in the market and add value is critical.

This allows companies to build on initial success and advance into other interesting AI applications.

Deriving business success from artificial intelligence requires executives to make bold decisions to make the most of this massive opportunity. This requires acting quickly and decisively.

It also means pinpointing business and customer pain points and identifying the ways in which AI could solve these to increase sales, lower costs and reduce friction for the customer.

Being an early adopter is essential to set the standard and build from a strong starting point. There are a number of opportunities for AI in every industry.

Taking a structured approach that considers customers, the available technology, and the relevant business objectives is the first step. Making a move now is critical.

(The author is Managing Director at He can be contacted at @alexbartleycatt)