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Artificial intelligence: a digital transformation accelerator

A recent survey by Russell Reynolds Associates of more than 2,000 C-level executives across 15 industries found that roughly 50 per cent expect their industry to be moderately or massively disrupted by digital in the next 12 months.

The question being asked by chief executives around the world is not if digital disruption will occur, but what it means for their business. Perhaps more importantly, organisations are considering how they can leverage digital transformation to advance their competitive position and improve performance. Increasingly, it has become apparent that artificial intelligence (AI) may very well hold part of the answer to those questions.

AI_sapient_2For the past 15 years, drivers of digital transformation have come in the form of information accessibility, initially by way of the internet and subsequently via mobile devices, principally smartphones.

The most recent wave of transformation is enabled by information insight, providing consumers with products and services that meet their needs when and where they need them. To provide such products and services requires the ability to collect and analyse vast amounts of structured and unstructured data, and to use those insights to inform business decisions and take action in real time.

Moreover, it requires the ability to fuse together multiple technologies and strategic solutions. The successful companies of tomorrow will be those that use this information insight to provide their customers with an experience which is personal to them and delivered on their terms. Furthermore, they will harness information insight from the outside in, from the perspective of their customers, as opposed to inside out, via traditional divisional and product silos.

There are three primary ways that AI is being used by market leaders to accelerate customer-centric experience design and achieve digital transformation – insight generation, customer engagement and business acceleration.

Insight generation involves extracting meaningful and actionable intelligence from ever-increasing quantities of available raw data. With the amount of information in the world nearly doubling each year, it is no surprise that data complexity is the top challenge standing in the way of digital transformation, according to preliminary results from a study by FORTUNE Knowledge Group and Publicis.Sapient.

One of the fastest growing uses of AI is to “listen” to all customer communications, both directly with a company and about that company in the market at large, ranging from call centre conversations to chat sessions and even social media activity.

AI tools are able to perform what no single human or even team of people could hope to do; they can read, review and analyse vast quantities of disparate data, providing insight into how customers feel about a company’s products or services and why they feel the way they do. Luminoso, an AI company with its roots in MIT’s Media Lab, has built a robust business performing precisely this task.

Customer engagement has long been the Holy Grail for marketing and customer relationship management programmes. Today, AI is radically enhancing the personalisation of information that fuels such engagement. Nowhere is this more evident than in AI’s next big thing – chatbots and virtual assistants.

Chatbots are software programs that use messaging as an interface through which companies can help their customers answer questions, find information and offer personalised content. They are ideally suited to a mobile platform and have been made significantly more powerful by advances in machine learning and natural language processing.

Multiple companies, such as Viv, Facebook and Nuance, are providing frameworks and turn-key solutions in this space, allowing for services as diverse as media content distribution to customer service support and customised marketing campaigns. While the technology advances are exciting and bode well for business application, successful use cases will be grounded in a strong user-centred design process, leveraging the input of business and marketing experts as well as those of the IT division.

Market leaders are seeking practical applications to leverage artificial intelligence in their pursuit of digital transformation

Business acceleration refers to how companies use AI to expedite knowledge-based activities to improve efficiency and performance. Examples range from hospitals finding potential patients for drug trials to financial institutions creating investment strategies for their investors.

While these types of activities are often viewed as opportunities to reduce costs through the automation of internal processes, they also should be considered in terms of their ability to transform the customer experience.

For example, if a bank can use AI to reduce the time it takes to approve a loan, it not only reduces its own costs, but also provides an improved customer experience. As a result, when AI tools such as Watson from IBM and Cyc from Cycorp are deployed, market leaders ensure they leverage the technologies with both cost-cutting and customer satisfaction in mind.

Market leaders are seeking practical applications to leverage AI in their pursuit of digital transformation. As a result, the AI industry is growing at a rate of 56 per cent annually, according to Tractica, and 25 per cent of jobs are expected to be impacted by AI technologies by as soon as 2019, according to Forrester.

This rate of change, particularly in consumer-centric industries, is unprecedented and requires a paradigm shift in how companies can reimagine their technological capabilities and organisational structure to engage better with their customers.

True digital transformation requires more than simply the application of the latest and greatest technology. It requires a customer-centric, outside-in perspective to enable the design of digital solutions that drive customer loyalty, engagement, consumption and satisfaction. Artificial intelligence will be the key to providing the tools, insight and acceleration that enable tomorrow’s market leaders to thrive in this environment.

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