Last month, we sat down with our Senior Director of Product Management Augustine Walker to discuss how companies, regardless of size and resources, can leverage and invest in AI. His perspective is clear — AI is not only technology for large organizations but can actually give mid and small size companies scale and a significant competitive advantage.
Do companies of all sizes need to invest in AI?
Just like with the E-commerce and mobile revolutions, AI will transform how businesses operate. The E-Commerce revolution was about sharing information more efficiently and making interactions and transactions with customers and partners easier. The mobile revolution allowed these interactions to happen anywhere at any time. The AI revolution will be about improving the efficiency, decisions, and security of these interactions and in many cases create a more tailored experience for the participants in those interactions. Once people become accustomed to the “enhanced” and “bespoke” experiences AI makes possible they will balk at having to return to an experience that doesn’t anticipate their needs, understand their intentions, or make the interactions simpler and more data-driven.
Should AI just be the focus for larger companies?
Small companies can benefit just as much and perhaps even more than large companies. Large companies benefit from scale. More resources make more work possible and more productive. Small companies can use AI to give themselves scale.
My father worked for a small company that did geotechnical engineering. One of his responsibilities was to inspect concrete samples from construction sites. Imagine leveraging AI to accelerate the aspects of that which involved visual inspections of the samples and the perhaps information that could be gleaned from analyzing audio recordings of the sample being struck to help identify structural imperfections. This wouldn’t eliminate the need for his specialist skills but it could accelerate the inspection process and increase his efficiency. That, in turn, would translate into being able to process more samples and focus on the outliers that couldn’t easily be evaluated by AI. In this scenario, the small business he works for has jumped in the processing scale, and it can add more specialist inspections which presumably would generate more revenue. As they evolve this process and patterns are detected in the outliers the AI process, already in place, can be improved without necessarily having to retool the implementation simply by retraining the engine to identify new patterns. Another value add is now there’s more consistency in the outcomes. Gradually over time, this would create a competitive advantage, a moat if you will, between them and their competitors. In order for the other companies to complete they would have to develop and implement the tech and would need the time to catch up based on the data they collect. In the meantime, my father’s company keeps expanding the moat as their dataset is enriched and expanded.
Furthermore, they can now “punch above their weight” and compete with companies with more resources. There will always be the question of cost and skillset. What does a geotechnical engineering company know about AI? They may not, but they also didn’t know about building websites when those became a business requirement. What they do know, their specialist knowledge is the real value, AI is the vehicle to maximize it. Systems and tools like aiWARE can make standing up a AI process much easier. Low Code tools like Automate, a part of the aiWARE platform, allow for the easy creation of AI implementations without detailed specialist knowledge. Getting into the AI space for small businesses isn’t the daunting task it once was if they have the right tools and planning.
Does not Investing in AI represent a true existential threat to business as we know it?
AI represents an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of current businesses and expand into new ways of meeting customer needs. Employees and customers will be able to provide more value because routine and repetitive tasks can be enriched with AI leaving employees more time to focus on the more interesting, complex, and creative aspects of a business.
Should AI investments be an urgent priority for companies of any size?
Absolutely. We don’t have to rehash the story of BlockBuster and Netflix to see what happens when entrenched interests refuse to adapt to new technologies and ways of serving their customers. Regardless of whether it’s AI or process automation, or streamlining and improving business practices, companies should always be investing in the future. Think about how much better positioned those companies that had already invested in telework technologies and policies were to deal with the changes COVID-19 has brought us? AI will reach into all aspects of our lives whether it’s through healthcare, consumer products, financial services or government and education. It’s not about if it will change our world, it’s not about when it will change our world. It’s about how, and from my perspective, it’s better to be part of that transformative process than to be left on the sidelines. It would be difficult to suggest, especially in light of today’s conditions with enforced social separation, that spending time learning about what the web and mobile could do for your business were poor investments of time and money. The same will hold true for AI.