Why democratizing AI ushers in a new era for business by Automation Hero

This blog post is brought to you by Automation Hero, OPEX Week 2020 event sponsor.

AI is everywhere, and yet few people think of it as accessible. But that perception may change now that a small cadre of forward-thinking tech companies have started pushing the field towards democratization. 

So what does it take to democratize an area that’s long been viewed as an impenetrable fortress of complex math, lengthy acronyms, and space-age jargon? In this case, it means putting AI — and all the insights it brings — into the hands of a much larger, more diverse group of people.

In 2018, Gartner found that an astounding 87% of organizations have low business intelligence and analytics maturity. This means many things. First, as Gartner points out, these companies are essentially flying blind when it comes to decision-making, with individual business units pursuing one-off, siloed data and analytics initiatives. Far from using data well, the companies fail to use data in a centralized way to improve overall business outcomes. They’re also far from ready to adopt new technologies like machine learning.

But at least a few tech leaders have embraced big data — and they know that AI has the power to reshape organizations (their own and others’). When Sundar Pichai became CEO of Google in 2015, he set out to make it an “AI-first” company. Now, every product from Gmail to Translate is fortified with AI, and Google’s AI assistant, Duplex, has a voice so human-sounding people can’t tell it’s a robot. By 2017, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was shooting for nothing short of AI for the masses. AI should be “…in the hands of every developer, every organization, every public sector organization around the world” he told a conference crowd in Germany. A year later, Nadella said “AI is the runtime” that will shape everything his company does. At Amazon in the early days you could find pockets of AI, and now the company’s “AI flywheel” propels the entire organization.

Those pioneers spawned a new wave of AI companies. Some of the upstarts, in the latter half of 2019, proved to be the most sought-after companies in Silicon Valley, with large companies gobbling up the startups. Describing the deals, Andrew Ng, a cofounder of Google Brain and the online learning platform Coursera, told the Wall Street Journal: “AI is strategically important to many industries, and getting it right or wrong can mean the difference between a company thriving or becoming irrelevant.”

Still, AI must take one more leap before it lands in the hands of people who aren’t programmers or data scientists. Beyond using it to reshape their own companies, tech companies have started to envision how just about anyone can use AI to tackle business problems. For example, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis said that in 2020, AI is fundamentally shifting the way people use creative tools. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have eliminated repetitive tasks like digging through Photoshop menus and learning the intricacies of complex programs like Illustrator. No longer the realm of specialists, Adobe products and functions then become accessible to all users, who can control them through plain-language requests and voice commands. 

The same is true of processes inside a company. Automation technology has existed for a decade, but it gets a new twist by adding AI. Let’s say you run a team inside a large organization that’s getting hung up on a tedious task like translating handwritten text into usable data. Software with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capabilities can automate pulling out only the needed information from the massive amounts of unstructured data. Then an AI model can verify the intent and help a worker with no data science training (but plenty of company knowledge) send the translated document to the appropriate department. Over time, this type of problem-solving and experimentation gives your team a greater degree of control and lower costs. It also makes scaling your business processes speedier and less complex — sparing you the headache of reinventing the wheel with each iteration and update. 

Unless you’re already the size of Google or Microsoft and have millions of dollars to throw at each AI project, the key is to start small. To be sure, there will be plenty of obstacles to intelligent automation along the way. But when you’re looking to eliminate inefficiencies and use AI strategically, it’s best to start with a modest problem. In the end, this means companies of all sizes can apply AI. And far from replacing jobs, it means AI is working for the humans, not the other way around.

In the long view of human history, AI has only been around for a few years. In those short years, thanks to projects at giants like Google and Amazon, people have become much more comfortable with AI in their personal lives. Want to sync email events to your personal calendar, or use a voice command to re-order paper towels? What was unthinkable a few years ago is now mainstream — the ubiquity of mobile phones means everyone benefits from some flavor of AI, no matter their geography or income level. 

The same principles must continue in the business world, as more company leaders learn to harness AI and help employees apply it to tricky business problems. At the moment, inefficiencies abound. Most salespeople only spend 37% of their time selling, the rest on monotonous grunt work. Knowledge workers spend 30% of their days hunting down data. Digital transformation, led by AI, is one of the most fundamental shifts in the business world, and companies who don’t capitalize on this — using newly available tools — run the risk of being left behind.

Automation Hero combines RPA with AI to form an intelligent process automation platform for the enterprise. By handling the manual and repetitive tasks that constantly detract from impacting the bottom line, Automation Hero improves information worker productivity and drives more successful, optimized business outcomes. Learn more about Automation Hero here.

Automation Hero are proud sponsors of OPEX Week 2020. Learn more about the event here.