Johannesburg, 04 May 2020
Artificial intelligence (AI) can revolutionise business, but it should not be deployed unless there is a solid business case for it.
This is according to Johan Steyn, chair of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa's (IITPSA) AI and robotics special interest group (SIG), who was addressing the Institute’s first Tabling Tech Webinar this week.
Steyn said AI could improve business in areas ranging from HR, sales and finance through to R&D and customer service.
In fields such as human capital management, AI could enhance recruitment by scanning candidates’ social media feeds and monitoring their micro-expressions during interviews; it could help personalise training and development programmes and pre-empt the loss of key skills. In sales, AI could ensure products and services met customer needs and wants, and predict market changes. Research and development (R&D) could use AI to extract intelligence from existing innovations, evaluate initial ideas and even suggest new ideas based on patterns. In IT operations, AIOps could predict outage times and prevent operational problems and security breaches. And AI was already effectively in use in contact centres and to support accounting and finance functions.
However, deploying AI could be challenging if the business was not at the right stage of readiness. “AI is inevitable, but it may not be right for every business right now,” he said. “You have to look at it from a business perspective; you have to be technically and culturally ready, and you need to partner with the right organisation to roll-out any AI implementation,” he said.
“It takes time and planning to take AI into a traditional business. You need to have defined, mature processes in place first, your organisation, systems and data need to be ready, and you need to understand the business problem you are trying to address. You need to assess whether you have the necessary skills and must consider the legal and regulatory implications.”
Steyn noted that cultural readiness was one of the biggest hurdles to be overcome when deploying AI in an organisation. “Many people do not understand exactly what AI is, and fear that it will replace them at work. Introducing AI can have a massive cultural impact on the organisation, so it is important not to take a big bang approach. Start with a small pilot project that proves it doesn’t threaten jobs, but in fact helps people to do their jobs better, then only roll-out over the larger organisation.”
Steyn also stressed the importance of choosing the right implementation partner when implementing an AI project. “It should be more than a vendor relationship – it should be a partnership. Organisations should look at finer details like who will own the IP, and whether they will upskill your staff,” he said.
IITPSA’s new Tabling Tech Webinars will become a regular feature to inform both ICT professionals and business decision-makers. “The rationale behind the Tabling Tech sessions is to bring topics of ICT interest (both technical and business related) to the table for exploration and discussion, to create greater awareness and better understanding. It is a great opportunity for our members and other industry professionals to remain connected and to share knowledge and ideas,” said IITPSA CEO Tony Parry.