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The future of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence has significant potential in South Africa, but must be applied correctly if it is to be successful.
Read time 4min 10sec

With decision-makers under pressure to not only embrace the likes of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, but also the fourth industrial revolution agenda, they must draw a distinction between what is real and what is hype.

AI has significant potential in the country, but it must be applied correctly if it is to be successful.

Increasing from $9.5 billion in 2018 to an expected $118.6 billion by 2025, AI has certainly become one of the fastest-growing ICT industries. And even though some analysts anticipate manufacturing will experience the highest AI usage growth, all sectors of the market will likely benefit from this approach that will fundamentally disrupt the way business is done.

One of the underlying advantages of using AI-led systems, is how it is making work not only easier but more efficient as well. This enables information workers and blue-collar workers alike to focus on other functions.

So, instead of viewing AI as something that will replace all jobs, people should see it as an enabler to deliver more value to their organisations while giving themselves better skills for a connected future.

Repositioning AI as the means to augment what employees are doing in subtle ways could certainly be one of its biggest contributions to the workforce in the future. Simply put, the contributions AI could make to every job function in the organisation can quickly add up to translate into significant business optimisations.

Labour efficiencies

Already, 61% of organisations cite AI and machine learning as their most significant data initiatives for the immediate future. This has resulted in the growth in demand for data scientists and other technical professions. But it has also given businesses the opportunity to reskill their employees to deliver more strategic insight.

Companies must be willing to continually assess their goals and strategic directives in the light of the insights AI will unlock.

This stands to reason as AI is taking care of admin-intensive and repetitive job functions that used to wind up taking a lot of company resources. Suddenly, people can focus on those aspects of their work where they can deliver the best business value – human intelligence aided by real-time data analytics.

As technology becomes more adept at taking over the computational workload at scale, decision-makers are positioned to enhance the job responsibilities of their employees. Giving them the tools (and AI-driven insights) they need, workers will evolve to focus on analytics as the means to deliver more nuanced products and services to stakeholders.

Automation cometh

Many organisations are using AI technologies to embrace automation quicker than they would have thought possible. And despite what cynics may argue, automation leads to better job creation as companies optimise the data at their disposal to identify niche areas where future growth will come from. This will require focused employees capable of delivering the products and services in those categories.

AI will underpin the move from on-premises environments to cloud-based ones. If not for the cloud (and the increased availability of local data centres), South African businesses would not have access to the computational resources required to fully harness the benefits of AI decision-making.

In turn, this empowers them to focus on growth. The future work environment will be less geared towards cost reduction and more towards fully unlocking the potential of all a company’s resources – human and otherwise.

So, when it comes to AI, companies should think less about robots and more about the small touches introduced to improve the decision-making processes that fill employees’ days.

Increasingly, people will work with systems that have capabilities to deliver intelligence in ways previously unimagined. How they use that intelligence to enhance their roles and responsibilities will depend greatly on how open the organisation is to this.

The opportunities that AI can unlock inside a company are significant. Instead of making it the scapegoat for job cuts, it must be positioned as the means to deliver enhanced value to employees.

But this technology adoption will mean very little if there is no organisational will to change and adapt. Companies must be willing to continually assess their goals and strategic directives in the light of the insights AI will unlock.

Using the technology will just be one part of the approach. A readiness to evolve will be a fundamental second component.

Are you planning to use AI to drive business advantage in the coming years? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas (https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulmorgan8/) as I unpack the business case for the technology. 

Paul Morgan
Business unit lead for data, planning and analytics at Altron Karabina.

He joined Altron Karabina in 2018 as competency lead for data and analytics.

Morgan recognises there is an opportunity for organisations to better engage with customers and employees by leveraging internal and external data with data science and analytic solutions. By utilising modern data frameworks, both in the cloud and on-premises, they can optimise existing operations, as well as transform their products.

He has been involved in business intelligence and analytics since he arrived in South Africa in 1998. In 2004, he became MD of ASYST Intelligence, a SAP BusinessObjects partner, where he grew the company from a team of four employees to over 45.

In 2014, he merged the company into Decision Inc. where he worked for three years as CTO, dealing with technologies across the company, including Qlik, Tableau, Microsoft and SAP.

Morgan holds a first-class honours degree in computer science from Loughborough University in the UK, where he won the Ford New Holland prize for his final year project on natural language processing.

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