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Artificial intelligence: Understanding how machines learn

By: Marilyn Moodley – Country Leader for South Africa and WECA (West, East, Central Africa) at SoftwareONE

The 2020 global Government AI Readiness Index Major listed South Africa among the top five African countries with respect to government AI readiness. It was also the only African country included in Stanford’s Global AI Vibrancy Tool in 2020, which compares countries’ AI activities in terms of research and development, economy and inclusiveness.

A Microsoft study showed AI pilots are now prolific across South African companies, with businesses demonstrating a willingness to embrace new technology. But for many organisations, incorporating AI seems an intimidating endeavour – especially for those still wrestling with upgrading legacy IT. Much of the AI conversation also revolves around robots, super computers and driverless cars, making it difficult to fathom real-world business applications.

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Such applications include small-scale AI to improve internal business processes. Adopting AI to improve just one process or workflow can enhance data analysis, optimise business decision-making, and achieve greater outcomes at a quicker pace.

Here are four solid use cases for AI in the enterprise:

1. Enhancing customer experience: AI can enhance customer experience in several ways, in turn improving business efficiency and profitability. It can quickly identify pain points, such as performance issues on certain web pages, and provide the business with suggestions to auto-resolve them. It be also used to analyse customer activity and trends, for example tracking whether users are regularly engaging with certain product features. Similarly, user patterns can predict future opportunities and provide recommendations on new services customers may like to see or identify any additional products they may be interested in.

2. Improving business efficiency: Over 40% of workers spend at least a quarter of their week on manual, repetitive tasks, with email, data collection, and data entry topping the list. Using AI features in tools like Power BI, employees can become citizen developers to minimise or even remove such tasks from business processes. Not only can AI perform these operations in real-time, but also learn from previous patterns to suggest optimisation methods. This can result in huge time savings for employees, who are then able to focus their efforts on tasks that drive additional value for the business.

3. Increasing data security: By monitoring user activity, AI can learn to detect potential security threats. This can not only be employed externally to protect clients, but also internally. For instance, it could regularly analyse when certain employees log into a cloud solution, which device they used, and from which location they accessed the cloud data. Should a log-in attempt be made on an employee’s account outside business hours or from another country, AI would notice this anomaly and alert the organisation’s security team.

4. Identifying new business leads: Since AI can analyse market, customer, and company data to find patterns, it can be used to sort high-quality opportunities from low-quality offers. For example, by using AI to assess the validity of form fills, it can automatically sort official company emails as high-quality leads – as opposed to Gmail addresses that might indicate low quality leads or spam. This saves employees’ time cleaning datasets, leaving them with more time to capitalise on hot leads.

In the Microsoft survey, two thirds of South African organisations pinpointed machine learning as the AI technology most useful to them. From the above use cases, it’s clear why.

Should your organisation consider employing AI, it’s crucial to first understand your organisation’s needs and its use case for AI. Create a clear roadmap identifying which processes could most benefit from AI, what value it can bring, and how this can realistically be achieved.

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