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Why leaders should be using AI in their businesses right now

16 Sep 2021

Vinod Kumar

Vodafone Business, CEO

Artificial Intelligence is no new concept. The phrase was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956[1], when he invited a group of researchers to discuss the notion of ‘thinking machines’ during a conference at Dartmouth College.

Since then, it has been a point of fascination for scientists, academics, software developers, and moviemakers alike.

Fast-forward to today where you’ll find lots of examples hiding in plain sight. From digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, who use AI to learn from user interactions, to automated email responses and search engines predicting what you’re looking for.

For businesses, the challenge is keeping up with the changing business environment and new data sources, as AI models need to be continuously retrained, but if we’re going to stay competitive and be ready for the software-driven world of tomorrow, reaching AI maturity is a must.

The data problem

The need for AI, stems from data. As technologies like Cloud and IoT have matured, businesses have more data than ever at their fingertips but the truth is, only a small percentage are using this to their advantage.

In our own research, we found that 73% of businesses said effectively harnessing the data they collect is a major challenge.

And it’s no surprise. Having humans sift through this data, join the dots and be able to make actionable insights is a near impossible task. Especially when you consider the rate at which we’re getting this information – often in real-time thanks to the lightning speeds of new networks like 5G and Wi-Fi 6.

If we can use AI to automate that process, we not only increase productivity and efficiency across the business but, using these insights, we can reduce costs, grow revenue and improve the customer experience.

Improving your services

Arguably this is the area where AI is currently having the biggest impact.

As customers increasingly expect an ‘always on’, personalised service, virtual assistants like Chatbots have become a popular tool.

Able to answer questions and provide information straight away, at any time of the day, they can free up customer service teams to focus on those who need additional support – providing better customer satisfaction (CSAT) and insights that can further improve the service.

TOBi is Vodafone’s friendly digital assistant transforming the customer experience

This is reactive though, and where AI can add the most value is in its predictive capabilities.

For instance, if you know what the customer wants and needs, you can identify the best channels and times to reach them through advertising and marketing – making content more targeted.

Sales teams can use AI for customer profiling, identifying which deals and customer to target based on past interactions and even taking into account social media posts. Recommendations can also include how-to price deals.

At Vodafone, we’re using AI to detect and correct anomalies on our mobile network before customers are even effected – a technique being used to bolster cybersecurity strategies too, making it possible to stop cyberattacks in their tracks.

A happy workforce

Already you can see how artificial intelligence will benefit the workforce.

Contrary to the view that robots are coming to steal our jobs, I believe they will support current teams by removing repetitive, time-intensive admin tasks and streamlining existing processes. This frees up employees’ time to focus on more impactful work, problem solving and innovation.

This can be seen across the supply chain. Warehouses and production plants are becoming increasingly automated and, during the pandemic, we’ve seen robots delivering groceries.

According to the World Economic Forum's "The Future of Jobs Report 2020", AI is expected to replace 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025, but it will also create 97 million new jobs in that same timeframe[2].

As a result, organisations will have to look at “reskilling” and “upskilling” employees to equip them for this future of work.

Removing bias

Looking at the bigger picture, AI also has the power to support wider business goals around sustainability and diversity and inclusion.

Research has shown that a diverse workforce leads to innovation and growth, because it brings together people of different backgrounds and mindsets to foster creativity.

So, what’s stopping it? Well, we are. Often without even realising, companies and co-workers are biased when it comes to recruiting, retaining and engaging talent.

Using machine learning algorithms to sift through applications for new hires or promotions can reduce these biases, and AI-powered tools can ensure language in the job advert is gender-neutral – diversifying the range of applicants.

There is still a long way to go though. Existing human bias is often transferred to machines by developers and there are other statistical challenges, like when random data is selected, it is not always reflective of the entire population.

To mitigate this, businesses should incorporate inclusion in the design process, building AI models that take into consideration diverse groups and do user testing before release.

STEEPV (social, technological, economic, environmental, political and values) analysis can remove personal experiences by looking at external factors influencing trends, allowing you to keep work aligned to the company’s values. With 64% of candidates saying that diversity plays an important role in their decision to accept a job – the war for talent is upon us, so we must address this topic and fast.

Supporting sustainability goals

When it comes to sustainability, a key challenge for every business, AI technology can give visibility of carbon footprints, waste, deforestation, and extreme weather patterns, as well as help to build greener electricity and transport systems.

For example, a number of airlines are using it already to boost fuel efficiency across flights and as our cities become smarter, public services will be able to leverage data to schedule public transport or reroute traffic to reduce congestion on roads.

At Vodafone, we are using AI algorithms in our infrastructure to optimise energy use in cooling and Google are doing the same for their data centres.

Research by PwC UK and Microsoft found that AI could reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 4% by 2030. This may sound like a small amount, but this reduction equates to 2.4 gigatons, which is equivalent to the predicted annual 2030 emissions of Australia, Canada and Japan combined.

Keeping up with the competition

What AI really brings, is the ability to do more in the same time frame. It feeds innovation and agility, allowing you to react at speed to changing business and buyer trends – giving you an edge against the competition and future-proofing your organisation.

What leaders need to think about when implementing an AI strategy, is what problems they are trying to solve and then what will bring the most value to the business. The key is to start small and build out from there.

Learn more about our own artificial intelligence framework and how we’re using it across our networks.

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