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An introduction to artificial intelligence & automation

Jonathan Whiteside
Jonathan Whiteside
Global SVP Technology & Engineering
5 min read
2 February 2016

One of the great pioneers of artificial intelligence (AI), Marvin Minsky, recently passed away at the grand old age of 88. His passing coincided with the AI project, DeepMind, finally defeating a human player at a game of Go, marking a milestone in the history of artificial intelligence.

As artificial intelligence quickly develops, so too does automation. Automation makes use of AI advances, as well as those in related fields like cloud computing and big data. Far from being limited to the race for driverless vehicles or continued progress in manufacturing and medical robotics, automation is set to impact every area of life and is, arguably, already doing so.

In order to increase competitiveness and gain flexibility, it’s important to consider how automation will affect your business and how it could be used to enhance it.

Increasing intelligence

The pace of expansion has been rapid. Whether it’s helping to keep oil refineries runningsimplifying marketing and business workflows, or running customer support, automation and AI are increasingly able to handle more complex tasks.

As the below infographic from Shivon Zilis shows, machine intelligence and the associated tools, systems and platforms are expanding into all areas of business.

Automation organisations are also tackling the hurdle of how to package and promote automation technology/services. The companies who make these technologies have learned to target specific business problems, and communicate more effectively with the corporate world.

With this increased engagement and marketing sophistication, automation companies can start to work with businesses and their consultants to leverage digital tools in the best way possible, or develop unique applications based on their technology.

Make use of automation

There are various ways automation can fit in well with your business and help you to increase quality and efficiency. Whether you’re in e-commerce, B2B or anything and everything in between, processes can be improved allowing you to reach customers more easily.

  • Efficiency
    Campaigns can be scheduled and tested ahead of time, while the managment of multiple channels can be simplified.
  • Integration
    Tools are increasingly designed to integrate with your existing systems, meaning that leads and information are not lost.
  • Personalisation
    Email communication, ad retargeting and automatic storage of customer preference and behaviour can all be used to drive sales and continually improve user experience.
  • Time
    Streamlining your CRM, marketing and administrative workflows through automation can free up resources to focus on quality and develop new skills, approaches and business areas.
  • Flexibility
    With a strong digital platform and tools in place you can adapt more easily to changing markets and new developments.

Automation vs. human resources?

A 2013 study from the University of Oxford identified several key ‘bottlenecks’ standing in the way of automation, and outlined how big data and cloud computing is helping to overcome these.

One of the main findings from the Oxford study was that 47% of US jobs are at risk of computerisation, and that we can reasonably infer a similar impact around the world. Understandably, this statistic has drawn more than its fair share of sensational headlines, nevertheless it is a serious point worth examining.

Outlooks on this issue are mixed. Some commentators warn about the possibility of large numbers of jobs simply disappearing, while others argue that although work displacement is probable, we cannot imagine what new fields and industries will be developed in the future.

While the debate around these questions continues, the fact remains that efficiency driven through choosing automation over labour is only one of several potential avenues. The use of automated tools and powerful new systems can also be seen as a way to free up resources and, thereby, improve the skills of your team and the level of their work. If you think your team is good now, imagine how good they could be with more time to focus on quality and development.

As software tester James Bach says about automation in his field, “automated testing is useful for extending the reach of the testers’ work, not to replace it.”
Managing the organisational change associated with the implementation of new platforms and automation tools is a key consideration of digital transformation.

Risk and opportunity

Many processes and tasks are being opened up to automation, and it looks set to change the business landscape dramatically. Like all shifts in the business world, this brings both risks and opportunities.

Ensure that you have the necessary expertise to understand the technical challenges your organisation faces, and how to make the most of the technology. Consider whether your existing digital platform is robust enough to start applying and integrating some of these solutions and new ways of working.

The potential for efficiency and growth from automation is huge, not to mention the flexibility it could bring to your business. However, like any investment, increased use of automation needs to be well placed, well planned and relevant to the real world business problems you face.

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Global SVP Technology & Engineering

Jonathan Whiteside