The world we live in, is changing rapidly. A new technology comes along almost every year and businesses have to decide whether to adapt it or not. The new kid on the block is without doubt Artificial Intelligence (AI). Really and truly, AI is not a new kid because it has been around for almost seven decades. The technologies under the hood are mature and widely used by everyone even though many people do not realize that they are using them already, irrespective of whether they are small retailers or large corporations.
Transforming an organization into an AI company is not simply achieved by sprinkling some AI inside the business processes. The company needs to sufficiently understand AI and appreciate what it can do for the organization, after all, every organization is different and a one-size-fits-all AI model does not exist. To achieve this, an organization has to undergo an AI Transformation Process (AITP) whereby potential areas of improvement can be identified and valuable AI projects can be implemented. These can then either be outsourced or else delivered through in-house talent. But in the end, it is very important to recognize the direct value added which it contributes to the business.
Above all, the business’s strategic direction too needs to be aligned. To do so, we need to instil a culture which is not afraid to use the data (lying in the heart of the various processes) in order to improve those process. The system has to measure its own progress, gauge the distance from the goals which form part of the strategic direction of the organization and take action to bring forth alignment. It may sound daunting but with the right people, such a challenging task will become feasible. Small organization can expect to be up and running in a few months whilst larger ones normally take between 2–3 years, with concrete results being felt within the first year. Investing in such a process will not only keep any organization ahead of its competitors but it will also allow it to leverage the power of AI technologies in order to advance the organization as a whole.
The first step of the AITP is training. AI expertise is very rare to find, it is estimated that there are just around 40,000 AI experts around the world. Many people still do not understand what AI is all about even though; they use it on a daily basis and it will affect their job in the near future. Because of this, everyone should have the opportunity to understand and adapt to the new roles which will be created in this new technological era. Training is essential since it can help administrators foresee the power of AI, plan for its adoption and motivate employees to learn about the various tools which can transform their job.
The second step of the AITP is to conduct a readiness audit. Decision makers need to understand whether their organization is ready to embark on a fruitful transformation process. Because of this, an audit is conducted in order to assess the fundamental, operational and transformative readiness of the organization. Through the audit, organizations will have a better understanding of their company and its potential within an AI enhanced ecosystem thus saving them huge amounts of money.
The third step involves the drafting of an AI strategy which defines a custom-made roadmap aimed at guiding the organization in its journey to become an AI company. Through this strategy, the company has to leverage on the power of AI in order to gain specific advantages within the industry. It must capitalize over the data available which is the fuel for most AI algorithms and plan to build AI assets which are inline to a coherent strategy. This will eventually create a ripple effect which will ensure sustainable growth using AI technologies.
The fourth step is to increase their AI capacity. Whilst most small organizations should probably be fine with outsourcing their AI enabled technologies, larger organizations might find it more beneficial to setup a proper structure in place. They need a team of people capable of supporting, planning, developing and advising on the processes to implement. An AI unit is a horizontal unit whose aim is to support the entire organization and its targets.
The question you should be asking yourself at this stage is not “whether this revolution will hit you?”, but rather “when it is going to hit you?”. I understand that changing your organization into a great AI company might sound daunting at first but it is feasible with the support of experts in the field. As a start, it would simply involve getting a professional AI expert to have a look at your processes. He will give you an indication of what you can achieve, by exploring various possibilities before going further with an in-depth analysis. Then you can decide how far you would like to take this transformation. But remember that only by investing in such a transformation, can you guarantee to stay ahead of your competitors and leverage the AI capabilities of your organisation in order to significantly move forward.
Prof Alexiei Dingli is a Professor of AI at the University of Malta. He has been conducting research and working in the field of AI for more than two decades, assisting different companies to implement AI solutions. His work has been rated World Class by international experts and he won several local and international awards (such as those by the European Space Agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations to name a few). He has published several peer-reviewed publications and forms part of the Malta.AI task-force which was setup by the Maltese government, aimed at making Malta one of the top AI countries in the world.