The sooner we understand AI better, the sooner we can all benefit from its undeniable ability to transform businesses.

This very minute, businesses have the potential to significantly change the way they operate. And it is up to us, as well as our partners and resellers, to help them understand the power of AI, and ways it can be implemented into their organisation.

Although this is less about the functionalities of ‘how’ to do it and more about ‘why’, it is a critical business tool to aid in growth.

‘Selling’ the concept of AI

Myles Matheson, a Data & AI specialist at Microsoft New Zealand, says the first step in talking to customers about AI is to understand what it means to them.

“The term is often misinterpreted and can be quite ambiguous, in that it has different meanings to different people.

“So it is a good idea to focus on how it is able to ‘enhance’ the human condition by reducing the time a task takes. And that could be anything from automation of a particular operation, to strengthen a product or service, creating a new experience, or alleviating a business challenge.”

And Myles is quick to reassure that this isn’t about replacing employees, but rather offloading some of the more repetitive jobs to create more time to focus on greater productivity. For example, Microsoft’s Cortana is able to negotiate meeting requests, select times with others based on the availability in any individual’s calendar and actually book the meeting in.

Of course this is a simple task that may only take up five to 10 minutes in anyone’s day, but how much time could this be over a week, month or year? And this is where the path to AI begins.

Effective ways to transform a business with AI

From basic activities right through to providing qualified information so organisations can make quick decisions, AI is already changing and transforming New Zealand businesses.

In 2016, Microsoft partnered with Schneider Electric to develop an agriculture irrigation solution that would allow farmers to monitor and control their equipment remotely, and the results have been staggering.

From 30 per cent water savings, to 50 per cent energy reduction, the application also allows farmers to adjust and shift individual irrigation pivots depending on wind direction (to avoid damage) rainfall and crop requirements. But it also goes one step further, providing data analysis to trigger an alert if something is wrong, identify price trends to pump more when required and it can also be automated to optimise for cheaper electricity at night.

The cost savings from this AI technology is significant, but in a practical sense it also means farmers aren’t having to physically move across multiple locations on a daily basis, and they are also able to make accurate and informed decisions depending on historical data and machine-learning knowledge – a critical element when dealing with weather-related issues.

This is just one example of a compelling business transformation from integrating AI into daily operations, and Myles says it is time for more businesses and their IT partners to work on ways they can benefit from available AI technology.

“One of the things we are working on with a lot of customers is moving away from a ‘product-centric’ view to focus more on being ‘customer-centric’. Through machine-learning, it is possible to optimise key business processes, and provide recommendations based on collected data.

“So instead of reviewing products, we are reviewing the customer’s preferences – how they want to be communicated to, how their lives would be made easier by a solution or service, what experience and journey they want to have and by understanding their last action, knowing what they may want next.”

And there’s no need to be overwhelmed by the possibilities. Simple solutions – like chat bots – can be an innovative way to improve customer experience by making bookings, answering questions, or reduce the time spent qualifying them for a service or product.

For each business or organisation the AI requirements will vary, but it is about starting the conversation to understand where it could make a difference.

Why these conversations must begin now

Myles notes that the biggest challenge facing businesses today is how to do what they do in a different way to their competitors. He sees organisations looking at how they can be more digital to achieve greater productivity with their existing investments, and that AI is imperative for getting the best out of their business.

“It allows you to be more competitive in a local and global economy by making accurate decisions much more quickly – it really does give you an edge.

“More and more we are seeing businesses arrive on the market that are already automated and enhanced by the use of AI, and if you are not focusing on what it can do for your organisation, unfortunately you will get left behind.”

What tools and/or training is available through Microsoft right now?

Getting started is really simple. Myles suggests trying some of the Cortana intelligence services to understand how it can be used, and to also consider developing a chat bot. And in all cases – Microsoft is already equipped to help on the journey to AI.

“Our online tools have been created to assist at every stage, from providing predictive models to forecast activities, to a template for customer churn that can identify those who may be looking to move on from your organisation based on past behaviour.

“We have a whole series of machine learning programmes as well as training, certifications and events happening around the country.”

AI technology has the ability to increase revenue, create new products and/or services, and target a customer market in a more intimate way, and the benefit of this is two-fold – greater client satisfaction, and the growth of our own businesses.

Upskill with the Microsoft Professional Program

From Big Data to Data Science, Cloud Computing, Software Development, and Artificial Intelligence, the Microsoft Professional Program (MPP) is a series of online free training courses providing real-world skills and hands-on instruction. While they can be rigorous, they are also rewarding, with the flexibility to master skills at your own pace. To learn more click here.

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