Now, more than ever, harnessing data analytics, business intelligence (BI), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA) – made more accessible through the cloud – is crucial to business success. It provides insight into customers, and can be used to identify business challenges and drive performance.

However, to gain true competitive advantage, companies need to look further than the traditional approach to analytics, which just tries to answer a wide range of questions about a business’s historical activity. To gain real insight, organisations should start asking more specific questions and use the results to make changes in how they approach business. Old reports can still be used but modern tools help you understand what change is needed.

In situations such as the current pandemic, analysing data is crucial to deal with the problems faced by companies. By better understanding new environments through data, organisations can greatly improve their chances of overcoming the challenging economic times of this dynamic new world.

Businesses can now take advantage of tools based on Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), where specific tasks are solved with software algorithms in a way that can seem human-like. These algorithms generally learn from large amounts of historical data, and eventually find patterns and trends which help them process new input, rather than being pre-programmed for every eventuality in advance.

Powered by big data, always-on connectivity and cloud-based computing and storage, this approach to AI has produced many of the breakthroughs seen in over the last decade. Capabilities such as identifying spam emails based on the historical categorisation of spam by users, flagging of customers most likely to buy from a competitor, and even self-driving vehicles, are all powered by machine learning.

People are already using mobile apps with embedded AI capabilities in their daily lives without even realising it – think of Google Maps that automatically reroutes you when there is heavy traffic, or your bank alerting you to unusual credit card transactions. AI applications have been developed to act as a ‘seeing eye’ that provides aural input to blind people based on their surroundings.

AI in the business world

In the business world, AI is being used in a variety of areas including chatbots, cybersecurity, anti-spam software, and marketing-related solutions, such as highly targeted ads. You can even import a spreadsheet from a photo taken with a mobile device straight into Microsoft Excel. AI is also key to solving problems that are too large-scale (or expensive) to address using brain power alone: tagging diseases such as lung cancer from CT scans and X-Rays with far higher accuracy and capacity than human doctors.

Organisations are further turning to AI to help them move away from simply selling products, to offering services, such as the case of General Electric moving from selling turbines to offering an always-on electricity generation service – and predictive maintenance also plays a part in this.

Despite all the hype around AI, the technology can still deliver on the fundamental requirements of business software: reducing costs and increasing profits. Where it differs from traditional solutions is in the new approaches it enables decision-makers to embrace. And these are the areas where companies can really start excelling in as they head towards a digital future.

While automation has always been a focus area when it comes to computing-centric solutions, RPA – where the business is starting to look for opportunities to allow a robotic agent to do more of the menial work and let people refocus on where they can deliver better value – has finally become a driver for growth, though this requires that companies reskill their employees for the digital age.

We are only scratching the surface with these and other AI-driven solutions. There is so much potential in the market given how much data is available and the cost-effectiveness of using these high-performance computing solutions in the cloud. While there are no quick fixes to the current challenges that companies face, AI, automation, BI and other technologies can be used to unlock value and outperform competitors.

By Paul Morgan, Business Unit Lead – Data, Planning, and Analytics at Altron Karabina.

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