How to pump-up your business using AI

Last Updated on Friday, 9 December, 2022 at 2:59 pm by Andre Camilleri

A no-frill guide for people without an Artificial Intelligence background

Alexiei Dingli

The world we live in is changing rapidly. New technologies emerge almost every year, and businesses have to decide whether to adopt them 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. Whether you are a small retailer or a large corporation, you are not only using them but most probably you depend on them!

Just think about your email client, the spam filter is saving you hours of sifting through useless emails. Or maybe Facebook ads, it’s personalised targeting mechanism helps your adverts reach the audiences which matter. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and with a little more effort, you can do so much more!

I can imagine what you’re thinking;

  • It seems like the best way forward, or is it?
  • It looks like many businesses can benefit, but does it apply to mine?
  • It sounds so easy, yet I have no idea where to start!

These are, of course, very legitimate questions and it is good that you are asking them. If you are not convinced that AI can bring benefit to your business, how can you embark on such a project in the first place?

But let me ask you a couple more questions before explaining how to go about it;

  • Do you feel that if things stay the same, your business will keep on growing?
  • Are you going to sit there, while other companies benefit from AI?

If you answered yes, to any of those questions, you could stop here. However, I find it hard to believe. After all, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said: The only constant in life is change!

Even though your business is growing as is, this might not be the case in the long run. Just think about how the pandemic disrupted the global economies and how legacy companies which have been around for decades collapsed in a matter of months. If you want to do something today, to make sure that it doesn’t happen, then you should take the first steps.

Transforming an organisation into an AI company is not merely achieved by sprinkling some AI inside the business processes. Of course, there are many snake oil salesman around selling out of the box solutions. In reality, very few of these can offer some tangible benefits. The reason is simple; to gain the most advantage out of AI, the company needs to understand it and appreciate what it can do for the organisation. After all, every organisation is different, and plugging in a one-size-fits-all AI model does not work.

Because of this, the organisation has to undergo an AI Transformation (AIT) process. This process has been tried and tested with different organisations and is guaranteed to work because it is simple to understand, easy to implement and effective. Let’s face it, businesses, especially the small ones do not have the expertise to understand AI, they do not have the means to implement large projects, and they need quick return so that they can invest further.

This transformation is also a gradual process which ushers employees into this new era of adopting AI tools while dispelling their fears of being replaced. For the business, the monetary investment needed is aligned to the company’s resources, thus helping them deploy solutions within their budget. Furthermore, the return on investment is enough to reinvest in more significant and ambitious AI projects. It is this cycle that helps the business transform into a thriving AI company.

The change process is rather easy when guided by an AI expert and comprises of 3 simple steps. Its simplicity makes it possible for any organisation to embark on AI projects which bring real value to the organisation, hence why it is so successful.

In the first step, all the relevant stakeholders attend a gentle introduction to AI. The scope of these sessions is not to turn them into AI experts but rather to help them understand AI and what it can do for them. It is essential at this stage to get them to learn about best practices in their field and urge them to dream about potential applications in their workplace. The stakeholders can be varied and may range from the most junior clerk up to the top manager. It is essential to understand that apart from coaching these employees to embrace AI, we are also stimulating their brain cells with the hope of eliciting potential AI solutions in future exercises. Apart from the necessary AI foundations, the session also includes case studies of AI systems which manage processes similar to what they use. By doing so, it will help them relate to their situation, and see how they can make effective use of such systems. Most important of all, the expert will help them to dream. Remember that AI is all about achieving objectives which might not have been possible before like …

  • Reach the customers which matter irrespective of where they are located.
  • Offer online services, book appointments and answer common queries 24/7.

And much much more. The stakeholders have to think out of the box and imagine what they can do. Towards the end of these sessions, it is crucial to understand the direct value-added which AI adds to any business.

The second step is to conduct an AI readiness audit. Decision-makers need to understand clearly why their organisation is embarking on an AI transformation process. They need to see the benefits of such a change, and more importantly, they need to know when to expect a financial return. Luckily, to help them with this decision, there are many schemes which organisations can benefit from, making it easy for them to kickstart AI projects (since the capital outlay is very low). The audit assesses the fundamental, operational and transformative readiness of the organisation. Following the review, the recommendations will form part of an AI transformation strategy document. The document defines a custom-made roadmap aimed at guiding the organisation in its journey to become an AI company. Through this strategy, the company has to leverage on the power of AI to gain specific advantages within the industry. It must capitalise 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. After this exercise, the organisation will have a better understanding of its potential within an AI-enhanced ecosystem, thus saving it vast amounts of money while launching it towards new opportunities.

The final step is the actual implementation of the strategy. While small businesses might find it hard to develop these projects inhouse, they can easily outsource them to ICT companies that have AI expertise. Larger organisations might find it more beneficial to set up a proper structure within their organisation. They would need a team of people capable of supporting, planning, developing and advising on the implementation processes. An AI unit is a horizontal unit whose aim is to support the entire organisation and its targets. Since AI is a massive field of study which covers numerous topics, the company can also consult with AI experts based upon specific projects.

A pertinent question at this stage concerns the duration of such projects. While small organisations can expect to be up and running in a few months, larger projects normally take between 2–3 years, with concrete results being felt within the first year. Investing in such a process will not only keep the organisation ahead of its competitors but it will also allow it to leverage the power of AI technologies to advance the organisation as a whole.

The question you should be asking yourself now is not “whether this revolution will hit you?”, but rather “when it is going to hit you?”. I understand that changing your organisation 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, get a professional AI expert to have a look at your processes and discuss possible projects over a cup of tea. He will then 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 (keeping in mind the financial support schemes which exist). But remember that only by investing in such a change, can you guarantee to stay ahead of your competitors, leverage the AI capabilities of your organisation and pump-up your business using AI.

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.

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In 1994, the Malta Business Weekly became the first newspaper fully dedicated to business. Today this newspaper is a leader in business and financial news. Together with the launch of the MBW newspaper, the company started organising various business breakfasts to discuss various current issues that were targeting the business community in Malta.