HBR: 3 Types of Real World AI to Support Your Business Today – AI Trends


Credit: James Wheaton and Andrew Nguyen

In 2013, the MD Anderson Cancer Center launched a “moon shot” project: diagnose and recommend treatment plans for certain forms of cancer using IBM’s Watson cognitive system. But in 2017, the project was put on hold after costs topped $62 million—and the system had yet to be used on patients. At the same time, the cancer center’s IT group was experimenting with using cognitive technologies to do much less ambitious jobs, such as making hotel and restaurant recommendations for patients’ families, determining which patients needed help paying bills, and addressing staff IT problems.

The results of these projects have been much more promising: The new systems have contributed to increased patient satisfaction, improved financial performance, and a decline in time spent on tedious data entry by the hospital’s care managers. Despite the setback on the moon shot, MD Anderson remains committed to using cognitive technology—that is, next-generation artificial intelligence—to enhance cancer treatment, and is currently developing a variety of new projects at its center of competency for cognitive computing.

The contrast between the two approaches is relevant to anyone planning AI initiatives. Our survey of 250 executives who are familiar with their companies’ use of cognitive technology shows that three-quarters of them believe that AI will substantially transform their companies within three years. However, our study of 152 projects in almost as many companies also reveals that highly ambitious moon shots are less likely to be successful than “low-hanging fruit” projects that enhance business processes. This shouldn’t be surprising—such has been the case with the great majority of new technologies that companies have adopted in the past. But the hype surrounding artificial intelligence has been especially powerful, and some organizations have been seduced by it.

In this article, we’ll look at the various categories of AI being employed and provide a framework for how companies should begin to build up their cognitive capabilities in the next several years to achieve their business objectives.

Three Types of AI

It is useful for companies to look at AI through the lens of business capabilities rather than technologies. Broadly speaking, AI can support three important business needs: automating business processes, gaining insight through data analysis, and engaging with customers and employees.

Process automation.

Of the 152 projects we studied, the most common type was the automation of digital and physical tasks—typically back-office administrative and financial activities—using robotic process automation technologies. RPA is more advanced than earlier business-process automation tools, because the “robots” (that is, code on a server) act like a human inputting and consuming information from multiple IT systems. Tasks include:

  • transferring data from e-mail and call center systems into systems of record—for example, updating customer files with address changes or service additions;
  • replacing lost credit or ATM cards, reaching into multiple systems to update records and handle customer communications;
  • reconciling failures to charge for services across billing systems by extracting information from multiple document types; and
  • “reading” legal and contractual documents to extract provisions using natural language processing.RPA is the least expensive and easiest to implement of the cognitive technologies we’ll discuss here, and typically brings a quick and high return on investment. (It’s also the least “smart” in the sense that these applications aren’t programmed to learn and improve, though developers are slowly adding more intelligence and learning capability.) It is particularly well suited to working across multiple back-end systems.At NASA, cost pressures led the agency to launch four RPA pilots in accounts payable and receivable, IT spending, and human resources—all managed by a shared services center. The four projects worked well—in the HR application, for example, 86% of transactions were completed without human intervention—and are being rolled out across the organization. NASA is now implementing more RPA bots, some with higher levels of intelligence. As Jim Walker, project leader for the shared services organization notes, “So far it’s not rocket science.”

One might imagine that robotic process automation would quickly put people out of work. But across the 71 RPA projects we reviewed (47% of the total), replacing administrative employees was neither the primary objective nor a common outcome. Only a few projects led to reductions in head count, and in most cases, the tasks in question had already been shifted to outsourced workers. As technology improves, robotic automation projects are likely to lead to some job losses in the future, particularly in the offshore business-process outsourcing industry. If you can outsource a task, you can probably automate it.

Read the source article at Harvard Business Review.

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