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Artificial Intelligence’s impact on the SME workforce

SMEs across ASEAN are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies and these technologies have made significant advances with a trickle of companies applying these technologies to business challenges and, in the process, blazing new trails. While many people may think of artificial intelligence as something like Star Wars or in the realm of science fiction, there are real-world applications that can help SMEs solve complex problems, such as making sense of big data, augmenting human decision-making, or providing customers with expert advice.

AI refers to the use of machine intelligence and software tools to perform human tasks. It’s a combination of many technologies including; natural language processing, machine learning, data analytics and probabilistic reasoning, which interact together, learn and make decisions in much the same way as a human does. AI is already widely used to power internet search engines, block email ‘spam’, detect credit-card fraud and translate web pages.

Two things have changed in recent years to make AI more powerful. “The first is big data: the more data you can feed into an intelligent system, allowing it to learn, the better it gets. It’s just like a baby in that respect,” says Abdul Razack, an expert at Infosys. “The second new element is the lower cost and greater availability of compute power,” says Razack. “Twenty or twenty-five years ago, it was pretty cost-prohibitive to access machines capable of processing and analysing large volumes of data. Today, computer memory, processing and storage are all available at low prices, often over the cloud—and those prices are continuing to fall by the day, ” he added. These developments have opened AI to SME budgets. But what is their value-addition to SMEs?

AI Value Add

  • SMEs who adopt AI and machine learning early will have a huge advantage because the system would have started learning about their business sooner. Machine learning cuts across all IT functions.
  • AI helps SMEs comprehend and obtain a thorough view of their clients, vendors and partners
  • Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) companies will rise to help maintain accurate and high-quality data so that AI technologies can make accurate predictions
  • Workers in labor-intensive jobs can communicate with AI-based supervisors
  • AI will extend the conventional recommendation engine to power the B2B market

AI in different functions
Nick Taylor, managing director at Accenture Digital, says AI will improve operational efficiency and enable people to focus on other, more creative tasks that can increase value for the business. “AI will work to take menial tasks off our lists, leaving us more time to think creatively,” he says adding, “Artificial intelligence will be the most exciting area of the hottest trend, and its usage will be in one-to-one conversations between buyers and marketers (in the form of chatbots and digital assistants).”

Aman Naimat, SVP of Technology, Demandbase, looks at the supply-side of the new consumer interface. “Marketers will start having hyper-personalized conversations at scale using AI,he predicts adding,“The most interesting and valuable use for AI is the ability for marketers to have one-on-one personalized conversations with buyers who know their pain points, goals and ambitions. This type of personalized communication eliminates the worthless spam that often plagues marketing today. These personalized conversations are already happening between strategic account managers, but in 2017 artificial intelligence will allow these conversations to grow beyond a select group of people. Instead, each of a company’s 10 million website visitors can expect to have a unique conversation with a brand based on their specific needs. From dynamic ad copy, to one-to-one emails and customized website experiences, AI will make hyper-personalization at scale possible.”

Similarly, Quentin Gallivan, CEO, Pentaho, predicts that “the early adopters of AI and machine learning in analytics will gain a huge first-mover advantage in the digitalization of business,” adding, “Early adopters will gain a jump start on the market in 2017 because they know that the sooner these systems begin learning about the contexts in which they operate, the sooner they will get to work mining data to make increasingly accurate predictions. This is just as true for the online retailer wanting to offer better recommendations to customers, a self-driving car manufacturer or an airport seeking to prevent the next terrorist attack.”

AI in the legal industry
The value addition of AI if used early and correctly can be seen as sensitizing an SME to it’s markets and raising accuracy in delivering its products and services. One legal firm in China has already initiated AI for legal advice, stating, “We are aiming to serve both local Chinese and foreign users in China through our ‘all rounded” package service. Essentially, users can instantly obtain accurate, reliable and understandable answers provided by our robotic lawyers that include legal consultation & guidance, references of real cases, drafting documents, and so on. In other words, our users will technically engage with our robotic lawyers via an instantaneous ‘human-like’ communication.  So far we had launched our first robot named ‘Lily’ who is a marriage & divorce robotic lawyer (currently only available in Chinese language). By the Q1 of 2017, we will launch our second robot to the family, named ‘Mike’ (will be available in both English & Chinese languages) who is a visa & migration robotic lawyer to help foreigners enter, work and settle in China.”

Costs of AI
A 2014 Deloitte and Oxford University study stated that 35 per cent of UK jobs are at high risk from automation over the next two decades, with those earning under £30,000 nearly five times more likely to be replaced than jobs earning over £100,000. Office and administrative support, sales and services, transportation and manufacturing were identified as the sectors most at risk of resulting redundancies.

SME in Asia who are keen to take advantage of the benefits of using AI in their organisations should carefully consider the financial and emotional benefits and costs before choosing what AI technologies to employ and where to use them.

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Paul Conway
Paul Conway
My role as CEO is to take the business to the next stage of growth. I already have a fantastic and growing team. There are opportunities with payments, banking channels, additional software, cloud deployment and with over 300,000 customers in South East Asia and a publicly listed majority shareholder in Censof holdings, the opportunity and tools for growth are very real.

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