“[AI] is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity.”
— AI oracle and venture capitalist Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, 2018
Technology has been changing the world for a long time. It's old news! In fact, I will happily place a bet that not a day goes by where you don't use some form of technology. And yet despite it being such an amazing tool for life, computers are still so bad at so many things. That's where AI, or artificial intelligence, comes in. With AI, we are training computers to perform certain routine tasks that humans were once in charge of, and in some cases, these computers are learning to do them easier, faster, and smarter than we ever could. That's why AI is becoming extremely prevalent in today's business world, and it's impacting the future of pretty much every single industry.
The good news for us humans is that AI is generally great at the things we are bad at, and vice versa. We still need humans to oversee and perform a lot of tasks!
So what can AI do better than humans?
Quickly find trends and anomalies in data or systems - Instead of us scouring through tonnes of data and realising that there is a drop in leads compared to the previous month, AI can identify that very quickly and notify us that there may be a problem.
Make predictions based on previous data - Since AI can quickly scan vast amounts of data, it can identify patterns and predict future demand so you can be prepared well in advance.
Auto-generate reports - If you've ever tried to make a report but you ended up getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data, AI can save you a lot of time and stress. Based on information in a spreadsheet, AI tools can auto-generate reports, graphs, and summaries. You tell it what to find, and it takes care of the rest.
Humans can do this stuff, and we used to! But with AI at our fingertips, it is much more feasible to have it take the reins. It saves us time and makes us more productive. When AI can easily find and report an issue, we can spend less time analysing data and more time focusing on our work.
Other ways AI is changing the world
Okay, so you save time and effort. Big deal! Maybe these use cases don't seem that relevant to you, depending on your job. In fact, the manual labour you do in your job is being encroached upon by AI and automated robots, and you're worried you won't be able to gain the other skills needed to transition into a new role.
This is a fair point, and it's important that governments and organisations consider this fact when adopting AI tools. However, by freeing up resources, AI can actually help improve the skill levels of the people who use it. Less time spent on routine tasks means more time can be spent on training and career development. And if you're worried that you won't be able to learn technology well enough to take advantage of this, AI also lowers barriers to entry.
Consider Siri, a virtual AI assistant that helps us set alarms, tells us the weather, looks important stuff up on the internet, and even amuses itself by telling us we have neither cookies nor friends when we ask it what 0 divided by 0 is - you're trying it now aren't you? For some people, phones are difficult. Whether you're visually impaired, have "sausage fingers" like my dad claims to have, or you're just not familiar enough with the technology, Siri and other AI tools make technology more accessible to a wider user base.
AI can also provide us with intelligent suggestions. For example, based on prior data, an AI tool can recommend the next best action. If you're an ecommerce seller and you have a client who clicked on an item in your email, AI can analyse this and recommend that you cross sell other relevant items. If you've ever shopped online and have seen a message that says "Customers who bought this item also bought x, y, z", that's run by an AI recommendation engine.
So instead of being a replacement for people, AI often plays a supplemental role for businesses, consumers, and individuals, meaning it works with you to extend or strengthen the whole. This opens up possibilities for people to do more advanced jobs that may have been previously inaccessible to them. While it is not yet a complete equaliser and there are still considerations that must be made in how these tools are implemented, AI can bring a multitude of benefits to a workforce and society as a whole.
Type of AI analytics
Based on how and how much access AI has to data, there are three different types of analytics it can do: descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive.
This is the most common form of analysis run in business. Descriptive analytics uses data mining - pulling data from sources, and data aggregation - compiling that data. This allows us to look at data from the past so we can learn from it. It can help businesses measure their performance, reflect on goals and targets for employees, and even see how their management strategies are stacking up. If goals aren't being met, descriptive analytics can help you identify areas of improvement.
One step further, predictive analytics uses data mining, machine learning, predictive modelling, and other statistical techniques to take your data and predict what will happen in the future. This gives managers and executives the ability to have a very proactive and data-driven approach to decision-making and strategising. Many are now using predictive analytics to identify sales trends, predict customer behaviour and purchasing patterns. Although it's not an exact science because it's based on probabilities, predictive analytics is a great tool for understanding your customers, estimating the likelihood of sales, and identifying security breaches or fraud.
Prescriptive analytics is "the final frontier of analytic capabilities" and involves both descriptive and predictive analytics with the added benefit of mathematics and computer science to tell you what happened in the past, what will happen in the future, and what could be done next. In Zoho CRM for example, sales members can see where their customers are in the purchasing funnel.
By analysing several factors, prescriptive analytics can help your sales team:
Prioritise their focus on leads that are most likely to complete a purchase
Provide strategies to convert leads that are on the fence
Prescriptive analytics is also great for sales managers as it can analyse the conversion rates of their sales team and show them where leads are getting lost in the funnel. Prescriptive analytics is not only useful for sales teams, though. It can also be beneficial when used in other sectors, like retail, healthcare, banking, and education.
How AI can help your business
Nowadays, most CRMs have built-in AI tools that can be personalised for individual clients. This includes recommending certain products their customers might be interested in, but also determining when a prospect last answered a call or opened an email in the past and suggesting the best times to call or email them.
In Zoho CRM, our built-in AI assistant Zia can pull up reports and information from across many of our applications by simply analysing human language. For example, if you ask Zia "show me a chart of leads created this month by lead source," it will only take a few seconds before a beautiful colour-coded report is generated for you to download, share, or save to your dashboard for future reference. There are a number of other ways AI can help your business, including analysing sentiment in customer support or emails, cleaning or parsing data, translating correspondence sent in different languages, detecting anomalies, threats, and trends, and more.
If you're interested in a breakdown of even more ways to use AI in your business, including how to use AI to scan package sizes and determine the best way to send large wholesale orders, you'd love this blog.
The future of AI
Consider this as a back-and-forth text message thread with a friend. You can ask follow-up questions based on the AI's response to your first question. For example, if you ask an AI assistant for the sales trends for the past year, it'll give you a graph that visually represents your sales trajectory. You can then ask the AI to show only a specific salesperson's performance, and it will pull up that information from the initial result. In the end, you'll have a complete history of questions and clear AI responses.
This is AI that not only understands and presents you with data, but can also explain how it got to that conclusion. One of the biggest concerns people have about adopting AI is the lack of trust. How can a computer inside your computer accurately give you graphs based on your data, and not tell you why or how? Explainable AI breaks down the reasons for its conclusions. For example, if your AI suggests that you'll have an increased load of website traffic between December 20 and 23, it'll also tell you that it predicts high demand because, for the past five years, your website has received most of its traffic during that period.
We recently wrote another blog that dives deeper into how you can use AI to optimise your business. Take a look!
Zoho's approach to AI
As a SaaS company, Zoho has been building AI technology for over 10 years. Everything you read above? We do all of it and more with our built-in AI tool, Zia.
Zia is designed to assist with many important business tasks, such as grammar correction, data cleaning, forecasting, facial recognition, anomalous behaviour detection, and more. We are also researching how Zia can assist with broader tasks. Scanning a receipt, for example, includes object detection, optical character recognition, parsers, and classification. Even one of those roles, say optical character recognition, involves further research like skew analysis, image binarisation, and localisation. At Zoho, we do all of this research and development in house, so Zia is never outsourcing to another tool. This keeps workflows fast, efficient, and seamless between apps.
Another reason for building everything in house is our focus on data security and privacy. Zia can identify threats and anomalous behaviour to protect our own users' data. Read more about Zoho's privacy and security policies.
Choosing AI tools
Whether you have business software that comes with an AI tool or not, AI is starting to become a part of our everyday lives. Anyone with a smartphone benefits from the convenience and efficiency of AI technology. Despite this, AI is still very new, and concerns about job displacement and user privacy and autonomy have been cropping up more and more around the world. If you are thinking about how AI can benefit your business in a deeper way through integrated software systems, we encourage you to check out our blog that discusses how to recognise a reliable cloud software vendor.