You know you are behind in AI. But you may not be as far off as you imagine. Here are some simple steps to get AI Ready
The concept of Artificial Intelligence has been with us for a long, long time. It’s appeared in ancient myths and spilled into popular culture, from Metropolis to Terminator’s killer robots. Over the past decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has gone from wouldn’t-it-be-nice marketing fantasy to a full-on customer engagement hype cycle, with companies across a range of industries seeking a way to boost productivity and level up their brand experiences.
People tend to stop considering something to be AI once it becomes a regular part of their lives. No one opens their inbox and thinks, “Spam free again—thank you, AI!” or marvels at the arcane wonders of Microsoft Word correcting their grammar. But these applications are as much an application of artificial intelligence as IBM’s Watson; we just take them for granted.
When people talk about “artificial intelligence” in a modern context, they’re usually referring to a system that’s been designed to learn from data and use it to carry out a particular task. That task could be anything from filtering email spam to driving a car, but it is always focused and specific. These AI tools are real and powerful at executing the specific use cases they were built for. Google’s spam filter can keep your inbox pristine, but it can’t play chess or control a self-driving car. And that’s okay, as long as what it can do fits what you need it to do.
How can your brand get ready to use AI?
Many brands think they’re behind in leveraging AI for their customer engagement efforts—maybe you’re one of them. But while it can be tempting to jump ahead and dive into AI full bore, you first need to ensure you’re prepared to leverage it effectively.
Even if you don’t have AI systems on your radar now, ensure your company has taken the table-stakes steps to make the most of this kind of technology. The future is looking increasingly data-driven, and companies that pile on data debt instead of taking steps to get their houses in order simply won’t be able to respond effectively to the changing landscape they’ll face.
From the beginning, make sure you’re collecting customer information and other data in ethical, sustainable ways. New legislation like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the 2018 California Consumer Privacy Act are putting a spotlight on how companies are managing user data, and it’s increasingly likely that brands’ ability to hoover up endlessly huge quantities of data will go away in the coming years. As a result, it’s going to become even more essential to gather and protect the customer data you do have access to in a thoughtful, deliberate way.
Once you’ve tightened up your data, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your business’ goals. AI is a means to an end, and to use it effectively you should be crystal clear about what that end is. That means understanding where your company is today and where it’s likely to be in ten years, and identifying places where AI can positively impact your path there. By creating that sort of strategic roadmap, you’re creating a framework for your company to actually start looking at automating parts of your efforts using AI.
A common trap is assuming that AI will solve problems that you don’t understand, or that it will help your business in some kind of vague, general way, as if there’s a button you can press that says “Engage my customers… better.” That’s just not how AI works, and investing in it without being clear about what you’re trying to accomplish is a recipe for failure.
Another common downfall? Not understanding what’s possible and what isn’t with the AI systems available to your business. Before you start trying to use AI to support your efforts, make sure you’re clear about the capabilities the systems you’re looking at can really bring. Study up on what machine learning is good at doing, what the real applications are—both because there’s a lot of snake oil and because AI is only going to become more important.
It’s like this: if you’re doing yardwork, look outside and figure out what has to happen and what tools you need to accomplish everything. If you need to build a stone wall, don’t buy a chainsaw —only buy a chainsaw if you really need to cut down a bunch of trees (and definitely don’t buy a chainsaw just because you read that chainsaw-ownership is the mark of an innovative brand). You need to know what AI can accomplish and what your goals are. Once you have that, then you can figure out how to apply it to your business. And that, ultimately, is how you make a difference for your customers.
Unless the killer robots get us first ;-).