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AI is Changing the World of Business; Falling Behind Is Not an Option


Elan MacDonald

One of the most well-known — and enduring — slogans in business is: “The customer is always right.” The phrase was popularized by a handful of 19th-century U.K. and American department store owners who wanted to make their customers feel special, and motivate staff to treat them as such.

More than a century later, those mammoth department stores of old are largely gone, replaced by multinationals and online vendors. But understanding and meeting the needs of customers remains at the core of business — and we now have some revolutionary tools to more accurately target and serve them.

Artificial intelligence has emerged as one of the most powerful of those tools. A global study last September by McKinsey & Company of almost 2,000 firms found that 56 per cent have already integrated AI into at least one business function — up significantly from just six per cent from the previous year. Respondents said that AI helped them reduce costs and increase revenue year over year.

But, perhaps more importantly, AI in business enhances the work of your human teams.

In my time as a consultant, I worked with a client in the radiology space. I was amazed by how they used AI as a tool to help their employees work more effectively and efficiently. They took advantage of the AI’s remarkable ability to recognize patterns to support their work. Of course, the AI didn’t replace skilled professionals, but it saved critical time, improved accuracy and allowed them to better predict instances of diseases such as cancer.

In other words, using AI helped people save time, money and most importantly generated better results. Or, as Cam Linke, CEO of Edmonton-based Amii, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, puts it: the real strength of AI is in working in concert with humans, not in isolation.

“AI can help us make better-informed, data-driven decisions, amplifying the work that people do either through allowing them to do things they couldn’t before, or by refocusing on tasks that are better uses of their time,” says Linke.

Think about the problems you have to solve every day at your business: hiring and scheduling staff, managing your supply chain, marketing a new product or service, budgeting, and retaining or attracting new customers. What would it look like if machines could help your teams work more efficiently? Think about the other tasks your staff could take on if the more rote tasks were left to the AI.

In fact, you might already be using AI-powered tools for some functions, like advertising and customer service, but the future for artificial intelligence in business is much more vast. That is particularly the case in Edmonton, which for decades has been one of the most important global hubs for AI.

The U of A has ranked No. 3 globally in AI research for more than 25 years, and in 2017 helped attract AI research leader DeepMind to open its first international lab — right here in Edmonton. Our AI experts are testing how emerging technologies like 5G and automated vehicles can be integrated into our growing cities, and developing new treatments for diseases like depression, dementia and diabetes. Researchers have also adapted AI to revolutionize complex industries, like construction, that face a lot of unpredictable challenges. It’s one more advantage you can give your business.

The customer might always be right, but if we don’t give them the services and products they want as efficiently as possible, they can and will go elsewhere. Let’s make artificial intelligence our secret weapon to ensure the Edmonton region is a global business leader.