Avoiding the pitfalls around an Artificial Intelligence implementation

It may be because I am so very interested in AI, but it feels to me that everywhere I look nowadays, I see news about how AI is changing the world. Not a day passes when I do not see new press releases, innovations being announced, and new breakthroughs being bragged about. There is now not one single industry that is not being affected by advances in AI technology.

If you still think AI is all just hype, then I would like to know “where have you been?” It is no longer a vision of the future, some dystopian land from a book or a movie. AI is here right now, and we are all consumers of this technology (think about most of the apps on your smartphone). Almost every major business is implementing AI or planning to do so soon.

I hope that you, as a business leader, are doing what you can to understand this technology. It is not necessarily a technical understanding you need to acquire, but you need to know how the implementation of AI will impact your business, your people, and your way of working.

Here are two of the major pitfalls to avoid as you embark your business on an Artificial Intelligence implementation:

What business problem are you trying to solve?

The first pitfall to avoid is to “do” AI for the sake of doing it. Some business leaders want to move their teams on an AI journey because they hear that their competitors are doing it, and they naturally suffer from the fear of missing out. In other cases, there is a mandate “from the top” to “do something about AI” and leaders may feel the pressure to report that they are at least doing something!

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I have spoken to many people at conferences or clients who tell me very excitedly that they are wanting to “do AI.” They are almost always shocked when I ask them “why?” And more often than not, they are not able to clearly answer that question.

So forget about all the news and the hype around AI for now. It is most certainly not a “silver bullet” to solve your business problems. Start with “why” – with the business problems – and later determine what kind of technology is most suitable to address your problems. It may just be that AI is not (currently) the answer to the problem.

“Going it alone”

The digitisation of your business, coupled with the implementation of new technologies like AI, will impact your whole business and everyone who works for you. It will have an organisation-wide impact. Now it is true that you need to start your AI journey on a small scale, in an area that is ready for transformation, where the business processes and data maturity is at a suitable level of readiness.

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But it can happen that “someone somewhere” in the business will start an AI journey in isolation, not involving the rest of the business. This is a recipe for disaster and is bound to fail. It is imperative that the business leaders agree on the best business area as a candidate for your first AI initiative (usually an area that will improve your understanding of your customers and their experience of your products or services).

Not only is it possible that a business area “try-out” AI in isolation, it is very possible that the technology department could do the same. The problem here is that the strategy will be around tools and technology and frameworks – all very exciting stuff – but void of thinking of solutions in terms of business requirements and strategy.

Another consideration is the selection of a specialist vendor partner to help you start your AI journey. It is possible that at the outset of your AI journey, that you do not have the needed know-how or technology in-house to launch your journey. It is furthermore also possible that the needed know-how does not reside with your current technology vendors.

Johan Steyn

Johan Steyn is a technologist and management consultant. Over the last two decades he was involved in the fields of computer hardware distribution, software development and mobile phone technology. He held senior roles in global consulting firms. He is an Artificial Intelligence enthusiast and speaks globally at conferences on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Emerging Technologies. He is a published author who regularly contributes articles on thought-leadership to well-known publications. He is the Chair of the Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics with the IITPSA (Institute of Information Technology Professionals of South Africa). www.aiforbusiness.net

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