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Coming soon: A data scientist at every desk
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Coming soon: A data scientist at every desk 

AI isn’t just going to augment business processes — it’s going to reinvent them, helping companies keep up with technology, improve productivity, and aid in faster and better human decision-making.

Part of the reason for the intense push towards AI right now for businesses is the ubiquity of AI in daily consumer life. From Amazon and Netflix recommendations to autocompleted Google searches and Apple’s Siri, consumers are exposed to AI daily, and as such are expecting more from businesses. There are probably some naysayers about this kind of artificial intelligence, because although it does tasks that humans can do (over time), there is no “intent.” However, as Professor John McCarthy, one of the founders of AI, said, AI includes technology in which computers or machines “behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving.”

This expectation, coupled with the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) — which will connect six billion objects requiring support by 2018, according to Gartner — means that businesses are handling more data than ever before. Organizations that embrace AI will be able to connect with customers on all of their devices, analyze their data to get to know them better, and be able to anticipate and predict their needs.

And it’s not just customers that will benefit. Research from Salesforce shows that 61 per cent of employees expects artificial intelligence that automates or assists in work-related activities to have a major or moderate impact on their daily work lives.

AI Defined

AI has been broadly defined as technology that imitates or approximates human behaviors. Some have gone as far as saying AI is the development of technology that approaches human cognizance. For now, AI is often discussed using an assortment of terms: machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and predictive analytics to name a few. Boiled down, AI means that platforms and systems are smart enough to perceive, analyze, reason, and learn from our interactions and data, not only to do what we tell it to do but anticipating our needs. It goes beyond handling mundane and forgotten tasks and reminding us of important ones: it’s having machines think like humans.

Right now AI is used in multiple verticals and industries by way of industrial robotics, robotic medical assistants, financial forecasting software, big data analysis algorithms in health and bioinformatics, pilotless cargo planes, drone ambulances, and workplace robots, just to name a few, but this is truly the tip of the iceberg. By 2025, the global economic impact of AI will be between $7.1 trillion and $13.1 trillion.

How businesses can adapt AI

Incorporating AI into business processes is going to become more and more integral in order to stay competitive, and it’s something that Canadian companies aren’t doing quickly enough. A 2015 report, Artificial intelligence in Canada: Where do we stand? suggests that many Canadian companies that should be using AI are not, and that many other companies are using AI technologies without being aware of it, as these technologies are not known as “AI technologies”.

The good news for companies is that AI capabilities are now incorporated into products and platforms they already need and use. For example, AI capabilities are now embedded across every Salesforce Cloud through Salesforce Einstein, making CRM even smarter. It will learn from the data to understand what customers want, predict what they will want down the road, and recommend next steps, basically performing the role of a virtual data scientist.

Specifically, Salesforce Einstein can help sales representatives focus on closing the best leads and alert them to when a deal is trending up or down. Or enable service reps to provide the best customer experience by automatically routing cases to the right ages and provide support the resolve issues faster. For marketers, it can predict the likelihood of a customer to engage with an email, build custom audience segments based on predicted behaviours, and predict the optimal time to deliver marketing messages based on past customer behaviour.

This kind of knowledge will keep businesses at pace with technology, ramp up productivity and help employees make smarter decisions more quickly, which will keep customers satisfied and engaged.

AI is transforming businesses in every sector, and it’s happening quickly. If your business isn’t already adopting and harnessing the power of AI, now’s the time to start.

John Taschek is senior vice-president of strategy for Salesforce.com.

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