September 25, 2017      

Editor’s Note: Author Aseem Prakash will be participating in sessions during this week’s CRO Summit and RoboBusiness 2017 in Santa Clara, Calif. He’ll be discussing demystifying automation for one’s executive peers and incorporating robotics and AI readiness into business strategies.

A parrot recently placed an order on using Alexa. What does this human-interest story have to do with whether your company is ready for robotics and artificial intelligence? As e-commerce and customer support are increasingly linked with speech-recognition systems, how would your organization respond to such an order? Would it know or care if it came from a non-human? Would you refund the money if the customer reached out and said the order was in error?

The chief robotics officers (CROs), executives, and other managers with responsibility over automation must think ahead and include AI readiness in their business plans and models. In your assessment of where to apply AI, the use is just as important — if not more so — than how sophisticated the technology is at a given time.

In near future — if it is already not happening — you will sell to a bot. You will sell through a bot. Your next employee could be a bot. AI will give you insights that you had forgotten or did not know about. Humans will not make only gut decisions. They will be guided by actionable intelligence.

AI will define your next business model, competitive advantage, and productivity gains. In fact, when you will go into a meeting to attract a customer or business partner, you will be asked about where your business is at with AI.

In short, you will either be an “AI-first business,” or you will not be in business at all.

AI readiness shapes business, not just tech

AI readiness starts with small steps

But even if you decide to get started with AI right now rather than wait for others to get there first, you need to know where to begin. Many of the major robotics suppliers with which I’ve spoken have noted that prospective customers have been clueless as to what’s required for AI readiness.

There are two quick ways for businesses started with AI. First, you can learn how AI is transforming your industry, from business-process automation and bots to analytics tied to robots and the industrial Internet of Things. Finance, the law, retail, and government services are all beginning to take advantage of these capabilities and much more.

The other option is to focus on how AI can be used right away to increase efficiency and of course profits. As tempting as this may be, it’s better to define your future goals first.

As you jump into assessing your company’s data, talent, or infrastructure, you must figure out which flavor of AI is right for you. There is a lot of uncertainty about how advanced machine learning, deep learning, and bots really are, even before we get into the hypothetical situations of robot ethics.

More on AI Readiness and Business Strategy:

Apply AI to your business first

The first step in an AI readiness assessment and in crafting a business strategy is to define the business problem that you want to address with AI.

Will automation relieve humans of tedious, repetitive processes in the back office or on the factory floor? Will bots conduct seasonal customer-support functions? What sorts of big data does your precision-agriculture or supply chain system gather for predictive maintenance or market analysis?

This evaluation will depend on the current (and desired) size, scalability, and complexity of your organization.

If you really want to achieve a strategic advantage for your business with AI, stop thinking about just the technology. The faster you think of creating value, the quicker you will profit from AI. At the end of the day, AI is about business, not technology.