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Note to IT execs: AI technology is part of your future

IT executives will best position themselves for change by embracing artificial intelligence. Expert Reda Chouffani shares three ways AI is being used by organizations.

As artificial intelligence has taken center stage, it has become increasingly apparent that this is technology IT executives should take seriously. But where does AI fit in a company's technology strategy? What are some of the common ways in which AI can be applied to transform organizations? How does a retail organization or a healthcare group adopt it and make it part of its technology roadmap?

So far, IT executives have encountered some common obstacles, including the high costs associated with artificial intelligence, the complexity of implementation and the need for domain expertise to bring AI into the organization. AI technology can help companies differentiate themselves from their competition, but these kinds of challenges can stall a meaningful AI implementation.

Self-driving cars, chatbots, healthcare and consumer behavior research are examples that showcase the power of machine learning and smarter systems. But not all AI applications apply in all verticals, and the only feasible way for some organizations to get started is to consider some of the offerings from various technology providers, including Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Salesforce.

The focus at last month's Microsoft Ignite conference was on how the vendor's services now include intelligence. Customers can use Microsoft's AI platform in everyday tasks, ranging from organizing materials for a meeting to using HoloLens for looking at kitchen remodel design samples. During the keynote address at Ignite, Microsoft showcased several uses of artificial intelligence that we can classify in the following three core categories:

Services infused with intelligence. With the rise in software-as-a-service models, there is an ever-increasing demand for smarter products and services. Infusing products with intelligence enables companies to automate and offer greater insight to users. As a result, Microsoft has introduced many features for its offerings, such as an AI-focused inbox, health insights in Cortana and translation services in Skype. IT executives can evaluate the services available in the marketplace, whether they are considering a CRM solution, an ERP system or an intranet.

With the rise in SaaS models, there is an ever-increasing demand for smarter products and services.

Advanced analytics applied to data. The next popular use of AI is data analysis. Many companies trying to unlock new insights from data can apply machine learning and advanced algorithms against their internal and external data sources. For retail, AI helps analyze consumer preferences and purchasing habits to allow for better insights into which products are in high demand and when. It also helps retailers more efficiently identify how to sell products that are more profitable.

For financial institutes, AI technology can be used in fraud detection when monitoring consumer purchases, by applying specific pattern-detection algorithms to identify when fraud might occur. Healthcare, on the other hand, leverages AI to reduce hospital readmission. AI technology can also identify high-risk patients and help improve their health outcome by enabling providers to simply tap into data available from within the electronic health record systems.

Client-facing AI capabilities. AI is no longer behind the scenes: Companies are now able to bring some of the powerful capabilities out and put them in the hands of consumers and clients. Lowe's Companies Inc., for example, uses HoloLens to help customers visualize renovations to their homes in 3D.

However, as was explained during the Microsoft Ignite keynote address, the key for Lowe's isn't the actual use of the virtual-reality device HoloLens, but more so the intelligence behind the scenes that was able to create a complete kitchen based on what customers visiting the store posted on social media as their favorite colors and textures. By applying AI technology to a handful of images, Lowe's created a complete profile of a new kitchen. Once the rendering was complete, AI continued to work by analyzing the sentiment of the customers as they scanned the scene with their eyes. These subtle changes in tone were then translated into what each of the visitors liked and what they didn't like. This method of applying the powerful capabilities of an AI system in order to deliver value to consumers speaks volumes about how far organizations can take AI technology, and how close they can put it in the hands of their clients to create new value.

By considering the powerful capabilities of AI and its three core applications, technology leaders can assess and determine which areas within their organization can benefit the most from artificial intelligence. A company has the opportunity to roll out intelligent bots that can interact with their consumers online via chat, forecast its upcoming sales closings based on advanced analytics or gain new efficiencies through the use of third-party applications that offer built-in intelligence. Any direction taken will offer a first step into adopting capabilities that will significantly increase the use of AI technology in the future. By the same token, IT executives must take the appropriate steps to ensure that what AI delivers for them does, in fact, result in a tangible return on investment.

For more, check out our Microsoft Ignite coverage.

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