Economic growth in the U.S. could increase from 2.6% to 4.6% by the year 2035 because of artificial intelligence technologies. That’s according to an Accenture report cited by CNBC.
While this may sound far-fetched and futuristic, the truth is that AI is already infiltrating today’s workplaces in dozens of subtle ways.
See "5 Work Automation Prophecies from 3 Futurists" to see how thought leaders think AI will influence the office of the future.
You may not have many robots on staff, but you’re surely benefitting from technology that collects data, makes sense of what’s happening, and either takes action or makes recommendations to human operators.
Eighty-four percent of businesses see the use of AI as essential to competitiveness, while half view it as “transformative,” says Tata Consultancy Services’ Global Trend Study, predicting that AI’s greatest impact will be in finance, marketing, HR, and customer service.
Here are five AI functions that are already transforming the way we work and that I believe will have a huge impact on the workplace of the not-too-distant future.
1. People Analytics
Would you be surprised to find out that automobile companies are harnessing AI to study patterns of unplanned absences and then pre-scheduling extra staff when people are likely to take time off? Or that some IT and HR departments are analyzing email metadata to understand why some employees are more productive than others?
Or that a high-tech company developed an analytics model that can accurately predict which job candidates are likely to lie, cheat, or commit crimes—so managers can avoid hiring them?
The Deloitte Insights’ 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, the source for all of these case studies, didn’t specify whether that last model can root out sexual harassers, but that’s a technology that would surely gain traction today, given the “Weinstein effect” that’s sweeping through one industry after another.
The Deloitte report suggests that more and more human resource leaders are turning to data-driven insights to reduce risk and improve decision-making in both talent management and organizational performance.
In fact, the number of companies who felt ready or somewhat ready for this kind of “people analytics” rose by a third in just one year, from 24% in 2015 to 36% in 2016.
Machines aren’t doing the interviewing or making any final judgment calls about hiring, promoting, or firing employees, but artificial intelligence is capable of parsing, analyzing, and transforming data into more actionable formats.
The report states:
"Businesses have recognized they need data to figure out what makes people join, perform well in, and stay with an organization; who will likely be successful; who will make the best leaders; and what is required to deliver the highest-quality customer service and innovation.
"All of this can be directly informed by people analytics."
Clearly, this affects more than just the HR team. The use of artificial intelligence in talent management, employee performance, and recruiting will affect basically anyone who has a job.
2. Algorithmic Website Personalization
Whether a company serves a B2B or a B2C audience, and whether or not its services are primarily web-based or digital in nature, the importance of any company’s website can’t be overstated. And website personalization is poised to change everything.
How does artificial intelligence fit in here? It can monitor your website analytics every second of the day and enable content customization based on a user’s location, demographics, online behavior/history, and other factors.
Not all website personalization is created equal, of course. According to the Trends in Personalization survey, algorithmic personalization and machine learning are used by just 20% of organizations surveyed. This is also called 1-to-1 marketing, and a good explanation can be found here.
Rule-based targeting of broader groups is far more common, with 67% of companies currently making use of this tactic, which relies on AI to gather and parse data but is far less automated and advanced.
Algorithmic personalization is still a new frontier for many organizations. If the 32% of respondents who say they have plans to use algorithmic personalization in the next year really follow through, that will represent a 50% increase over the previous year.
Meanwhile, 24% say they have no such plans and 43% aren’t sure, suggesting some unfamiliarity with the concept and practice.
3. Automated Customer Service
As technology marches on, companies who have the ability to anticipate customer needs will enjoy a huge competitive advantage over those who don’t.
Businesses already collect a staggering amount of data from customers, keeping track of their browsing habits, purchases, customer-service inquiries, and even in-person visits to brick-and-mortar locations.
In some retail spaces, facial-recognition technology is already in use to profile customers (age, ethnicity, gender), track their movements, and sometimes even identify VIP shoppers who have joined loyalty programs so customized experiences can be served up to them. The Guardian reports that 59% of U.K. fashion retailers use some form of facial recognition.
There’s so much data, in fact, that it’s becoming increasingly challenging to know what to do with it.
That’s where AI comes in. Artificial intelligence can use that data to more quickly solve customer-initiated concerns and even anticipate issues before they occur.
“Much of the data is locked away in separate departmental silos,” writes Jeff Foley in cmswire.com.
"Without it, employees repeat tired scripts and enforce redundant policies which ignore what they should already know.
"Analytics technologies can comb through that data, pulling out insights and guiding decision-making, so employees deliver timely, relevant customer service."
4. Copy Creation
For complex, in-depth writing projects, I firmly believe humans are irreplaceable and always will be. But what about the copy that no one wants to write anyway?
AI is already capable of translating a column of numbers (like a financial report or sports scores) into a simple news article or press release. It can also create internal reports out of raw sales data, craft basic product descriptions from manufacturer-provided copy, and generate social media posts from blogs and other long-form content.
This is good news for finance departments who are more comfortable with math equations than English grammar—and marketers who’d rather focus on innovative campaigns than churning out filler copy.
And it’s music to tech companies’ ears, especially those who’d like to transform collected data into readable text that’s customized for individual users on a large scale.
For example, rather than displaying a grid of numbers, a workout-tracking app could personalize content along these lines: “You lifted 10% more weight than last week, and each workout was 20% longer. Congratulations!”
5. Automated Resource Management
As every manager knows, it’s not easy to figure out team schedules, weigh the impact of new projects against current priorities, and assign individual tasks in a way that keeps everyone busy and all workloads in balance.
It takes deep concentration, a few hours of uninterrupted time, dozens of ongoing emails, and regularly scheduled meetings. And then you have to start over whenever a project gets derailed or something new is dropped in your lap.
What if AI could take this soul-crushing process off your plate? Now it can.
Workfront recently introduced AI-enabled resource management within its work management software. This means that the tool will automatically allocate unassigned tasks to those who are most available and relevant to the work, giving you final say whether to use or override the recommendations.
You’ll not only reduce the top two distractions—email and meetings—that keep workers from focusing on their most important priorities, you’ll also be able to say "yes" to the right work at the right time, innovate faster, and keep team workloads in balance.
This protects top performers from getting overloaded with work while nudging underperformers to step up their game.
Plus, you’ll get a handy scapegoat: “Oh it wasn’t me that put you on that project; Workfront could see that you have more time available than Steve, so you were assigned. I’m confident you can pull it off, but let me know if you need any extra support.”
Free the Humans
“We’re going to see huge productivity gains as humans are freed up not to do the same old thing again, and again, and again,” said author and futurist James Wallman in a recent Workfront webinar. “I think there’s going to be a flowering of creativity as well.”
That’s a comforting thought, given the gloom-and-doom prophecies that often accompany any discussions of AI entering the workforce.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing more advances in automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. I’d love to let go of the mindless, repetitive aspects of my job and focus on the complex, messy, unpredictable, exciting work only a human can do. Wouldn’t you?
See "3 Things Knowledge Leaders Better be Doing Now to Reach the Future of Work Automation" to learn how you can prepare for the future workplace.
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