Over the past few years, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerhouse force for organizations, helping to unlock new possibilities, drive efficiencies, and fuel innovation. (In fact, AI keeps popping up on our Top Trends list as it continues to evolve and make in-roads.) Organizations understand that AI will substantially transform their companies; the problem lies in going from where you are now to where you want to be. Fortunately, getting started with AI doesn’t have to be complex.
If you look around, you’re probably using AI now. From Google to Salesforce, so many major companies have integrated AI into its tech stack. Last year, Microsoft launched Copilot, an “everyday AI companion” that’s integrated into the Microsoft 365 apps we use regularly (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams and more). And we are seeing more AI tools popping up every day.
Yet, for many people, the AI journey can seem daunting – and potentially very expensive! Like you, our clients understand the benefits and potential that AI holds, and they want to know how to start applying this technology in a way that makes sense. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the process and provide a roadmap for organizations looking to kick the AI tires and take it out for a spin.
7 Key Steps to Get Started with AI
Everyone is being told to “do more with less” and AI can really help you deliver on that organizational mantra. When evaluating where your company can get started, here are some aspects to consider beforehand.
1. Know Your AI
Before diving into any AI implementation, it is crucial to have a solid understanding of the basics. AI encompasses a broad range of technologies, including machine learning, natural language processing, and generative. (We cover the benefits of AI and AI basics here.) Understanding these fundamentals will provide a clear foundation for your AI journey.
2. Have Clear Objectives
To derive maximum value from AI, it is essential to define clear and achievable objectives. Clearly define the problems or challenges you aim to solve with AI. Whether it’s automating repetitive tasks, enhancing decision-making processes, or improving customer experiences, having well-defined goals will guide your AI implementation strategy. Make a list and then prioritize which one will add the most value. Ensure that these objectives align with your overall business strategy to maximize the impact of AI on your organization’s success.
3. Choose the Right AI Tools and Technologies
The AI landscape is vast, with a multitude of tools and technologies available. Often there’s no need to start from scratch. Embarking on an AI journey doesn’t require a massive initial investment. Selecting the right tools and technologies for your organization depends on your specific needs, objectives and budget. Consider factors such as scalability, ease of integration, and support when making these decisions. By opting for ready-made, mature models, you can cut your implementation phase and save significantly on time and money.
4. Do You Need External Help?
Assess the skills and resources within your organization. How comfortable are you implementing AI tools? Depending on what you are trying to achieve there may be gaps in your internal expertise. Consider whether additional training, hiring, or collaboration with external experts is necessary for successful AI adoption. Factor this into your budget. (If you need help, we can provide AI consulting, including Microsoft Copilot consulting or custom app development with AI integration.)
5. Start Simple
This is the advice we give our clients all the time. Rather than a full-scale implementation, start with a proof-of-concept project to test the feasibility and effectiveness of your AI solutions in a real-world scenario. Pilots are an excellent way to leverage the “low-hanging fruit” and gain valuable insights, allow for adjustments, pivot where you need to and reduce the risk associated with large-scale adoption. Use the insights gained from the pilot to iterate and improve your AI models and processes. This agile approach allows for continuous improvement and minimizes the risks associated with large-scale AI implementation.
6. Break Down the Silos
Some AI solutions may be function-specific; for example, chatbots to help with customer service. However, for organizations to really reap those efficiencies that we all keep hearing about, you need to break down the functional silos and consider how AI can be integrated into workflows throughout the company. Work across departments to understand each function’s processes and identify opportunities for AI integration. Successful integration involves not only technical considerations but also cultural and organizational changes. Foster a collaborative environment that embraces the synergy between human and AI capabilities.
7. Establish Ethical AI Practices
Once you’ve dipped your toe into the AI water, ethical considerations will become increasingly important. You will need to develop guidelines for AI use within your organization. Ensure transparency and accountability in AI decision-making processes, particularly when dealing with sensitive company or client data. You may need to audit AI systems to identify and address biases. By establishing clear ethical guidelines, you’ll not only mitigate risks, but it also goes a long way towards building trust among key stakeholders, employees and customers.
The results also suggest that AI’s impact on the bottom line is growing. The share of respondents reporting at least 5 percent of earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) that’s attributable to AI has increased year over year to 27 percent, up from 22 percent in the previous survey.
The State of AI in 2021, McKinsey & Company
How AI Can Be Used Throughout Your Org
In general, AI can support three key business needs: engaging with customers and employees, automating business processes, and gleaning insights through data analysis. Here are just a few examples of how AI can be used.
AI for Sales & Marketing
A recent McKinsey study found that, along with sales, marketing is the single business function where it will have the most financial impact. Why? Because AI has the potential to revolutionize sales and marketing by analyzing customer data to predict buying behaviours, optimize pricing strategies, and personalize marketing campaigns. It can even create social media posts and graphics. Predictive analytics can also identify potential leads and recommend targeted marketing approaches. Organizations are noticing that AI can help reduce costs while boosting sales and marketing impact.
AI for Customer Service
AI-driven chatbots drive better customer experiences by providing instant responses to queries or troubleshooting common issues. Any complex problems that are outside the realm of the chatbot can quickly be routed to human agents. We’ve helped clients create robust chatbots that can not only answer routine questions but also deliver just-in-time information by accessing the Internet for queries that it may not have been “trained” to answer. This frees up your agents for the most pressing issues and empowers customers to get the information they need without having to stay on hold for an agent.
AI for Human Resources
For HR, AI can streamline the recruitment process by analyzing C.V.s, and then pinpointing top candidates by skills and experience. Beyond hiring, AI tools can also assist in employee engagement by analyzing sentiment or recommending personalized employee development plans based on yearly reviews. One client of ours has leveraged open AI to create a DEI tool to create summarized impact statements of projects and initiatives that are then shared across the organization.
AI for Better Team Meetings
In our own meetings here at Whitecap, we use the AI tool that is integrated into Microsoft Teams to not only record and translate meetings but to them create summaries including itemized, actionable to-do lists. It saves time, no one has to be relegated to the role of official note-taker and it keeps everyone aligned on what needs to be done next.
AI for Internal Operations
From R&D to procurement and supply chain operations, all internal functions can benefit from automation and data analytics. AI can optimize and take any guesswork out of various daily operational aspects throughout the organization. For example, we are seeing a rise in the use of internal chatbots for employees to onboard new hires, to act as knowledge repositories and to help with daily tasks like booking meeting rooms, submitting hours or getting basic IT assistance. Collaborative tools enhanced by AI improves team communication and workflow efficiency.
AI for In-the-Field Employees
Another client of ours has made reporting significantly easier for its in-the-field employees, working outdoors in the cold. These employees need to take photos and file reports while on the job site through a mobile phone app. They were able to take advantage of voice-to-text translation as well as spelling and grammar checks simplifying the reporting process for their employees – who no longer have to remove their gloves to create a report! By leveraging out-of-the-box AI, the company was able to save time and improve the quality of the reports.
AI for Reduced Data Entry
Robotic Process Automation is one of the simpler forms of AI, used to streamline business processes by triggering responses, manipulating data, and connecting disparate systems. It can be harnessed to get rid of tedious, repetitive tasks like re-keying in data from one system to another. Typically applied to rule-based and non-subjective processes, functions like finance and accounting, procurement and supply chain management, customer service, and human resources often benefit from reduced data entry. It often enables employees to ditch some of the boring aspects of their jobs and instead focus on the higher value work that moves the needle on company objectives.
Your AI Journey
The journey towards AI adoption is both thrilling and transformative for organizations. By understanding the basics, assessing readiness, setting clear objectives, choosing the right tools, piloting and iterating, integrating into workflows, and ensuring ethical practices, organizations can successfully navigate the complex landscape of AI. Embrace AI as a strategic enabler, and it can jettison your organization into a future where innovation, efficiency, and competitiveness are driven by the power of artificial intelligence.
If you’re looking to incorporate AI in your business, we can help. Let’s chat.