The Bots are Coming! The Bots are Coming!

5 December 2017
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AI and machine learning have exploded onto the business scene in 2017.  If you haven’t gotten an email asking you if you want to learn how IBM’s Watson can help your business, you will be soon.  And we’re just getting started.

The bots are coming, and if you’re thinking your business is immune, I don’t think you’ll feel the same way by 2020.

What should you be doing in 2018 to prepare?

Many small companies are not going to have the budget needed to use AI.  But if you’re in a small company, you should still learn about what it can do and how it can be used.  By hearing how AI is being used in your sector, you can make your offerings better and your operations more efficient – even if you don’t spend a dollar on AI technology itself.

You should also figure out your company’s algorithms.  AI works through algorithms – coded logic about how to interpret data.  You may not have Big Data to work with, but you have algorithms operating in your company…like which customers are better to work with, what products help with what needs that a customer has, and ­which of your staff to assign to which types of projects.

Back in the old days, this was called Experience, or Tribal Knowledge.  Now…we call it Algorithms.

Your algorithms will probably start simple – like which customers are better to work with.  But that’s just the start.  The real power comes when you think about branches that you can build to make the thinking more complex.  For example, once you identify what services help with what needs, then you can identify if customers of one service are more likely to buy another service you offer.  Where are the connections and patterns in your business?

Many of the small businesses I work with know these algorithms intuitively – they’re operating all the time in the heads of the staff who have been there more than 10 years.  Often the first reaction I get when I bring up the idea of capturing the company’s algorithms is, “Oh, we don’t need to do that.  We know that already…in our heads.”

Which is great…but right now, someone is working on coding into a computer the algorithms that are needed to run your type of business.  It’s happening.  Right now.  Believe me.

And the need to document your algorithms will be much clearer – and more urgent – when your staff person is competing with a machine that costs less than a month of that person’s salary and doesn’t need health care.  When that happens, you’re going to wish that you’d asked your staff to outline how they make the decisions that run your business.  And that staff person is going to wish that they’d been thinking about how to build value on top of their knowledge, rather than clinging to the knowledge itself as the differentiator.

What do you do when knowledge and experience are no longer differentiators?  What will the differentiators be?  I have some guesses, that I’ll outline another time…

So, I don’t know how all of this will play out.  I’m sure bots, at some point, will be able to do most of what we rely on workers to do now…and that there will be needs that bots can’t handle.  But while we’re waiting for that to play out, you can use the thinking of AI designers to make your business better and be in better control of your destiny.  And you can do that whether you can afford the actual AI technology or not.

Pretend that you’re designing your own bots, give them fun/interesting names (Watson! Alexa! Siri!), and have some interesting discussions with your Leadership Team about the algorithms driving your business.