Artificial intelligence is all the rage. Startups of all ilks are using AI in their services, from generating music playlists to matching job-seekers with employment opportunities, from making purchase recommendations to feeding news aggregators—or so they claim. A report published in January 2018 by McKinsey suggests that early adopters of AI are already reaping benefits, so there is no doubt that its implementation in new arenas will disrupt how we work, consume, and live. But how will this digital transformation come about, and how will startups play a role in a world where AI is no longer a niche but a necessity?
At its core, AI is meant to make work easier for humans. It can handle tasks where our input is often repetitive. Speaking at the Ecosystm Leaders BreakFirst event in Singapore last month, Manoj Menon, a principal advisor at technology research and advisory firm Ecosystm, indicated that there are three prerequisites to a digital transformation for businesses—the technology for machine intelligence, economic backing to roll it out for broad usage, and the human resources to make it happen.
With those conditions in place, and the desire to make the leap, Menon identified several steps that businesses with AI backends can take to drive non-linear growth.
Have a fundamental corporate purpose
Menon said that it is crucial for a corporation to spell out the reasons behind its existence, and figure out whether AI fits its function.
Take online retail as an example. Regional e-commerce platforms like Lazada, Shopee, Tokopedia, Qoo100, and Bukalapak have taken advantage of the ubiquity of smartphones to build massive businesses in a short span of time.
In particular, Lazada is using AI to make recommendations for its users, nudging them to add a couple of extra items to their cart before checking out. Here, recommendation engines are like an all-knowing store assistant who can anticipate what you might want at the drop of a hat—and present it in a way that will appeal to you.
Match the tool to the task
Let’s be honest—AI doesn’t need to be deployed everywhere. There are situations where using AI can backfire. From racial discrimination in the legal domain to gender bias in hiring, algorithms can exacerbate problems.
The fact is AI isn’t a miracle cure for all of our problems. By acknowledging this, businesses will then be able to determine whether a shift toward automation is the right move for them.
Tear down those walls!
Information needs to flow between departments in a company. The corporate silo mentality needs to be thrown out the window.
AI can be the brains behind colossal systems, like super apps. But that only works when experts who operate efficiently alone are able to be team players. That’s how Grab and Go-Jek went from arranging rides to offering loans and facilitating payments, or how Tokopedia went from being an online marketplace for consumer products to a platform that offers infrastructure-as-a-service. Marrying fundamentally different ideas can create new and potentially lucrative channels of revenue.
Be cautious when merging
According to McKinsey Digital, there have been cases of firms that poured cash into costly and complex initiatives only to find these programs failing to live up to expectations or even stalling.
Integration is key. Any new technological components that a business adopts must fit into the existing system. Changes need to fit the size, capabilities, and resources of a company’s personnel.
Deliveroo is known for its teal-clad personnel zipping through traffic in 200 cities to move meals on wheels. But the company is preparing to adopt automation and AI in its operations, replacing its delivery personnel as well as some of its restaurant partners. If this happens too fast and too soon, there could be quite a bit of push-back.
Enhancing shared experiences
Retailers are increasingly cognizant of the experiential element in their businesses. To maintain foot traffic, it’s important to create environments where shoppers feel special—maybe it’s an Instagram-worthy scene, maybe it just makes people go wow.
Last year, Singaporean retail developer Capitaland unveiled NomadX, a multi-label store that utilizes AI—specifically automated store assistance and marketing, computer vision, and facial recognition technology—to lure shoppers. By infusing retail infrastructure with new tech, NomadX definitely stood out among the offerings on Orchard Road.
AI can give us fresh experiences when it is designed and deployed appropriately. There are still many cracks, like how driverless cars can share roads with humans, whether delivery robots will be able to keep up with the movements of pedestrians, and whether prejudices can be removed from algorithms that process sensitive cases. In the meantime, AI and its developers are finding ways to apply it, adapt it, and refine it so that the technology will be ready for bigger tasks in the future.
Editor: Brady Ng