In terms of digital transformation, the Covid crisis has provided important lessons for business leaders. Among the most compelling lessons is the potential that data analytics and artificial intelligence bring to the table.
During the pandemic, for example, Frito-Lay stepped up its digital and data-driven initiatives, compressing five years of digital plans into six months. âStarting a direct-to-consumer business has always been on our roadmap, but we certainly hadn’t planned to launch it in 30 days in the midst of a pandemic,â says Michael Lindsey, director of growth at Frito-Lay. âThe pandemic has inspired our teams to go faster than we could have dreamed possible. “
The crisis has accelerated the adoption of analytics and AI, and this momentum will continue into the 2020s, surveys show. Fifty-two percent of companies have ramped up their AI adoption plans due to the Covid crisis, according to a study by PwC find. Almost all, 86%, say AI is becoming a “mainstream technology” in their business by 2021. Harris Poll, working with Appen, found that 55% of companies said they accelerated their AI strategy in 2020 due to Covid, and 67% plan to further accelerate their AI strategy in 2021.
Will businesses be able to sustain this accelerated pace of digital and data-driven innovation as the world emerges from Covid? In the aftermath of the crisis, nearly three-quarters of business leaders (72%) feel positive about the role AI will play in the future, according to a survey by The AI ââJournal find. Most executives (74%) not only predict that AI will provide more efficient manufacturing business processes, but will also help create new business models (55%) and enable the creation of new products and services (54%) .
AI and analytics have become essential for businesses as they respond to changes in working patterns and consumer purchasing brought on by the Covid crisis. And as the adoption of these technologies continues at a rapid pace, companies will learn the lessons of the past year and a half that will guide their efforts for much of the next decade:
Business leaders understand firsthand the power and potential of analytics and AI on their businesses. âSince the Covid coup, CEOs are now leaning in, asking how they can leverage data? âSaid Arnab Chakraborty, Global Managing Director of Accenture. âThey want to understand how to better understand their customers. They want to create more agility in their supply chains and distribution networks. They want to start creating new business models powered by data. They know they have to create a database, taking all the datasets, putting them into an analytics engine using all the algorithms, and feeding analytics solutions that can help them optimize their business, to create more agility in business processes, to know their customers, and to activate new revenue channels.
AI helps alleviate skills shortages. Industries flattened by the Covid crisis – such as travel, hospitality and other services – need resources to prepare to meet pent-up demand. Across all industries, skill shortages have emerged in many areas, from truck drivers to warehouse workers to restaurant workers. Ironically, there is a growing need to develop AI and analytics to compensate for skills shortages in AI development. In of knowledge latest quarterly jobs of the future index, there will be a “strong recovery” for the US job market this coming year, especially those involving technology. Jobs in AI, algorithms and automation were up 28% from the previous quarter.
AI is a critical ingredient in creating solutions to what are likely to be ongoing and evolving skills and training needs, agrees Rob Jekielek, Managing Director of Harris Poll. âAI is already starting to help fill skills shortages in the existing workforce with career transition support tools. AI also helps employees do their existing and evolving tasks better and faster with the help of digital assistants and in-house AI-driven training programs.
AI will also help alleviate skills shortages by increasing support activities. âAs more and more products are either digital products or other types of technology products with user interfaces, there is a growing need for support staff,â says Dr. Rebecca Parsons, director of technology at Thoughtworks. âMany simple questions can be addressed with a properly trained chatbot, which at least relieves some pressure. Likewise, there are natural language processing systems that can perform simple scanning of documents, often for more predefined sentences. “
AI and analytics drive productivity. Over the years, any increase in productivity associated with the adoption of the technology has been questionable. However, AI and analytics could finally deliver on this long-awaited promise. “Driven by advances in digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, productivity growth is now on the rise,” according to Erik Brynjolfsson and Georgios Petropoulos, writing in MIT Technology Review. âThe development of machine learning algorithms combined with a significant drop in data storage prices and improvements in computing power has enabled companies to address challenges ranging from vision and speech to prediction and at diagnosis. The growing cloud computing market has made these innovations accessible to small businesses. “
AI and analytics deliver new products and services. Analytics and AI have helped accelerate the pace of innovation undertaken by companies like Frito-Lay. For example, during the pandemic, the food producer delivered an e-commerce platform, Snacks.com, “our first foray into direct-to-consumer sales, in just 30 days,” says Lindsey. The company now uses analytics to leverage its buyer and point-of-sale data “to forecast store openings, changes in demand due to return to work, and changes in taste that allow us to reset offerings from. products down to the store level in a particular zip code, âhe adds.
AI emphasizes corporate values. âThe way we develop AI reflects our corporate culture – we spell out our approach in two words – ‘responsible growth’,â says Sumeet Chabria, global director of technology and operations at Bank of America. âWe are in the area of ââtrust. We believe that one of the key elements of our growth – the use of technology, data and artificial intelligence – must be deployed responsibly. In this context, our strategy around AI is responsible AI; it means being customer driven. It starts with what the customer needs and the consequence of your solution for the customer; Be led by the process. How does AI fit into your business process? Did the process dictate the right solution? “
AI and analytics tackle supply chain issues. There are lingering effects as the economy shifts into high gear after the Covid crisis – issues with items from semiconductors to lumber have been rare due to the disruption caused by the crisis. Analytics and AI help businesses predict, prepare for, and identify issues that may disrupt their ability to deliver products and services. These are still the early days of AI-powered supply chains, according to a survey released by The American Center for Productivity and Quality finds that only 13% of executives anticipate a major impact from AI or cognitive computing in the coming year. 17% predict a moderate impact. Companies still rely on manual methods to monitor their supply chains – those that adopt AI in the months and years to come will achieve significant competitive differentiation.
âSupply chain planning to address supply chain disruptions can be beneficial in two ways,â says Parsons. âThe first concerns issues that are easy to handle by the AI ââsystem. This enables humans to tackle the most complex issues in the supply chain. However, the AI ââsystem can also provide support even in the most complex cases, for example by providing possible solutions for consideration or by speeding up an analysis of possible solutions by completing a solution from a proposal on a part. specific to the problem.
AI powers startups, while helping businesses manage disruption. Startups target established industries using the latest data-driven technologies to enter new markets with new solutions. AI and analytics present “a tremendous opportunity for both startups and established businesses,” says Chakraborty. âStartups can’t do AI on their own. They can only solve part of the puzzle. This is where collaboration becomes very important. Larger organizations have the opportunity to embrace these startups and integrate them into their ecosystem. “
At the same time, AI helps established businesses compete with startups with the ability to test and iterate potential opportunities much faster and on a much larger scale, âJekielek said. “This allows established companies to identify areas of high potential opportunity faster and determine whether it makes more sense to compete or, especially if understood early on, to acquire.”
The future boom in business growth and innovation will be data driven. As the world eventually emerges on the other side of the Covid crisis, there will be opportunities for entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators to create value and launch new businesses that can be quickly reconfigured and realigned as customer needs change. Next-generation technologies – artificial intelligence and analytics – will play a key role in driving innovation and business progress in this environment, as well as driving new business models.