Many companies know they must adopt artificial intelligence to automate processes and increase efficiencies to remain competitive. However, in a rush to adopt and leverage new technologies in the endless race to be innovative, the noise of the stampede may have drowned out what real benefits AI directly brings to business.

To bring us back to basics, Which-50 spoke to Robert Wickham, regional vice-president of innovation and digital transformation at Salesforce about AI’s benefits and future potential.

Rob Wickham, regional vice-president of innovation and digital transformation at Salesforce.

What are some of the benefits businesses are seeing from AI technology?

Robert Wickham: Consider these striking statistics: 90 per cent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. Today, just one per cent of business data has been analysed and used to deliver outcomes.

When I was growing up, it was at work where all the cool tech was happening, and home was where I had to endure out-dated tech. Today that paradigm has reversed. AI in the consumer world is pervasive — think about your experience with smartphones or online shopping — AI powers many interactions without you even knowing.

However, that gap is closing. Enterprises are starting to deliver consumer-like experiences and equipping their employees with leading edge technology to optimise the way they sell, market and service.

Over the next decade, artificial intelligence (AI) will unlock the other 99 per cent of business data to transform every aspect of business and industry. Salesforce’s AI Platform, Einstein, is a response to the desire of many marketers, salespeople and customer service agents to improve processes and gain greater insight into data science.

Using AI technology immediately benefits business by supporting the completion of administrative tasks, and the automated collection and analysis of customer insight. For example, a salesperson could use AI to analyse information from emails, calendars and CRM data, which then proactively recommends actions that will most likely lead to a sale.

For marketers, it could mean less time spent on segmenting audiences by preference and behaviour, as AI can do the grunt work for them, offering a recommendation on the right channel, time and type of content to serve to customers. The result of this means the marketer can instead focus on getting the creative right, and unleashing more time to be spent on creating better content.

What are some of the potential challenges and roadblocks businesses are facing in the adoption of AI technology, and how can they be overcome?

RW: Businesses need to make a fundamental decision about AI: will they create AI themselves or will they consume AI as a utility? For example, if someone is building a house they can strengthen their generator to fuel electricity. However, why would anyone do that? So my advice for businesses looking at AI is: if AI technology is not your core competency — consider consuming AI as a service.

Consumers are increasingly comfortable with using digital technology to conduct the majority of their interactions with businesses. They expect companies to anticipate their needs and provide instant, personalised responses to any query. This creates a new imperative for businesses, to either integrate AI into their products and services or risk becoming less competitive with companies who are one step ahead of applying AI to improve customer experiences and make intelligent business decisions.

Traditionally, AI has only accessible to the largest companies due to the technical complexity and resources required. However, the introduction of new AI platforms has helped to balance the playing field so that AI can be used by any business, regardless of size.

Is AI technology scalable and sustainable across multiple business units?

RW: AI is bringing intelligence to the enterprise, so yes, it is possible to scale and deploy AI across business units such as sales, marketing, service, devops and so on. In fact, Einstein is built into the Salesforce platform – across sales, service, marketing, app, analytics and community clouds. This integration means that a business already using the platform will not require external DevOps or data preparation to incorporate the technology and take advantage of the seamless and scalable AI solutions.

We also recently announced a global strategic partnership with IBM. This collaboration will allow us to deliver joint solutions at scale to multiple business units. For the first time, new insights from Watson will be brought directly into the Salesforce Intelligent Customer Success Platform, combining deep customer insights from Salesforce Einstein with Watson’s structured and unstructured data across many sources and industries including weather, healthcare, financial services and retail.

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