• Jun 13, 2018

How AI Can Help You Create Competitive Advantage

© Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived and is reshaping business. Your company ought to have a strategy for using AI, otherwise it risks being disrupted by companies that do. Yet many business leaders are unsure about what AI can do and how best to take advantage of it.

I recently moderated a panel at this year’s SIIA Annual Conference in San Francisco on Taking Advantage of AI to Create Competitive Advantage, where we shared experiences in implementing AI strategies in our respective companies. The participants were Shelly Confini of MERIDIUN, Sam Mourad of Crowe, and Steve West of Project Insight. Here are some of the lessons learned that we discussed.

We all saw AI as a tool to help people and organizations become more productive. It can automate tasks that people would otherwise have to do themselves, and enable them to focus on what they do best. This stands in contrast with the common fear with people have that AI is intended to eliminate jobs. It is therefore important to explain the purpose and benefits of AI to people who will be affected by it.

For example, our focus at Alelo is on using AI to help people to learn more rapidly and more effectively. But our goal is not to replace teachers. Studies show that the most important predictor of student achievement is good teaching. But teachers have to put in long hours, and many of those are spent doing things other than teaching. So we use AI to create a kind of aide intelligente, a kind of teacher’s aide that can help students learn while saving teacher time. Our Enskill product lets learners practice communication skills with intelligent avatars, gives them feedback and personalized guidance, and reports their progress to teachers.

Machine learning algorithms require access to large amounts of data. So a successful AI strategy requires as a foundation a good data strategy. Companies represented on the panel devote significant effort to acquiring data and ensuring that it was properly managed and protected, so users will entrust companies with their data. At Alelo we capture interaction data from learners around the world, in 25 countries, and use it to continually improve our models of natural language processing and learner errors. Enskill is a data collection and analysis platform as much as a learning platform. We are careful to ensure that data is captured anonymously and that we have permission to use it.

All panelists felt that AI provided their companies a competitive advantage. It accelerates the development of product and service offerings, and supports rapid decision making. For example, the data that Enskill collects gives us unique insight into the problems learners face in developing new skills, so that we can develop learning products that are uniquely focused on overcoming those problems.

The main advice of panel for people considering an AI strategy was to get started, if only at a small scale. Once you start using AI you will see the advantages that it offers, and will want to apply it broadly in your products and across your organization.