AI for Business: An IT leader’s perspective on how to implement AI



Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to have a transformational impact on the way we live and work. The AI for Business series aims to provide business and IT leaders with the tools and understanding they need to make smarter decisions about AI. For more in this series, check out our articles on the foundations of AI and AI implications for IT teams.

Every day, more and more leaders are considering how to select the right AI tools to integrate into their businesses. With so many options for tools, and so many ways to implement AI across your organization — from data analytics to IT support, customer experience to marketing, and beyond — getting started can feel overwhelming, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

For expert tips on navigating the ever-expanding menu of AI options, we spoke with Jeremy Rafuse, Vice President, Head of IT and Digital Workplace at GoTo. 

Start by understanding the ingredients

As a technology leader, Rafuse is constantly thinking about how organizations — and SMBs in particular — can better leverage AI tools to power their businesses. Just as a chef might direct diners to the dishes best suited to their tastes, an important first step in developing an effective AI strategy is understanding the options on the menu.

Expanding your AI palate

There are a variety of ways SMBs can implement AI tools, but where to begin? Start by looking at the most common benefits and decide which might be a good fit for your business. Some opportunities include:

Automated tasks and streamlined processes

“Automating tedious tasks frees up time for teams to focus on projects that require detailed human attention and move the business forward, allowing companies to allocate resources more effectively,” says Rafuse. “It can also serve as a morale-boosting tactic, helping employees tick more off their to-do list by giving them valuable time back to focus on more fulfilling tasks.”

Investing in the right AI tools provides the ability to automate many business processes, from simple customer service requests to proactive supply chain management. This can help streamline manual or inefficient business practices, freeing up workers for more value-added contributions. “Platforms like ChatGPT have the potential to significantly reduce manual burdens on employees and streamline processes through the sheer efficiency of their computing power,” says Rafuse.

Deeper analytics

Data analysis for businesses of any size can get supersized by integrating AI. AI tools can tackle much larger data sets — or multiple large data sets — with greater ease, speed, and accuracy, quickly finding patterns and insights that might otherwise be overlooked. What’s more, AI tools can “translate” between different kinds of data in a company’s systems, and better extrapolate the data in a way your teams can understand.

Enhanced decision making

While artificial intelligence is not yet ready to take over decision making, a combination of data analytics and the ability to examine past decisions and historical outcomes mean that AI tools can enhance your teams’ abilities to problem-solve. Think of AI as your best sous chef, helping you shine in the kitchen even when the heat turns up. Rafuse explains: “AI augments human work and raises its upper limit. Think of it as technological symbiosis, where the roles of both parties complement each other and produce a greater whole, all the while having an obligation to the other.”

Upleveled customer satisfaction

Customers leaving their meal happy is the ultimate goal of any great chef’s work. For your business, that means utilizing AI to help customers get more of what they want and need, when they want and need it. In particular, personalized interactions can lead to higher customer satisfaction and repeat business — and AI tools can customize those individual experiences based on a number of data points.

Consider your customer support team as an example, explains Rafuse. After a customer service call is completed, AI could be used to analyze data from customer satisfaction surveys to find patterns in feedback and opportunities for improvement. “AI could really dig into the analytics, the terms used in the feedback, and the overall tone, and come back and say ‘here’s some improvements you can make.’” Ultimately, says Rafuse, AI-led enhancements to the customer experience can result in fewer customer support requests overall.

Improved security

AI tools can also be a valuable option for protecting your data and customers. In cybersecurity situations where every minute counts, AI can be used to detect threats and data breaches more quickly. AI tools can also provide proactive solutions, such as sending alerts to IT teams or deploying software patches where needed.

New job creation

Beyond the benefits AI can provide to individual organizations, this technology is also poised to change the way business is approached in the aggregate, including the creation of new job opportunities and business functions dedicated to AI. A study from the IBM Institute for Business Value found that 9 in 10 executives expect AI to augment, but not replace, their workforce. As the space evolves, new roles will be created to train, implement, run, and maintain these AI models. Some roles that could be created, according to Rafuse, include a Chief AI Officer, seats on an AI Ethics Committee, or trainers who create new licensing and certification programs in AI.

The chef’s guide to adding AI to the mix

Rafuse advises a thorough and organized approach to integrating AI into your business. It starts with asking yourself some foundational questions: What is the problem you’re trying to solve? What are the goals you’re trying to achieve? And, how would AI help you achieve those goals?

Next, make sure you’re familiar with the flavors of AI on the menu. Get educated on AI terms, how the different tools and models work, and the benefits and risks, and invest the time in making thoughtful decisions about the options for your organization. Rafuse advises leaders to “wrap your head around the hype” and focus on these fundamentals, to determine the unique AI recipe that might work best for you. You can find the “ingredients” that are best aligned to your business goals, adds Rafuse, by reading reviews, looking at features, comparing pricing, and figuring out what is compatible with your current tech systems.

When it’s time to expand your menu to include AI, apply change management principles for a successful implementation. Make sure teams are communicating with each other, and that the entire staff knows the goal and purpose of any new tools. Rafuse adds that “the most successful changes always have executive sponsors behind them.” As part of change management, you should also be aware of vulnerabilities associated with this technology, both in general and those specific to your business, and safeguard against these potential threats. Try pilot programs, measure and review results, and adapt along the way.

Among all this talk of technology, there is also an emotional component to AI adoption. “You say ‘AI’ and instantly employees may have anxiety, that it might mean their job could be replaced someday,” explains Rafuse. “It’s a totally normal response, so as a leader be sure to acknowledge their concerns and show compassion.” Rafuse also notes it’s important to be upfront about any changes, and clearly communicate the ways new AI tools can help streamline employees’ workloads, automate less-interesting tasks, or provide new skills.

Finally, Rafuse reminds all potential chefs that it’s never too late to get into the kitchen. These AI ingredients and recipes are still new, so now is the time to start experimenting with how this technology can streamline and enhance your business. As Rafuse says, “Don’t get overwhelmed. You don’t have to be a master chef of AI right away. We’re all still learning.”

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