By Emma Hitzke, Senior Product Marketing Director, Emerging Tech, Oracle
We’ve seen companies make strides in how they use artificial intelligence (AI) technology throughout their businesses. But what’s next?
As 2019 ended, I reflected on what to expect with AI in 2020. I reviewed the results from a research report we’ll publish soon, and I also reached out to colleagues and friends to get their thoughts.
Here’s what to pay attention to in the new year for AI.
As companies take incremental steps to adopt AI and machine learning, the expectation is that AI will eventually be used in all parts of the business. Guruprasad Gaonkar, Oracle JAPAC SaaS leader for ERP and digital supply chain, says for companies to be future ready it’s about being technology-led as technology-enabled is not good enough: “The ignorant of the next decade will not be those who cannot follow AI trends, but those who cannot embed AI and emerging innovations in everything across business.”
Consumers have seen how AI can improve apps like Netflix and Waze, so they’re developing similar expectations for the apps they use at work. A belief shared by my colleague Paolo Prandini, business solution lead in Europe: “AI will become a colleague, the intelligent classmate we all knew at school, to help us in everyday office life. A friendly AI will automate repetitive tasks, add value to our data input, deliver smart insights and suggestions, and continuously improve as we engage with it.” AI-embedded apps, intelligent UX, and advanced digital assistants may just help you survive another day in the office!
Companies don’t need to be sold anymore on why AI is important. Now, they’re looking at specific ways AI can help meet their business goals. But they have a bigger chance of success with AI by taking smaller steps with it. “Rather than starting with large ‘moon shot’ projects that are hard to bring to fruition, businesses that set short-term, achievable goals will see more success with AI,” says Clive Swan, Oracle senior vice president of applications development.
“Building any app can be a difficult, frustrating process, and most companies aren’t in the business of developing AI apps because that’s not their first expertise or simply don’t have the data science muscle in-house.”, shared Juergen Lindner, Oracle SVP for finance and operations SaaS. Our upcoming study with ESG confirmed that companies are about twice more likely to deploy prebuilt AI applications than develop their own solutions. To deliver on these expectations, vendors must be prepared to take on the AI development on their customers’ behalf to provide apps ready to use from the get-go and deliver instant business value.
Companies are eager to have AI capabilities natively connected to the processes they already have, so they can work, operate, and engage smarter. This means that AI can do more than recommend the next best actions; it can also trigger the best actions regardless of device, vendor, product, or service. In the future, truly connected AI may give way to connecting to an individual’s biometrics. Tanu Sood, Oracle product marketing director, illustrates this idea. “It could eventually end the need for separate security documents, and even give individuals contextual information when they’re at the mall or in the airport.”
AI doesn’t need a lot of data to work; AI needs a lot of the right data to work. Companies are increasingly looking for simpler ways to have their data records cleansed and enriched before their AI models ingest the data. Luckily, a lot of these capabilities already exist with Oracle’s DataFox data engine, which makes it easier for companies to get the enriched data AI needs to work well. “Having enriched data can lead to more intelligent, precise outcomes, as well as help you find a faster path to revenue. DataFox makes data enrichment easy for companies wanting to use AI,” said Melissa Boxer, vice president product strategy at Oracle.
Infinite scale uses automation and data flow to eliminate human intervention as much as possible. In addition to helping companies keep down head count and costs, achieving infinite scale can give them more confidence that their data is accurate and make processes more efficient. Corey West, Oracle EVP, corporate controller and chief accounting officer, has challenged his team to automate every transaction possible. “At Oracle, we’re looking at every place where there is human intervention, and we're thinking about what techniques might be available—whether it's artificial intelligence, machine learning, or other techniques—to automate it,” he says.
Chatbots are good at answering simple questions when people interact with them. But the focus will turn to digital assistants as AI helps these bots become better equipped to understand the intention and context behind requests. AI will also help digital assistants proactively address questions and concerns instead of reactively, as well as take things a step further to make predictions and offer recommendations for next steps. Oracle Digital Assistant is helping companies take advantage of these capabilities by offering prebuilt digital assistant skills for Oracle SaaS across the enterprise. When is the last time you talked to your finance system?
In the past few years, we’ve seen consumers become more concerned about data privacy and protection. These concerns are now permeating the workplace, which will affect how AI uses personal data at work. In our 2019 AI at Work study, 80% of respondents said their company should ask for permission before gathering data on them while using AI technology. This means companies will need to navigate how data privacy and AI will work together in the workplace.
AI could bring a lot of good into the world — but it could also be used for less-than ethical practices. Governments are investigating how they could potentially police AI as it’s used to create “deep fake” content. We’ve also seen stories come out about how AI is uncovering serious diversity bias issues related to who’s programming AI technology. Companies can skip the step of assessing their own usage of AI and commit to vendors delivering whitebox AI.
Recruiting top talent is a stubborn problem and primary concern for both HR and business leaders. Too many hours are spent sorting through resumes, conducting interviews, and engaging in follow-up, often with mixed results. However, HR applications with adaptive intelligence (AI) capabilities can streamline the process, and improve candidate experience and results. AI uses machine learning to continuously refine automated recommendations within recruiting apps. “When these capabilities are embedded as part of a cloud-delivered HR application, leaders can focus on outcomes they want to achieve instead of the technical development of the capabilities,” says Gretchen Alarcon, group vice president for human capital management strategy, Oracle.
AI is already affecting how employees view their managers. In a survey last year, nearly two-thirds of workers (64%) said that they trust robots more than their managers. As AI continues to remove many administrative tasks that managers traditionally handled, that means managers will need to find other ways to help their teams. Companies will need to work with managers and their employees to understand how roles and expectations will change as AI supplements managers’ jobs.
Unconscious bias is a pervasive problem that can be a drag on recruitment. While training and awareness campaigns can help mitigate this human trait, AI can help eliminate it. AI-powered applications can be built to overcome bias and create a fairer, more objective method of selecting and reviewing candidates. “AI can help recruiters reduce their unconscious biases during the hiring process, and I believe that in 2020 we will have HR teams much more engaged and believing in diversity with this helpful technology,” says Cammila Yochabell, founder and CEO, Jobecam.
The period close and reporting process has long been the bane of finance teams, entailing long hours and eating up days of work every month. But what if you could compress the close to one day? Your team could focus on post-close analysis and providing high-value insight to the business. It’s almost here. AI will ultimately make finance fully automated and allow data to flow from transactions to ledgers continuously, allowing such shift to happen. “I predict we will make significant progress in 2020 toward our goal of realizing a continuous close, powered by AI and machine learning. It will lead to simplification, efficiency, and questioning why we do things, and show just how powerful Oracle ERP and EPM Cloud are,” says Maria Smith, SVP, assistant global corporate controller at Oracle.
Our upcoming study with ESG has shown that financial errors are being reduced by 37% on average thanks to AI; 61% of companies report that AI has reduced the number of person-hours needed to complete tasks due; and 65% of organizations have reduced the time needed to produce statutory reports by 1 to 2 weeks. AI is also helping organizations improve forecast accuracy by an average of 32%.
Al Marciante recently presented at Oracle Open World how Oracle EPM Cloud delivers features for automating the account reconciliation/transaction matching, financial close, and narrative reporting business processes. Oracle Intelligent performance management focuses on revealing hidden correlations to reduce the time-to-action; utilizing signal detection, root cause analysis, insight discovery, action recommendation, collaboration and intelligent narrative.
As supplies, materials, equipment, and other costs shift, companies are often challenged to determine their true costs and the optimal pricing for their products and services. When prices rise, margins may be insufficient for the company to prosper. When costs fall, companies may not understand that they have additional profit or price flexibility. AI can track price changes in real-time and help companies adapt their pricing to optimize their sales and profit potential. "Beyond robotic process automation in back-office operations and execution, the next advanced application of AI in corporate finance will be smart, real-time pricing. This will be enabled by the predictability of individualized demand and supply patterns at a low computational cost in several economic fields,” says Antoine Chulia, vice president of corporate finance at Medline Industries.
With AI, organizations have an “always-on” efficiency assistant. Chatbots and AI enable supply chain professionals to better monitor operations and receive proactive updates in a simple conversational user interface to reduce manual effort and improve accuracy. “IoT and AI help businesses optimize operations and prevent disruptions. They facilitate efficient route transportation and coordinate warehouse operations in advance of shipments. IoT and AI also enable predictive maintenance of production machinery to prevent downtime,” says Jon Chorley, group vice president of SCM product strategy and chief sustainability officer, Oracle.
The 4th Industrial Revolution has made many promises, among them experience economy, personalized and connected mass manufacturing for businesses (B2B) and consumers (B2C). AI is the core element of realizing this promise. Ubiquitous digital intelligence will permeate the company’s value chain from the spark of an idea to post-sales service contracts and customer loyalty. “New sustainable, personalized, and connected manufacturing business models for B2B and B2C will intensively use AI to make smarter autonomous production machines and processes,” says Eric Provost, vice president for Industry 4.0 and emerging technologies at Oracle. Other benefits may include smarter operators, predictive self-maintenance, smart supply chain, more sustainable and optimized procurement, and improved customer experience.
To make these predictions a reality, it’s critical to get C-suite sponsorship to support financial investment and also encourage employees to embrace and get trained on new and innovative technologies. Our upcoming study with ESG identified that organizations with strong executive understanding of AI/ML are 3.7x more likely to deploy AI initiatives. If you are in a finance or operations leadership position, it is incumbent upon you to get outside your comfort zone and explore how AI and other advanced technologies can improve your organization’s performance.
Do you have predictions about how AI will change our work and lives in 2020 and beyond? Share it in the comments below.