A recently published report on the Artificial Intelligence landscape in New Zealand highlighted the fact that rising competition between businesses is a driving force for the adoption of the technology – and is particularly pertinent when it comes to making sense of the vast amounts of data being generated.

However, the number of businesses using AI regularly in their operations is still significantly low. This means a broader understanding of AI, and the potential value it can add to businesses is needed – however most of these discussions are still reserved for specialised technical personnel.

But this doesn’t need to be our story, as more invested parties come on board to increase the knowledge base around AI, and more businesses share their successes.

 

A decrease of employee travel costs  

Reza Rad, a Microsoft Data Platform MVP (Most Valuable Professional), author, consultant, trainer and founder of Radacad, recently worked with an organisation whose staff were spending up to 10 million dollars annually on travel costs.

Company procedure stated that any travel booked at least seven days in advance did not require management approval, meaning that employees booked their flights at the time that was most convenient to them. However, Radacad wanted to challenge this mindset and calculate the optimum time to book flights – enabling them to avoid paying extra costs for travel.

“We were able to use data collected by the client that detailed the previous few years of travel expenses and used Microsoft AI technologies such as Azure Machine Learning, and Power BI combined with R to uncover the ideal booking times based on different flight destinations,” says Reza.

“The new lead days have been implemented by the organisation, and we have estimated that they will save more than half a million dollars per year for their flight costs.”

Further learnings from the research and implemented AI technology has revolutionised the way the company approaches travel bookings – and ultimately will continue to provide significant savings for the business.

 

AI provides the tools to technology to help young businesses grow

The five most popular implementations of AI in businesses are currently: improving business processes, augmentation of current applications, process automation, cyber security and customer service. Of those companies surveyed, 52 per cent said that AI will be, or already is, a game changer for their organisation.

For one such company, AI has made a markedly large difference to the value it delivers to customers.

Kotahi, a supply chain collaborator, works with more than 40 logistics partners (including exporters and importers) to plan, source and deliver shipping container capacity for New Zealand businesses. In seven years, Kotahi has become one of the largest supply chain collaborators in New Zealand, moving one third of the country’s containerised exports through their platform.

Data scientists helped build Kotahi a custom predictive algorithm to forecast demand, incorporating machine learning and the deployment of Azure web services which has enabled continually improving accuracy at levels of detail that were previously inaccessible.

Where the once end-to-end monthly planning process took four days, it now takes 30 minutes. Because the application of AI has helped to take care of the detail, it means Kotahi can secure the correct amount of space and resources to continue growing its value proposition.

It also helps to keep New Zealand companies competitive on the world stage by maintaining a sustainable and secure supply chain – allowing them to counteract the larger international exporters who ship their cargo more cost effectively into key markets.

 

What’s next? Assisting clients to understand and integrate AI into their business

The possibilities really are endless when it comes to the deployment of AI in a business. And of course, with every company looking for a unique ‘edge’, deciding what to do with AI can be a bit overwhelming. But a good place to start, advises Reza, is to understand the two sides to AI.

“There are two options for an AI system – the algorithms and the tools. To get the best results from your algorithms, you need data scientists with great experience and deep understanding of the functionality of algorithms.

“Great tools can dramatically speed up development time – for example what Microsoft has available. Use tools that are purpose built for the task at hand for best results – you would never use a hammer for sawing. And when it comes to choosing a saw, there are many different types that can be useful in different scenarios.”

Reza’s team recognise the power of Microsoft’s AI tools because of the variety of resources that can be implemented in different environments – something they have experienced first-hand through many projects.

“You can leverage Azure Machine Learning, or Azure Data Bricks to do a cloud-based AI system, or you can use Microsoft R Server, Power BI, and the data platform technology of that for the on-premises environment.

“Microsoft cognitive services create a fast-paced AI application platform that any business can leverage.”

With a wide variety of AI tools and resources available for Microsoft partners and resellers to leverage, it is easier than ever to start the AI conversations with our clients and within our own businesses.

As Microsoft’s CTO Russell Craig recently noted, those who don’t begin right now to leverage the benefits of AI will be left behind – and unfortunately it is simple as that.

“Fortune does not favour the timid, and here is an opportunity for organisations to stay relevant for their customers. It’s not just about thinking ‘how can develop some skills to sell more stuff?’ But actually ‘how can I transform my own business to THEN help my customers?’”

Crucial to remaining competitive in an ever-crowded business marketplace, tools for simple-to-integrate AI functions are available now. Microsoft has also recognised the need to assist with the application of these tools, which is why they have implemented a training program to guide technology professionals to gain the skills required.


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