Forget the sci-fi movies: Artificial Intelligence is already here in New Zealand, and making an impact on everyday businesses. The question is – who will step up to face it head on, and who will get left behind?
According to a recently released report from the Artificial Intelligence Forum of New Zealand (AIFNZ), Canada, China, France, Singapore, South Korea, UAE and UK have all developed multi-million dollar national AI investment strategies. New Zealand currently does not have a national AI strategy. Does that mean we will continue to lag on the world stage?
What is AI and how is it relevant to everyday businesses?
Going right back to basics, AI in its basic form is software that is built upon the idea of neural networks that emulate the capacity of the human brain to process information, and then draw insight from that information.
AI is changing fundamental aspects of computing and what it enables. Russell Craig, Microsoft’s CTO in New Zealand, says that in the past, large computer-based jobs were carried out using pre-written software.
“What this means will evolve – AI is rapidly developing set of technologies. Capabilities such as machine learning are changing that model. At the moment, a big focus of AI is on radically enhancing data analytics – the ability to take large sets of data and build machine learning capabilities around the data in order to do things that humans and traditional computing can do such as image recognition, but much much much faster. This attribute of AI is one our customers are focusing on right now.”
What’s happening here in New Zealand?
Latest figures show that 52 per cent of business leaders are saying that AI will be, or already is, a game changer in their organisation. However only 36 per cent say their company’s board is discussing AI. So where does that leave the adoption of AI in New Zealand?
Right now, the companies using AI to enhance their business are doing so in a variety of ways. One of the most identifiable approaches currently would be through the use of bots, or ‘chat bots’ – which are an added tool for organisations online to assist customers who may have questions or enquiries about their services or products. Right now, Microsoft and its partners are working on a wide range of chat bot initiatives with both business and government organisations. And of course, have you ever had an online shopping experience that has resulted in ‘recommendations’ of other products? That is AI data analytics at work, understanding what other people have bought that could be relevant to your similar purchase. And your smartphone wouldn’t be much use without a huge range of AI capabilities that sit behind the experiences we now take for granted.
However the capacity of AI goes a lot further than this, it just requires more outside-of-the-box thinking from those who can see the potential in its use. Kotahi is one such business here in New Zealand, whose story only began seven years ago, and today, around a third of the country’s containerised exports go through it’s supply chain platform.
AI has been fundamental to achieving this. “Kotahi used the Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite to automate its demand-forecasting process. This enabled more effective and efficient logistical decisions and freed up staff to perform more in-depth analysis of the data it already had”, says Craig.
Using AI to transform demand forecasting has had broad benefits. ”This has made a profound difference to the services and value Kotahi can deliver to its customers and has allowed for greater efficiency overall in regard to imports and exports – something that certainly filters down to benefit the whole of New Zealand.” he says.
From the same AIFNZ report, modelling analysis found that just through labour conversion alone, AI has the potential to increase New Zealand GDP by up to $54 billion by 2035 across 18 industry classifications.
Unfortunately one of the biggest barriers to adopting AI technology seems to be education – with 44 per cent of those surveyed for the AIFNZ report noting that education is a key challenge to implementing it in their business.
Which is why Microsoft’s strategy around AI is ensuring the technology is accessible to everyone, and provides opportunities to understand how these functionalities could work for them. Such as the Microsoft Professional Program (MPP) which is a series of online on-demand free training courses aligned to industry skills and focused on the latest technologies.
From Big Data to Data Science, Cloud Computing, Software Development, and the recently added Artificial Intelligence Program, these courses provide real-world skills and hands-on instruction. And while they can be rigorous, they are also rewarding, with the flexibility to master skills at your own pace. Click here to view further information.
So what do business leaders need to do right now?
Those who do not get involved, will get left behind says Craig. And while it isn’t about scaremongering, it is about emphasising the importance of those in business – any business – to educate themselves on the subject of AI and being engaged in applying it to their organisation now. Not later.
A barrier to this however may be the acute shortage of machine learning experts available, although the workaround to this is upskilling internal teams to learn these capabilities – programmes which are at the hands of partners and resellers nationwide.
“It’s exciting, to consider what AI can do across all industries and organisations. And Microsoft has all the tools available to help make it happen,” explains Craig.
“There are a plethora of opportunities available through our cognitive service platforms, and we are encouraging everyone to dip their toes in and get a taste for how AI can allow them to deliver a better customer experience, help them to keep up with the competition, and get ahead of it, as well as attract and retain more loyal customers.”
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