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A recent report from The Economist Intelligence Unit states 94 percent of businesses consider artificial intelligence (AI) "important to solving their strategic challenges."

It's a finding that's in line with experts’ forecast of AI playing a key role in enhancing growth, productivity, innovation and job creation in the coming years.

With businesses turning to AI to solve problems and improve operations, markets are already absorbing the effects. For instance, an increasing number of consumers now expect conveniences like chatbots, instant approvals and product suggestions. AI is transforming the current business landscape by leaps and bounds. Not evaluating its future implications may prove to be painful for your organization.

The all-important question, though, is what "artificial intelligence" is and what does it look like to actually implement it in your business.

About AI Technology

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit:

"AI refers to software capable of analyzing large quantities of data, learning from the results of such assessments, and using this knowledge to refine future processes and systems."

AI can recognize patterns and find opportunities to optimize business functions like routing transportation, managing inventory, scheduling production and even allocating workforce based on skill. It can help businesses make forecasts and continually adjust according to trends, shifts, errors and anomalies in the data. The result: drastic, measurable change in nearly every industry.

While AI is often talked about in broad strokes, here are some examples of how AI is being applied in different industries with real and measurable benefits.

  1. Operations Management
    Manufacturers are already using AI in multiple areas of their operations, including equipment maintenance, production processes and supply chain management.

    For equipment, AI is allowing manufacturers to be proactive about maintenance and reduce downtime in production schedules. For instance, tire manufacturing major Goodyear uses IoT sensors to determine if and when their equipment will need maintenance so they can operate with fewer unforeseen repairs and delays.

    Many forms of AI, including IoT sensors and robots, are used in production lines. AI robots are now smaller and more cost-effective, can be programmed to perform multiple functions, and have sensors that make them safer to work with. IoT sensors can record and report data from your production line so you can adjust for efficiency and catch quality control issues onsite. And technologies like HoloLens, which integrate AI capabilities and which Goodyear also plans to use, can play a major role in product design.

    Supply chain management has great use cases for AI in the manufacturing industry. IoT sensors can record data from across the supply chain, and AI can use that data to spot inefficiencies, suggest better processes and make accurate forecasts. For instance, AI might find more expedient routes for transportation and flag potential quality control issues as products move.
  2. Field Service
    AI tools can transform your field services operations. Take the capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service for example. Rather than simply waiting for a service call to come in, this AI technology can make predictions based on data and discover problems before consumers can even start noticing. If a problem is detected, it sets off a series of actions, from self-healing to a remote service request. If these methods don’t resolve the issue, it recommends a service call.

    The intelligence capabilities don’t stop there, however. AI can also optimize technician assignments, choosing the nearest and most capable individual for a specific request. When the technician arrives, AI will run diagnostics and tests that will save the technician time and effort.

    Other AI for field service:
     Intelligent inventory management to guarantee parts for repairs
     HoloLens virtual 3D rendering to better identify problems
     Mobile schedule management, routing and diagnostics for technicians
  3. Finance
    Applying AI to financial functions can greatly improve the accuracy and usefulness of your processes, besides allowing you to optimize employee time. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance Insights, which will be available in May 2020, uses AI for data collection, calculations and analyses that usually demand extensive manual work. It uses this data and analyses to make predictions that can more accurately guide financial decisions and improve budgeting.

    Through this product, AI is driving the creation of more realistic budgets and projected cash flows based on data and forecasting. The process will be faster and the results more timely and actionable. AI will also be able to predict customer behavior, like late payments, so that you can plan accordingly and take proactive measures.
  4. Customer Service
    AI can be a great boon for your customer service efforts, taking charge of redundant and programmable tasks, and improving processes for enhanced customer experiences. This will help you to better allocate resources and provide your customers noticeable conveniences.

    With Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, for instance, you’ll get continual insights into customer experiences and satisfaction. AI can automatically discover types and profiles, and it can predict behaviors so that you can engage appropriately with different profiles. It can even determine which individuals are long-term, high-value customers so you can focus your efforts accordingly.

    Another area in which artificial intelligence is used in customer service is the Virtual Assistant. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent for Customer Service is one great example of this. You can program a virtual agent to handle common requests quickly and efficiently, freeing up resources in your company and improving customer satisfaction.
    Other AI for customer service:
     Product suggestions based on customer behavior and data
     Chatbots for frequently asked questions and concerns
     Instant approvals for basic claims and applications
  5. Loss and Fraud
    Instances of loss and fraud are becoming more prevalent, especially as markets move online. Retailers and financial services companies are seeking solutions that ensure the integrity of account services and reduce unnecessary losses. AI is already making great strides in this area, with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection now offering account protection and loss prevention capabilities to resolve these concerns.

    AI works similarly for loss and fraud as it does for other functions of business: It finds patterns, learns from them, adapts to them, and suggests actions. If it detects a pattern in how fraudulent accounts are created, it can work to prevent such activities going forward. If it detects patterns in losses from returns and mismanaged discounts in retail, it can make suggestions for retailers that will reduce risks where they are most prevalent.

Bonus: AI and Human Interest

The power, and potential, of AI extends far beyond business processes. Microsoft has added a new branch to their AI for Good initiative: AI for Health. Through it, the company aims to play a role in the research and development of AI tools for medical applications worldwide.

AI can use data to find patterns and help providers detect disease earlier, helping in the more accurate diagnosis and treatment of patients. Microsoft is already involved in projects that are working with AI to predict and solve health concerns like cancer, leprosy, preventable blindness and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), according to this Forbes article on the effort. Overall, Microsoft is striving to empower AI professionals to apply their skills to humanitarian efforts, and make AI tools available across the globe to reduce health inequity.

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If your business hasn't already embraced AI, you're probably hearing a lot about it. You may have some questions. How does it work, and what are the rewards it can deliver? And perhaps most importantly: What's involved in getting it up and running?
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