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By Falon Fatemi, CEO, Node.io
This article is by Featured Blogger Falon Fatemi from her Forbes.com column. Republished with the author’s permission.
Artificial intelligence wiggled its way into the movie industry decades before it reached business viability. Blockbusters like "The Terminator," "Star Trek," and "Iron Man" captivated viewers with futuristic ideas about how AI would change the world.
Now that AI is actually influencing the real world, though, business leaders are starting to see that it's not all evil robots and smart armor. In fact, top tech companies are hustling to bring AI to market in a variety of exciting (and certainly less sinister) ways.
Facebook debuted its AI research initiative, FAIR, earlier this year. Not to be outdone by a younger brother, Microsoft and Google both announced their own AI research programs just this month. A stack of startups are throwing their silicon caps into the ring as well. Angel List counts nearly 3,000 of them to date. Add it all up, and the AI market could be worth almost $50 billion by 2020.
Best Bets for AI Disruption
No longer far-fetched fiction, artificial intelligence is here, and it's about to rebuild business. The following five industries — among many, many others — will be transformed by AI:
1. Digital Marketing
Marketing automation tools have already turned digital marketing on its head. Today's marketers use AI to analyze customer behavior, customize outreach for individual recipients, and inform sales strategies. So what's still to come?
While AI may sound like old news to the 72 percent of high-performing marketing teams already using it, executives anticipate an even bigger shift in the next few years. Greater proactivity, improved personalization, and humanlike chatbots are all on the way.
What, exactly, will digital marketing look like in 2020? As marketing specialist Moosa Hemani explains in her recent Huffington Post article, AI will allow everyone who visits a website to have a unique experience with that brand. One-to-one communications, dynamic ad copy, and fluid user interfaces will help brands connect with customers in truly personal ways.
2. Customer Relationship Management
Few business areas took off in the early 2000s quite like CRM did. Although they've been around since the '80s, CRM systems became standard software for marketers in just the past decade.
In the next decade, look for CRM to become a playground for AI. SaaS CRM provider Salesforce reports that while 72 percent of marketers currently use a CRM, that figure will grow to 91 percent by 2019. Market shifts are complex, but a big reason is AI. Salesforce predicts that applying AI to CRM will produce $1.1 trillion in GDP and create 880,000 new jobs.
What, exactly, will tomorrow's AI-infused CRM systems do that today's cannot? They'll automate replies to customer inquiries, of course, but they'll also learn from those encounters. They'll become so "human" that it's impossible for customers to distinguish CRM responses from those sent by real people.
The feature marketers will love the most? Next-generation CRM systems will constantly cleanse themselves of dirty data, eliminating a notorious time suck for marketers.
3. Data Analytics
It may be obvious by now, but the analytics industry is on the cusp of a golden age. Plenty of companies today talk a big game when it comes to data, but rarely do their results tell the same story. In fact, McKinsey recently surveyed more than 500 executives across industries, and 86 percent said that their data and analytics initiatives were only "somewhat effective" at meeting their objectives.
No offense to mankind, but "manual" and "data" don't exactly play nice together. In order to capture data at scale and actually use it to make proactive decisions, we humans may just need AI by our side.
4. Customer Self-Service
Customer service is one of those things that can make or break a brand. According to Microsoft's 2016 State of Global Customer Service report, 97 percent of global consumers take customer service into account when choosing whether to work with a company.
AI won't change that. What it will change, however, is how customers receive service. Gone will be the days of calling 1-800 numbers, being put on hold, navigating menus, and usually being put on hold again. Good riddance, right?
Already, 90 percent of those individuals surveyed by Microsoft in Brazil, Japan, the U.S., Germany, and the U.K. say they expect brands to offer an online self-service portal. AI will put these on steroids: Self-service systems will include concierge bots, which will help users troubleshoot products, order spare parts, and provide personalized usage tips. Service costs will drop while customer satisfaction skyrockets.
5. Enterprise Resource Planning
As the name suggests, enterprise resource planning exists largely within the enterprise. It's easy to see why, too: ERP implementations often take years, cost millions, and require serious human oversight.
Once AI gets involved, expect all that to change. ERP will soon be a standard software service for small businesses and enterprises alike. Tomorrow, it won't be Jose from accounting warning that recruiting costs are rising; it'll be an ERP program instead.
But it's not just about money. AI-infused ERP systems will play dispatcher for field roles, optimizing assignments and generating reports after service calls. Because AI's language processing abilities have improved dramatically, ERP systems built with it may even interact directly with customers to determine whether a house call is necessary. PwC estimates that by leveraging AI in this way, 80 percent of customer requests could be resolved without human involvement.
There's no doubt that Iron Man and the Terminator are cool, but they're not the future of artificial intelligence. For better or worse, AI is going to remake the working world. Professionals will wonder how they ever managed without it, executives will see AI as the company's autopilot, and customers will want to work with bots instead of human beings.
Are you ready? AI is coming, and it's going to be big.
Originally published on Forbes.com