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April 22, 2024

AI in Business: Where Are We Today, and How Far Do We Have to Go?

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If you’re going to use AI in business, then the rewards can be great—but only after you understand the risks.

AI is getting ready to explode. Case in point: The generative AI market is predicted to grow to $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years from only $40 billion last year.

There’s much speculation about how AI will redefine work, but what does it mean from a business standpoint? How will AI impact what you do as an integrator?

The topic is so critical that, recently, the White House even issued a landmark Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence.

At NSCA’s Pivot to Profit (P2P) 2023, experts discussed these critical points—and attendees learned some valuable lessons along the way. Here, we cover just a few of the considerations and takeaways covered in P2P’s AI-focused sessions.

How AI Is Being Used by Integrators Today

While many examples were shared of how integrators and industry manufacturers are applying AI in business, these two use cases were high on the list.

1. Internal Operations within Integration Firms

One example shared by Quang Trinh, business development manager of platform technologies (IoT and AI) at Axis Communications, involves running an internal model that queries support documentation and then provides that information back to partners using natural language processing. This makes troubleshooting faster and easier.

The more people who use the tool, the better it becomes, which makes customer service more efficient.

Another example: Many companies already use AI in business to create meeting transcriptions and summaries. This comes in handy when someone is double-booked: They attend one meeting and send a personal AI assistant to the other to “listen” and report back on key points and potential to-dos.

2. Helping Clients Improve Building Operations

AI is also slowly on the rise within commercial buildings, working in the background to help facilities run more efficiently. And integrators are finding ways to apply AI for clients to help them improve their building operations.

For example, installing occupancy sensors in a meeting room allows the heating, cooling, ventilation, and lighting systems to adjust in real time based on room usage, which is assessed through AI. This not only improves comfort but also reduces energy costs. Spaceti rolled this technology out in a building in Denmark, and that facility now sees utility bills that are 70% lower than they were previously.

“AI has the ability to look beyond what humans consider—or can even comprehend—as variables in system performance. So many factors impact HVAC control, for example,” explained Aakash Ravi, cofounder and chief growth officer at Spaceti. “Wind speeds, ocean currents, the position of the moon. There’s so much data out there that it isn’t possible for humans to correlate it all—but AI can.”

The Risks of Using AI in Business

At the end of the day, however, integrators are technologists—not data scientists or lawyers. The industry has lots to learn about AI’s impact on things like security, ethics, and privacy—and integrators must understand where the biggest risks lie and the serious implications they can pose. Even legislators and lawmakers are struggling to wrap their minds around what is AI—and what it isn’t.

Here’s what our experts warned attendees to watch out for:

Trust and Verification

If you’re going to use AI in business, then you must know that you can trust it—and the data it provides to you. What is the source of the AI data? Was that source valid? Is the data verifiable?

Today, responsible verification requires humans in the loop and some manual pre-processing before the data can be applied to create algorithms or improve AI performance through machine learning.

Privacy and Protection

Respecting privacy is important—a critical consideration especially when cameras and sensors integrate AI for monitoring and reporting purposes.

“There’s been a lot of angst about the increased level of monitoring that comes with AI systems, even given the benefits it provides,” Trinh pointed out. “The industry needs to do a better job of educating the public on the real benefits of these systems instead of talking about the technology. We can do more when it comes to communicating about ethics, what we’re doing with data, and the standards we’re holding ourselves to.”

Consider the use case we mentioned earlier about summarizing meeting notes: Will people be as open in sharing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas if they know that everything is being recorded and will be ‘discoverable’ later?” asked Sid Bose, partner at Ice Miller.

Content Ownership

Many companies are using generative AI (like ChatGPT) to create content: to write an email, for example. But who owns that content? Where will it ultimately go? Who gets credit for that work? Is the content pulled from accurate information that makes sense?

When writing an email, then the consequences may not be dire—but if you’re relying on AI to build a business case or write a proposal, then that’s another story.

If you place code you prepared into a generative AI platform to help you create content, will the code be protected? Who owns the code at that point? Can someone else use it? Does it become public?

What if you used AI to help create the code in the first place? Can you tell your customer they own it—even though you didn’t create it? If something goes wrong, then what?

While there are many opportunities to consider, there are also many questions that must be answered when you go down this road.

AI in Business: Where It Stands Today

Currently, AI is more about “automation intelligence” vs. “artificial intelligence.” In other words, how can it be used to automate processes and workflows?

According to Microsoft’s 2023 Work Trend Index, 74% of employees struggle with having enough time and energy to do their jobs effectively. In addition, the average employee spends:

  • 57% of their time communicating in meetings, emails, and chat
  • 43% of their time creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations

And while nearly half of respondents say they’re worried that AI will replace their jobs, 70% say they would delegate as much work as possible to AI if it lessened their workloads.

Take healthcare, for example. Instead of sending a nurse to get patient medication, a robot can visit the pharmacy, collect the necessary drugs based on the prescription, and bring them back to the nurse. Meanwhile, the nurse can spend more time with patients. AI isn’t replacing the nurse’s job—it’s augmenting it.

“AI is like outsourcing. It lets you focus on providing a better customer experience and adding more value to the process. But, to use AI, you need to have skillsets that many people don’t have today,” explained Mike Boettcher, president at EDGE. “I’ve heard people say, ‘AI is not going to take your job. The person who knows how to use AI is the one who will take your job.’ ”

Another important note about integrators and AI is that this will be an evolving topic. The conversation about AI at Pivot to Profit was undoubtedly different than the AI discussions being planned for 2024 Business & Leadership Conference. (Register here, by the way.)

Meanwhile, the White House Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence, alluded to earlier, also notes the rapid rate of change related to AI. The fact that an Executive Order was issued is “a recognition of the significant impact that AI has had (and will have) on all of us,” says Bose.

“The EO has laid out a number of important considerations in the use and proliferation of AI. And, members should embrace the benefits of AI but do so with awareness aware of the risks. From intellectual property and trade secret implications to issues of fairness and discriminatory outcomes, AI is still untested and evolving. The upside is huge. But, adoption should be undertaken in a responsible, diligent and conscientious manner.”

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