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Solving problems in new ways with new technologies

Can emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, RPA and NLU have a role to play in your organisation? Or are they just the latest in a series of terms that will inevitably be over-hyped by analysts and suppliers, but ultimately be of little practical use to most organisations?

In this article, Tyrran Ferguson, Head of AI at SCC, discusses some of the use-cases he has already experienced and envisages other potential and pragmatic uses to which the latest emerging technologies could be applied.

Emerging technologies – buzz-words or real opportunities?

Artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), robotic process automation (RPA), natural language understanding (NLU). You will see all of these being mentioned in articles and hear them being spoken about as emerging technologies that can accelerate the digital transformation of organisations. But while they may sound like very exciting concepts, envisioning exactly where they might be put to use within your organisation might not be as simple.

This has always been the case with technology. It never makes sense to deploy a product or solution just for the sake of it, or because it sounds impressive. The focus always needs to be on the problem or challenge an organisation faces, to which technology may (or may not) provide a solution or deliver some added and measurable benefit.

We have found this to be just as true with the latest emerging technologies, such as AI and analytics, IoT, RPA and NLP, as it was for previous waves of technology development.

But it is also the case that new solutions open up new possibilities. With most of these technologies, the potential for change is quite dramatic. We also have improved connectivity and security, and the cloud gives us the flexibility and immediacy to harness power and process data on a massive scale. By bringing all of these capabilities together, it’s possible to completely transform working processes and draw new insights and interpretations from information that simply could not have been envisioned before.

That of course, makes it even harder to see where these new technologies could be used. The kinds of challenges that are now being addressed are typically in areas in which IT would not have traditionally formed part of the answer, let alone be central to it. Smart parking and traffic management; the monitoring of environmental changes – water levels, humidity or temperature; speech recognition and automated response; intelligent analysis of free text to interpret meaning and determine subsequent action; and many more.

The examples that we outline by clicking the links below are simply a few of those we have experienced in the last few months. Our belief is that, in just about every organisation, there will be challenges like these that were previously not seen as issues to which technology could be applied. These stories may help to give you an idea of where those challenges might lie, and how AI, IoT and other new technologies could be put to practical use in your organisation.

AI analysis of free text makes for smarter logistics
IoT sensors enable fairer use of parking space and improved traffic flow
A more intelligent approach to waste management

What have we learned?

From these use cases and others, SCC has learned that it’s not always entirely apparent that new or emerging technologies can be used to solve problems. In all three of the scenarios outlined above, the most obvious answer would have been to deploy additional personnel to address the issue. But as anyone who manages budgets knows, people are the biggest cost to any organisation.

Also, people are fallible. For the logistics company, having someone checking the orders more thoroughly before a vehicle was dispatched may have worked, up to a point. But the effectiveness of the process would always depend on the individual/s checking the orders.

Any number of factors could affect their performance – the amount of pressure they are under, their energy levels and general health, their working environment and the degree to which they might be distracted, for example.

The AI-driven solution on the other hand, is consistent and reliable. And it could be improved over time. It will ensure that the logistics company can get it right first time, almost every time, reducing costs and improving customer service.

The same would be true for the midlands-region council. They could have allocated more staff to answer calls on waste management, but this would added to costs and with the volume of calls likely to remain high, it would be an additional long-term burden on the budget.

Also, as would have been the case for the logistics company, there is no assurance that the staff fielding calls will always be as effective as they need to be. This might mean that on one day, callers get a good experience, on another that they either can’t get through or don’t get a response that satisfies them.

With the intelligent chatbot, all callers will always get a consistent and professional response – and those that have more involved queries can still talk to a member of the team, who will – as a consequence of the chatbot dealing with routine enquiries – have more time to help with more urgent or complicated issues.

The smart parking solution for the northern council also solves a problem that could otherwise have only been addressed either by deploying more people and cameras. Armed with better and up-to-the-minute information, wardens can operate more efficiently and become more effective in deterring residents to overstay their limits in designated parking spaces.

In all three of these cases, it was not immediately apparent to the customer that AI, analytics, IoT or other new technologies could potentially offer a solution. With the expertise, insight and experience that we have in these areas at SCC, we could see the possibilities right away.

The lesson here – for IT managers and organisations – is that even when you have challenges where it is not immediately obvious that technology could provide a solution, it is worth asking the question and investigating the possibilities. It may well be that AI and analytics, NLP, RPA, IoT and other technologies can be used to solve these problems in new ways.

What’s next?

If you have some kind of challenge to which these new technologies might be applied, we’d urge you to contact our team. We have already gained considerable experience in developing, implementing refining and supporting smart solutions of the kind described in this document. We continue to learn more and add to our knowledge and experience with every implementation.

Our view is that there is almost no problem or challenge to which we would not be able to envision, design and deliver a technology-based solution. We’d welcome the opportunity to be challenged in that conviction, so whatever problem or scenario you are looking to address, we’d like to hear from you.

For more information on our Innovation services please click here.

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