Across industries and in nearly every vertical, AI is driving digital transformation. In sales, for example, 70% of US-based professionals are now using some form of AI at work. In marketing, platforms like IBM’s Watson Marketing, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, and Pega’s Unified DMP are bringing brands closer than ever before to their customers. Project scheduling optimizers for engineering, telecommunications AI that recognize early signs of churn, and personalized gaming experiences based on in-game data are just a few of the ways AI is disrupting major industries today.
AI is no longer the exclusive domain of massive enterprise with equally outsized R&D budgets, either. Intelligent automation is now accessible to even the smallest of businesses; call it entry-level AI, if you will. From full-service marketing platforms like MailChimp for SMBs to individual standalone tools like EyeLevel.ai and LivePerson’s Maven, AI-powered martech opens the door to a world of cost savings, new revenue and enhanced customer experience.
For marketers of all skill levels and disciplines, the time to become AI-proficient is now.
How AI is changing the automation game
Martech evangelists are having an easier time getting buy-in lately; after all, inefficiencies cost money – as much as 20 to 30 percent of an organization’s revenue each year. While a Walker Sands report found 33% of marketers said they faced internal resistance to martech in 2016, just 27% experienced the same in 2018.
Obviously, efficiency and scale are great benefits in themselves, but it’s when you layer Artificial Intelligence on top that digital gets truly interesting. This is where the magic happens. Automation and AI are no longer the new kids on the block, but together they’re maturing and truly testing the limits of what’s possible. Machine learning has grown in leaps and bounds and, as C-level executives have bought into its potential, has been given more latitude in actually making decisions and executing operations based on data.
Take warehouse robots, for example. Perhaps one of the most recognizable early applications of intelligent automation, these machines zip around warehouses picking and packing orders. In 2012, Amazon started a retail arms race by acquiring Kiva Systems and cutting off the warehouse robot supply to competitors Walgreens, Staples, and more. Kiva became part of Amazon Robotics, a company that in its own words, “…automates fulfilment center operations using various methods of robotic technology including autonomous mobile robots, sophisticated control software, language perception, power management, computer vision, depth sensing, machine learning, object recognition, and semantic understanding of commands.”
But they aren’t the only player in the game. That earlier decision to strip competitors of their technology made way for innovators like 6 River Systems, a startup founded by former Kiva engineers. Their robot, “Chuck,” is designed to engage associates, keep them on task, and boost human productivity. They call it a “directed approach,” where humans are in control of and aided by their collaborative robot partner.
Vecna Technologies has been making medical robots and software for two decades, but just got into the warehouse robots game, as well. Their self-driving warehouse vehicles use machine learning to continually optimize workflow and improve human performance, as well.
Warehouse operations and order fulfillment are just one area in which humans and machines are learning to work together, but it’s big business. In fact, warehousing and logistics robotics is an industry expected to reach a market value of $22.4 billion by the end of 2021 (Tractica).
In warehousing, AI and deep learning are successfully enhancing human productivity, optimizing workflows, and improving customer experience. In B2B, intelligent automation is creating entirely new revenue streams.
DIFM service is an excellent example of humans and tech working together
While intelligent machines are being empowered to make some decisions, marketers’ jobs are not in danger – at least, not those who are willing to learn to work with them. In fact, intelligent automation can act as a great complement to and even dramatically improve human performance, when used… well, intelligently. What’s more, humans can enhance the value of a software application by specializing in it and helping others reap the greatest benefit from using it. Some have referred to this opportunity as the “Do It For Me” economy.
Anthony P. Lee, Managing Director at Silicon Valley venture growth equity fund Altos Ventures, explained in a TechCrunch column: “DIFM combines technology automation with specialized labor to deliver a complete solution to a business problem. It’s as much about people-powered customer service as it is about code-powered efficiency.”
For some, DIFM is creating new revenue streams. Rather than software-as-a-service, each using automation complemented by a secondary level of human expertise – deliver software-with-a-service. In making experts available to power the machine, they help customers get the maximum value possible from the program.
DIFM is not an entirely new phenomenon, but the tech-powered evolution of business process outsourcing or managed services. Once reserved for the wealthiest and largest brands, the new managed services are a hybrid of intelligent automation and specialized human services that deliver both the scale and expertise it takes to meet consumers’ heightened expectations.
Intelligent automation is forever changing the way we work
Concerns over robots displacing human workers are not entirely unfounded. As workflows evolve and repetitive tasks are automated, those jobs will indeed disappear for humans. But as Yaro Tenzer, co-founder of the mechanical hand order picker RightHand, argued to the Boston Globe, “People cannot find enough labor to do these jobs,” said Tenzer. “They call us and say, ‘we cannot fulfill orders. Can you help us?’ ”
Those with the technological savvy to work alongside the machines – to ensure they’re given good input, and to decipher and maximize their output – will increase their own value as employees.
At the executive level, a tangible and active commitment to digital transformation is the only way forward. According to KPMG, just 20% of firms surveyed said they are beyond the pilot stage and ‘up and running’ with their AI efforts. Organizational uncertainty around how to get started, integration, and workflows abound. With transformation comes a great deal of disruption, and business leaders must be able to navigate and move past it.
The cost savings and improved efficiency of successfully implemented AI are a bonus, but should not be your primary goal. From a more holistic perspective, intelligent automation can fundamentally change how your organization operates – from improved customer engagement to driving growth and creating entirely new areas of business.
In martech, this means developing the technical skills to maximize the machine’s output, while still nurturing the creativity that underpins the best marketing campaigns. It means succeeding in an area where many currently fail: integration (KPMG also found that only 10% of respondents are integrating solutions across automation, AI, and smart analytics).
It means moving quickly to coordinate efforts and getting rid of piecemeal AI efforts that may achieve one objective but do so in a vacuum.
Most of all, the AI revolution requires of marketers that we find synergy between our talent and technology; that we embrace our place as hybrid marketers. Learn more about developing the skills required of an AI mindset here.
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