A lot has changed in 2020 – more than we could have ever imagined. In the world of technology, that rings true, and we can expect the acceleration of technology adoption that we saw this year continue well into 2021. The impact of the pandemic on businesses will be lasting.
This year, we’ve seen a lot of industries and disciplines turn to AI and automation in their hour of need – such as finance, HR, and supply chain. There was more urgency than ever before. Urgency to meet revenue targets, meet margins, and make efficiency gains, at a time when these sectors were under more stress than ever before. As a result, we’ve seen lots of companies quickly digitise, and start introducing AI and automation into their business to solve problems that needed urgent solutions.
We’re now years ahead of where we were in early 2020 – but this doesn’t show signs of slowing down. In fact, digitising is no longer enough. Businesses need that additional layer of intelligence that AI and intelligent automation can bring.
In 2021, I have three key predictions for how this will take shape:
Goodbye chatbot, Hello humanoid avatar
Once heralded as the next frontier in customer experience, and widely used by retailers, banks, and online marketplaces, chatbots can no longer provide the level of service the modern consumer wants. Particularly after a year spent largely in our own homes, more than ever, we’re all craving human connection. What’s more, we’ve all experienced chatbots who were no help at all – prone to error, many have to speak to someone on the phone anyway. Where chatbots fall short, AI-driven humanoid avatars can do much, much more. In 2021, we will see the first early adopters of this technology, like banks, universities, and retailers, bring their AI avatars to our screens.
For customers, this might mean logging on to do your online grocery shop and being met by a friendly avatar who can run through the latest deals, point you in the direction of ingredients, and actually act as a ‘personal shop assistant’ – far beyond what chatbots are capable of. For businesses, there are many benefits beyond customer experience: opportunities to cross- and upsell, the ability to answer queries to relieve the burden on customer services, and even train customers on new products or services. Humanoid avatars and conversational AI will be a major trend next year, and it will help brands build lasting relationships with their customers.
The power is in the data
In Fortune 500 companies, when senior executives make decisions, it’s typically based on past events within that company – plus some manual forecasting on what might happen next. This might include demand for certain products in certain regions or projections of revenue across business units, for example. In a post-COVID-19 world, this is no longer enough of a basis to make decisions.
Next year, we’ll see a huge move towards using AI and data science to make predictions for the future, as Forrester , enabling business leaders to make informed decisions based on much more data than they ever have before. With datasets going back years – and the need to look at external data like weather records, demographic changes, or government policies – it’s only possible to really leverage all of this data with machine learning and AI as a helping hand. Moreover, machine learning algorithms learn from themselves over time, meaning accuracy continues to grow with each new piece of data that’s added. This gives execs a completely new view of their business, enabling them to see correlations and make predictions they couldn’t before, which will help them propel their business forward.
Laggard industries become AI leaders
Sectors like supply chain, logistics, HR, and finance have long been known for relying on manual, paper-based processes – and for lagging behind their more forward-thinking counterparts. The pandemic changed all that. Now, we will see businesses move operations to a ‘handsfree’ model, to future-proof themselves through innovation.
In supply chains, for example, this will take shape by injecting AI and automation throughout logistics processes and operations. Look at warehouse management: inbound and outbound processing, returns, inventory management, and more were all done by hand. Now, AI can take over, selecting the right pallets and classifying them for a production order, entirely automated.
‘Handsfree’ operations will also enable senior teams to work in predictive mode – to predict future trends and events within their supply chain – and even prescriptive mode, where AI can recommend solutions and advise on the best course of action. Here, AI and automation can enable logistics leaders to weather any potential storms.