What real IT people think about AI

September 27, 2018

Expectations are high, as long as AI delivers real business value

What do IT decision makers really think about AI? Are they buying the hype? Are they laying some groundwork for artificial intelligence implementations?

Random interviews with several IT managers across a variety of industries on The Hub show floor at Inforum 2018 reveal what one might expect — a variety of opinions on AI. But most all believe it could be big, possibly very big.

Another widely held belief is that tapping into the capability of AI to optimize human potential will take some trial and error. To some extent, this reflects the thinking of sports superstar Venus Williams, who told a packed General Session at Inforum, “Failure is a huge part of knowing you're pushing yourself hard enough.”

But all agreed on one thing: IT must acknowledge AI in some way, and at least begin to closely and seriously examine how it might fit into their organizations. After all, as Williams said, “It’s not where you start, but where you finish.”

One pioneering early user of AI is Headwaters Inc., a supplier and distributor of construction materials comprising five distribution companies across the US. Matt Hendrickson, IT director and speaker at Inforum, said his firm decided to partner with Infor in its journey to the cloud, designed to relieve its tiny technical staff from operational burdens.

Early in this engagement, Hendrickson said he tapped the potential of Infor Coleman, the AI platform, to drive greater efficiencies and effectiveness by predicting possible stock-outs and back order problems. He noted that Coleman could tap into a range of data sources, including real-time and historical weather data, to better estimate when customers would require Headwaters’ products when demand is affected by various weather events. For Headwaters, it’s a great AI beginning.

Here are other takes on AI from random show floor interviews.

Jim Maughan, Cyber Sciences, Tennessee maker of electrical monitoring systems for IT and other environments. AI will matter more to me when we start to see some direct connections between what we do with it in the business and the real results it delivers. To me now it is just a lot of Boolean logic as in “if this happens, do this, and if that happens, do that.” A lot more still has to be done to simplify the way AI gets integrated into key applications. I need to see more before we jump in.

That said, in the next two to three years, I do expect to see practical applications featuring AI, and then AI will become a required technology, no different than having a great reporting tool in your ERP package. How big AI becomes depends on how much time and money it saves you. If you can scan an invoice and then, based on AI, process it and eliminate a lot of manual steps, well that’s important. But if it doesn’t save time and money, then AI will just be a nice toy that IT will pay lip service.

Evelyn Carter, Nulon Products, Australian maker of lubricating and automotive oils. I struggle to believe in AI as it is now. It is not some magic thing that will change the world. The current technology has been around for a while. It is just programing in such a way that an everyday user might think there is something magical in the background going on.

Going forward, AI is a good direction to take, but people need to understand what it really is. IT needs to understand the risks of AI. What if someone hacks into an AI system that is functioning autonomously? What if the wrong people are sponsoring the data upon which some AI output is based?

The great news is AI’s ability to takes the human emotion out of a lot of things and just get the job done. Just remember AI is just a human writing code to make a computer do logical steps. I also love the technology behind the natural interfaces. The technology behind voice and image recognition is amazing. In that way, AI is great.

Looking ahead, I see great benefits for AI in handling menial tasks, like simple repetitive processes wherein users do essentially the same things repeatedly. AI promises also to offer much faster access to the data users want. Also AI’s ability to effectively learn what the user does and what the user wants, and then just bring that information to the forefront — that’s really great, replacing noncritical thinking. But ultimately, AI will have to add real value to the business, and giving users more time for critical, strategic thinking does that. We humans are really good at critical thinking.

Soulby Jackson, Resolute Industrial, Chicago-based maker of commercial HVAC systems. AI is very exciting, but IT really needs to get the basics of AI right first, which will take planning. AI is great the way it links to how people function these days, and how they want to interact with technology.

I think, in the years to come, we’ll all need to be with AI. But a lot of IT people want their systems to be very stable and functional and useful. New sexy stuff can have a lot of things that can go wrong. I see a lot of practical AI apps coming, more functional than not. However, there are lots of investments IT will need to undertake first.

Barbara Parks, Koch Industries, US-based mega-conglomerate. A lot of the IT future could be AI, but what is missing today is trust, as in trust in the information AI can generate. Also there is a generational thing going on. People who grew up using computers by typing information into them are now in their 40s. The next generation will be much more comfortable interacting with machines via natural means, like voice. Longer term, the greatest benefits of AI will be its ability to increase productivity, to stop the mundane tasks users undertake and free them for more critical thinking tasks. The instant communications, access to huge amounts of usable data, and ease of human-to-machine interaction will be big for AI.

Dave Mens, Architectural Profiles, UK-based roofing and cladding systems provider. AI has a place going forward. For a company like ours, perhaps that is in the training we do, and augmented reality can help there. The natural language interaction will spur a lot of new uses as well. I think the big AI wave is a ways out, but it’s there for sure.

Gabriel Gallegos, Master Halco, US-based distributor of fencing products. Halco has already made investments in AI. As a distribution company, we have to have systems that can quickly look at a lot of data and data sets, aggregate it, and then assist us in making fast decisions. It is AI’s predictive capabilities that are important for us to consider. As I heard today at Inforum, the future is written in code. AI will not replace humans, but it will give us more time for critical thinking.

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