The office is the new frontier in using machine learning to both automate and improve business processes. Artificial Intelligence (AI) automates analytical processes much like robots and production machinery automate physical processes for companies.
So many people I talk with in distribution and manufacturing first think of AI as robots and machine automation. That is a small part of what AI and predictive analytics is. I have to give them credit for at least thinking about the concepts and associating it with processes in business. In distribution and manufacturing it is a natural “go to” thought because robots and automation through machines has been coming to the assembly line and warehouse for decades.
These managers and executives have a harder time seeing how robots would help their jobs in the office. (I use that generic term “robot” purposefully.)
The misconception is robots are the front line of AI. That is simply not the case anymore especially if you expand your definition to include predictive analytics.
Robots do mechanical tasks repetitively. Robots keep advancing to be more capable in the tasks they perform and their flexibility for encountering different situations often now involves some sort of AI process to assist varying procedures to accomplish their tasks. That is a long way to say that, yes, robots involve some AI.
However, it is far from the only way AI is working its way into distribution and manufacturing. Here are a few examples:
Customer Churn Prevention: Relying on salespeople to read a customer’s commitment is fine but understanding and defining behaviors that indicate a customer is about to stop buying from you is better. Being able to proactively tell salespeople a customer is starting to display patterns of ordering, paying or communications indicating they are likely to be looking for another vendor is fantastic information salespeople can use. This is insight AI can provide.
Predictive Ordering and Authoritative Cross Selling: Knowing when a customer should order next based on previous order patterns falls squarely in the domain of AI. Seeing what other similar customers bought arms salespeople with powerful information to not only ensure the next order comes through as predicted but has the potential to be bigger.
Predicting Everything: A little grandiose in scope, but, AI is able to predict future sales by customer, item, vendor, salesperson and so on. Sure, executives can look at a dashboard and guesstimate their top 10 products future sales pretty easily but expanding that out to thousands of products and customers or hundreds of vendors is impossible by simply looking at dashboards and reports. There isn’t enough time for that level of data exploration.
These and many other uses of AI are coming to business processes in the office of distributors and manufacturers. Large players already deploy AI and data science. Midsize companies need to start NOW.