But the technology is also becoming integrated into the preexisting technology industry, with tech business leaders using everything from Alexa skills to humanoid robots to streamline in-office affairs, increasing efficiency and productivity in the process.
Generally described as high-payoff ventures, the tech leaders TechRepublic talked to for this story all agreed on one thing: Businesses need to begin adopting AI technologies to help them do work, or risk being left behind.
Here are eight ways companies are using AI-driven technology to increase productivity.
SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)
Using deep learning and TensorFlow, Argentina-based credit firm oMelhorTrato.com uses AI to automate part of their hiring process. The set-up combs through the CVs of job applicants who apply through the company website and third parties, distinguishing between good and bad candidates by looking for certain qualifications.
Human resources used to spend around two-thirds of their time manually reading the CVs—time that has been freed up due to AI. It takes one week to train an employee on how to use the "very simple" software, said Cristian Rennella, the company's HR director and co-founder.
An important part of keeping the algorithm accurate is a human identifying errors and alerting the system so it improves its prediction. This caused productivity to slow during the first 30 days of use because employees were more focused on improving the predictions. Now, three months after implementing the technology, productivity has increased by 21.3%, according to Rennella.
"We are sincerely surprised with the results and very happy, because boring, manual and repetitive tasks today can be performed automatically thanks to AI. And we can invest more time to interview the best candidates," Rennella said.
Retail project management company Premium Retail Services (PRS) uses AI to assist clients by creating predictive maintenance models and identifying trends in data—but they also use the technology to help their own employees. Working with Sisense software, employees can gather data to predict what stores need to be visited, how long an employee needs to travel there, and how much it'll cost to reimburse that employee.
Aaron Hayes, enterprise solutions architect at PRS, wrote an Alexa skill and a Google Home action called "Premium Genius" to help employees grab analytics to make faster, more informed decisions in real-time. Hayes estimates training takes one or two hours.
Calling the impact on productivity "immense," Hayes said projects that used to take a week now take only hours. Using Alexa or Google Home to quickly execute a task using just your voice can also streamline simple tasks, like creating work orders.
"This type of technology is going to become even more important in the very near future and play a vital role in the decisions companies make on virtually everything," Hayes said.
Outside of their homegrown AI-driven marketing platform, AI marketing firm Blackbelt uses Allocate time tracking, which allows the company to monitor and track employees' computer activity autonomously.
Allocate was easy to adopt and has made a "sizable impact" on the business in the year or so they've used it, Blackbelt's COO Liza Nebel said.
"Timesheets may be the bane of our entire existence in the professional services space, but they are critical for company profitability and client transparency," Nebel said.
AI helps increase performance on the platform by answering questions faster, while also increasing productivity through time tracking, Nebel said. What used to take months of research now takes weeks, if not days. The time-saving system also cuts down costs.
"Do not fear technology. And as anyone knows when growing a company that is hoping for long term success, build a strong brand and vision for who you aim to be and let that drive your decisions—the way you operate, your investments, the way you hire and even being selective about the clients you work with," Nebel said. "Layer in AI, you can do all of these things smarter."
Cognitive automation company Coseer, in CEO Praful Krishna's terms, drinks its own Kool-aid when it comes to using AI. Outside of its work for clients, the company uses AI to automate cognitive workflows internally, and have been doing so for about three years.
Using AI to help others use AI can cut down on tedious work that is unpopular with programmers, Krishna said.
"Our team members actually look forward to running modules that involve such tedious programming because now they can play with the AI, train it, monitor its results and give feedback," Krishna said. "It's almost as if they have a team working for each of them."
Productivity has gone up, allowing the small business to handle more customers than normal. But training can be difficult, as new team members have to take a leap of faith and trust the machine. At first, most employees will try the AI and then manually check it. Full trust in AI develops at different paces for different employees.
"Every bit of pain is worth it," Krishna said. "Payback comes within months, if not weeks."
EY, a Big Four accounting firm, has been using AI for more than 10 years to investigative frauds and disputes.
But recently, the firm has begun focusing on intelligent automation using software robots. The robots, which are made of code as opposed to a physical entity, help eliminate repetitive tasks while recommending decisions to humans in charge of less mundane tasks, according to Nigel Duffy, EY's global innovation AI leader.
A part of a $500 million investment in employee learning and development, EY used these robots to handle employee onboarding, a process that can create several emails and repetitive tasks. The team built a robot in two weeks to enter incoming employee information and automate emails, ultimately saving thousands of hours in employee time.
The firm also built a system to help review contracts during audit engagements, a process that can take hours manually. By combining AI and human eyes, the new system is faster and more accurate than the original, human-only process.
"As enterprises adopt intelligent automation across their operations, it is important that they reimagine the mix and roles of the technology and employees," Duffy said.
As an e-commerce company, National Parks Depot relies on social media platforms for marketing and customer service. To keep up with customers engaging with the company on social media, they created AI-driven chatbots that automatically start a private conversation with anyone who comments on a designated post.
The chatbots help engage customers, often giving a secret coupon code or advance access to new products, according to Elizabeth Schirmer Shores, vice president of channel sales and marketing.
Shores estimates that the bots have saved team members 50 hours of customer interaction time yearly, freeing up time for deeper connections and interactions with customers. Plus, the bots help retain top customers and regain customers who may have had a difficult experience in the past.
"Customers are already familiar with chatting with a computer to get answers to the frequently asked questions a brand may have and now, are excited to be able to receive benefits from these ChatBots (curated news, promo codes, and insider tips not available to the public through the brand)," Shores said. "Customers will come to expect this and companies should implement this type of productivity-enhancing AI tool now to get ahead of the curve."
Sales engagement platform Outreach creates software to automate customer interactions during the sales process for big names such as Glassdoor and Pandora, and they use their own software internally as well.
The software takes the guesswork out of lining up sales calls, instead automating the process and telling sales representatives what to prioritize. A shift from reps reviewing their pipelines and manually selecting who to call, AI identifies which opportunities are best and what call order will work best.
It takes reps a bit of time to trust AI's recommendations, CEO Manny Medina said, but those who ignore the recommendations tend to underperform those using the technology. Shadowing successful reps and examining their playbooks—all of which take advantage of the technology—is a key part of the on-boarding process. Instead of focusing on who to call next, the system allows reps to focus on less mundane tasks, like pitching.
While successful, productivity decreased when reps weren't open to using the software, Medina said.
"We could [more easily] train a young inexperienced rep how to be really good on the phone qualifying, discovering pain, and selling against that—than to train someone to be open minded and hungry to learn," Medina said. "That is innate and cannot be taught."
Global enterprise mobility company Mobiliya uses humanoid robots as secretaries at its Dallas office headquarters.
Visitors are asked, "How may I help you?' as they walk to the front desk by one of the robots, who can also book appointments and track human footfall detection, according to CTO Ankush Tiwari. Taking over simple repetitive tasks and not requiring training, the robots free up employees for other tasks and streamline the administrative staff's duties.
"A lot of businesses can incorporate this technology into their day to day, specifically banks, insurance firms and other customer service intensive businesses where basic support function can be automated through robots," Tiwari said.
- The 6 most in-demand AI jobs, and how to get them (TechRepublic)
- AI will eliminate 1.8M jobs but create 2.3M by 2020, claims Gartner (TechRepublic)
- 6 tips for integrating AI into your business (TechRepublic)
- AI and Internet of Things will drive digital transformation through 2020 (ZDNet)
- How AI and machine learning can help solve IT's data management problem (TechRepublic)
- Practical AI for the enterprise: Getting past vendors blowing smoke (ZDNet)
Olivia Krauth is a Multiplatform Reporter at TechRepublic.