Can AI Drive Operational Excellence?

“How do you see AI shaping the future of operations?” 

Since we don’t have a crystal ball, we asked this question to some AI experts at our recent S-Docs virtual event, Operations Week 2023. A panel of AI experts spent an hour discussing the future of operations, how AI fits into an operational excellence strategy, and how to use AI to automate it.

This panel discussion included Anand Narasimhan, CTO of S-Docs, Jitendra Zaa, Associate Partner at IBM, Amruta Moktali, Chief Product Officer at Skyflow, and Scott Carruth, Chief Customer Officer at Sisense. Read on for an opportunity to learn from these industry leaders and empower your organization with the knowledge needed to optimize performance.

What is Operational Excellence, and Why is it Crucial to Today’s Businesses?

Kicking off the discussion, panelists discussed what comprises operational excellence. While there’s no strict definition of "excellence," all panelists agreed that certain aspects of an operational excellence strategy are universal — excellence cannot be achieved in any organization without consistently identifying and addressing operational issues and implementing continuous improvement across the board.

An operational excellence strategy is crucial to businesses because it helps them stay competitive in the marketplace. When companies optimize processes and automate operations, they gain efficiencies and opportunities for innovation. These improvements reduce costs so companies can reallocate resources toward research and development (R&D) and other avenues of expansion. 

How AI is Changing Operations

AI has been around for many years, and the panelists noted that large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT have significantly impacted the operational excellence strategy at their companies. AI’s transformative nature has optimized job roles and enhanced productivity in several ways.

  • Natural language processing (NLP) enables individuals to interact with computers in their language instead of programming language syntax, allowing everyone to interact with AI.
  • Automating administrative work frees up individuals to focus on more value-added activities instead of “administrivia” — those time-consuming but essential administrative tasks. 
  • Digital transformation using AI is a shift similar to the transition to software as a service (SaaS) technologies and will lead to new operational strategies and technologies.

In addition, the panelists pointed out the practical applications of AI in an operational excellence strategy, such as using AI to automate document generation, AI transcription tools to summarize meetings, and AI grammar checkers to proofread emails and documents as you type. 

Is Your Business Ready for AI?

Every organization seems to be eager to embrace AI. But the question is: Are they truly ready?

Before diving into the world of AI, companies need to lay the foundation. The panelists discussed the importance of having a clear use case and quality data. They talked about establishing AI governance to mitigate potential risks such as data leakage and intellectual property loss. Another important component is having stakeholder buy-in before embracing AI to automate operation. 

Interestingly, panelists say they’re seeing rapid adoption and experimentation with AI technologies by both large and small enterprises; they aren’t waiting to observe others' adoption before making decisions. The panelists’ advice on this point is to approach AI adoption in a controlled manner. Rather than diving in, companies should gradually integrate it into existing processes to ensure that there are no privacy issues before rolling it out to the entire organization.

How to Move Forward with AI in Business

Along with AI’s numerous advantages, there are some factors to keep an eye on. The panel discussed the lack of governance surrounding AI due to rapid advancements in the technology that have outpaced regulatory controls. 

The panel also discussed the potential for security and data privacy issues, stressing the need to be careful. They recommend establishing guardrails and controls about who can access personal data or intellectual property so this information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.  

Most importantly, when it comes to AI, “Don’t be scared. Just try it out,” says Amruta Moktali. “Start with a simple use case with non-sensitive data.” A measured approach to integrating AI into an operational excellence strategy gives teams a chance to experiment and set up their controls before they apply AI to sensitive data.

How AI Will Shape Operational Excellence

“AI is coming,” says Anand Narasimhan. “You just need to be ready for it.” It’s possible to achieve an operational excellence strategy without AI, but companies that are hesitant to use it will find themselves falling behind the competition. Automating time-consuming work with AI allows employees to focus on higher-value projects, driving innovation, growth, and long-term viability.

Leveraging AI for operational excellence begins by building trust with executives and owners and starting slowly. Don’t aim for a big goal; instead, go after the low-hanging fruit by implementing simple AI solutions that build efficiencies. Like any new technology, companies must crawl before they can walk or run. The important thing is to start.

Want more insight into operational processes? You can watch the entire S-Docs lineup of speakers, discussions, and success stories during 2023’s Operations Week. To learn more about how AI can automate operations, click here to watch the panel discussion, Can AI Drive Operational Excellence? and the rest of the Operations Week content.

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