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The AI Revolution: Preparing Yourself

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The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is coming. What can you do to prepare yourself? No, just trying to revive The Robot is not enough. Let’s see what might work.

The question is simple, and everyone is asking it (of themselves if no one else): “How can I prepare for the coming AI revolution?”

We know that both advanced robotic automation and advanced analytics are going to be the bread and butter of most successful companies over the next 10 to 20 years. For many of us, that time frame will fall within our working lives. It only makes sense that we start preparing for it now because the AI revolution is not just something that’s going to happen to us; it’s something that we will be participating in and helping move forward.

But just what are the steps you need to take to get ready to participate in this process? Do you need to retrain yourself as a data scientist? Maybe get a Master’s degree in that discipline? Or, for most of us, are the steps we need to take a little less drastic and expensive?

Taking the First Steps

Let’s start with a question. Who are you? Or maybe more appropriately, what are you?

Are you a business person? Or maybe a techie? Or something else, something that is sort of in between? That may sound odd, but I think there are a lot of people today who are neither pure business nor pure technical but instead have one foot in each camp. Doesn’t matter, it all starts at the same spot.

What areas of the company are you most involved with? You might even want to ask yourself what your mission in the company is. What things are you expected to focus on and be knowledgeable about for your organization? What is your purpose? The answers should help you focus on what specific parts of the business are your particular specialty. Often, some self-awareness and an evaluation of your role are the best place to start for many things.

What Are Your Company’s Pain Points?

The next step is to look around you and pay attention. This is not always easy. Often, we have our heads down and are completely focused on one particular thing and we don’t feel the need to look up and see the bigger picture. I’m not talking about the big picture for the company; most of us don’t have much hope of influencing that directly, but there is also a big picture in each of the areas where we work. Take some time to get familiar with that.

What is your part of the company struggling with? What are the main problems it’s having? What is the one thing that could be done, in your opinion, to improve the performance in your area? It sounds elemental, but the first step of many innovations is recognizing where some help is needed. And that’s not something that’s necessarily easy. This is not blue sky-ing; it’s real thinking about what the pain points are for your company. And don’t even necessarily think AI or analytics at this point. Just think.

Nor is it just about your company. If you are in an area that deals with your customers or vendors or carriers, reach out to them. What are their issues, and how do those intersect with their relationship with you? Sometimes you can get some of the best ideas about how to use AI to improve your company from people outside.

What Do You Know About AI?

I don’t think we will all need to be data scientists in the future, any more than I feel that we all need to be coders or designers today. But it is nice to know some things. So I ask the question: What do you know about AI today? And in particular, what do you know about AI and how it’s being used in businesses like yours or in departments like yours?

First, I recommend that you keep up with any professional publications in your company’s area of expertise. More and more article space is being devoted to AI, and a lot of it relates to real-world cases of how it’s being used.

Second, the web can be used for more than just entertainment news and restaurant reviews. If you really want to learn something, there are many free or inexpensive technical articles and even courses out there that will help you step into the AI world at least a little.

Third, it wouldn’t hurt to know a little about some of the AI tools that are available—for example, Watson. All you need is a signon, which can be obtained by going to the Watson home page. Click on the blue Get Started Free button. With this, you can not only get used to a lot of the terms associated with AI, but also get some solid experience with the Watson APIs. And IBM is not alone in offering “play” opportunities to its AI products.

What Does the World Know?

Fortunately, AI is not something you have to learn about in a vacuum. You are not the only one doing it.

One of the things that companies grapple with is how the part of the world that they intersect with views AI. Do they consider it a boon? Or a problem? Unfortunately, many companies feel that they are so unique and so different from anyone else that nothing that someone somewhere else is doing could possibly be germane. But the truth is that all companies have the same goal: to survive and thrive. And all companies have the same problems: suppliers, customers, throughput, transportation, etc.

You don’t have to think up everything yourself. Lots of companies in lots of different arenas are starting to apply AI to their business practices. Getting familiar with what some of them are doing already can be a springboard to helping you see where it could help your company. How do you do this?

Again, the web is a great help, offering a lot of news stories, especially about initiatives that different companies are carrying out. Many of them may not fit your precise needs, but some of them probably will. And once you know about these initiatives, you can reach out to those companies and/or vendors to get more information about what they’re doing.

I Know What You’re Thinking

Seriously, did you think I was born yesterday? Or never shirked off learning something because I didn’t think it would really help? Please, don’t insult me to my face.

It’s easy to just keep on keepin’ on and not rock the boat. But AI is something that everyone seems to agree is not only coming but also is a big boon to business. So why not position yourself to be someone who is paddling, not just being swept along with the tide?

You can start slowly, spending a little time each day thinking about your company’s pain points. Make a few notes about what those are. Spend a little time looking at what other companies are doing about the same issues and what tools are available for dealing with those issues. Maybe even spend a little time getting some experience with those tools. You never know; it might pay off.

David Shirey

David Shirey is president of Shirey Consulting Services, providing technical and business consulting services for the IBM i world. Among the services provided are IBM i technical support, including application design and programming services, ERP installation and support, and EDI setup and maintenance. With experience in a wide range of industries (food and beverage to electronics to hard manufacturing to drugs--the legal kind--to medical devices to fulfillment houses) and a wide range of business sizes served (from very large, like Fresh Express, to much smaller, like Labconco), SCS has the knowledge and experience to assist with your technical or business issues. You may contact Dave by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at (616) 304-2466.

MC Press books written by David Shirey available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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