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Employing AI to Enhance Productivity and Business Performance

April 29, 2019
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Employing AI to Enhance Productivity and Business Performance

By Nithea Nadarajah

Users with AI experience in multinational corporations (MNCs) and SMEs shared their insights at a panel discussion on “Experience Sharing by Professional Accountants in Business (PAIBs) and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) adopting AI” at the recent RoBoCFO Workshop: Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Analyse Financial and Business Trends.

The panel was moderated by Tan Sai Hup, Executive Director of Malaysia Investor Relations Association (MIRA).

Below are the key insights on AI utilisation derived from the panel that MNCs and SMEs can leverage to improve their performance.

MNC Insights

Managing the Data Gap
MNCs are understandably the market leaders in adopting AI tools and techniques. They have the resources and funding and hence are in a better position to absorb shocks, if any, stemming from technology-related failures. S.B. Lim, Founder of S.B. Lim & Co, shared that in MNCs, AI tools lead to cost effective and efficient processing of data with fewer data gap issues.

Data gap issues could arise in various ways, as a result of inaccessible data or incomplete and inadequately evaluated data. “The lack of resources and expertise to analyse and extract meaningful information from the vast amount of data often makes data gap a pressing issue for most organisations,” said Lim.

Outsourcing AI
Outsourcing of AI is popular amongst MNCs, particularly to help manage high-volume business activities and functions such as billings and customer service. For example, billings data from front-end processing systems will be mapped and outsourced to a service provider for the purposes of generating invoices, reminders, reports, and other relevant documents. Another example is where the AI-enabled chatbots would be able to easily insert voice data, which is then converted into text for analysis, for the purposes of predicting customer sentiments. The analytics obtained can be harnessed to improve customer service and create new marketing leads. The main benefits reaped from outsourcing are the reduction in recruitment, training and infrastructural development expenditures, said Lim, while challenges include upskilling existing staff to manage in a more automated environment.

SME Insights

Leveraging on Cloud
For SMEs on the other hand, the proliferation of AI technology, such as advancements in cloud computing and Information Technology as a Service (ITaaS) has resulted in a larger network bandwidth which has led to economies of scale, and lower unit costs. Powerful on-demand cloud subscription solutions now make it more affordable and easier for SMEs to harness AI.

Establish a long-term technology adoption plan
However, Lim cautioned SMEs on the need to establish a long-term technology adoption plan within their organisations, backed by proper research and planning. Thereafter, SMEs have to ensure that the right technology provider is identified to ensure that the appropriate tools are integrated within the business for maximum benefits and to ensure the success of an AI adoption.

Tailor AI to Your Business Model
The AI solution chosen by an SME must be suited to its business model to optimise performance.

One core benefit of using AI is that SMEs can reduce their headcount while improving productivity. With AI interwoven in business operations, it only requires a small workforce to run an extremely profitable concern, asserted Balasubramaniam, Founder of RBS & Associates.

SMEs are encouraged to hire more “millennial employees” as their tech-savvy skills could greatly contribute to creating a sustainable “AI-friendly” working environment and further boost automation and productivity.

Accountants as AI Advisors
As more traditional accounting tasks become automated, accountants especially in SMEs can move up the value chain to take on the role of advisors, to their organisations, that are the backbone of the economy. “Accountants need to leverage on AI,” advised Balasubramaniam.

Expectations of clients in the current age have changed. Accountants, to remain relevant have to be more than just ‘compliance-based accountants’ to add value. “AI tools available ‘at a click of a button’ provide access to a wealth of information obtained from a wide range of sources, and this is extremely useful for advisory-related assignments”, he added.

How AI Works

M. Nazri, President & Group CEO of MyFin Group explained that the data obtained from the AI process, both structured and unstructured, is fed into a cognitive thinking system with a powerful set of combinations. This system will digest and analyse the data and thereafter generate advice based on the following steps:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What is going to happen in the future?
  • What are we going to do about it?

As an example of AI in lifestyle application, if you post a photo on social media such as Facebook, facial recognition features used by Facebook will automatically identify the people in your uploaded photos and will recommend that people tag your photo.

Real-life AI Uses

A strong AI engine will be able to think, reason and provide recommendations. Nazri explained that the possibilities are endless with IA.

For example, AI can help businesses with scenario planning to ensure that risks and opportunities are intelligently managed.

AI can be further sub-divided into specific areas, such as risk/compliance, customer/procurement and strategic/finance which are designed to work either exclusively or cohesively across functions, depending on user needs.

In finance, a credit bureau organisation will be able to automate its credit analysis functions which include applying relevant filters for swift calculation and report generation for comparative analysis, benchmarking, valuation, due diligence and many other purposes.

In the audit sector, accountants can leverage on AI tools which use referential data-driven insights and a combination of financial and non-financial analysis, to assist in audit planning, risk assessment and even 100% testing.

Companies of different sizes and across industries are thus advised to adopt AI that suits their business model to drive performance, concluded the panellists.

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