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AI Is Here to Stay, and Organisations Need to Embrace It
September 29, 2021 News


Written by: Martin Dale Bolima, Tech Journalist, AOPG

Southeast Asia is seeing continued growth in terms of Artificial Intelligence (AI) deployment, with an EDBI and Kearney study discovering AI use cases increasing across various industries, primarily in the countries of Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.  That being the case, AI adoption comes with both opportunities and challenges, and addressing the latter and taking advantage of the former can ultimately add by 2030 approximately USD $1 trillion to the collective GDP of the region.

One frontier where AI is predicted to make a considerable impact moving forward is in customer service, more so with the COVID-19 pandemic altering consumer behaviour. According to Ravi Saraogi, Co-Founder and President of Asia Pacific at Uniphore, consumers today are increasingly turning to customer service to address a range of issues and are now expecting to get such assistance on different platforms. This scenario, in turn, is one of the more notable use cases of AI, with conversational AI, in particular, proving useful in terms of enabling organisations to render the kind of customer service consumers are now expecting.

“To address this new behaviour, conversational AI is on the high agenda of business leaders to deliver a more wholesome customer experience and very long-term affinity with customers,” said Saraogi in an exclusive interview with Disruptive Tech ASEAN. “If you look at Uniphore for the last one year or so, Uniphore has signed five major multimillion clients that include the likes of WNS, Sitel, Tech Mahindra and NTT Data—and these are large customer service companies…  They wanted faster and more efficient customer service.”

Accelerated AI Deployment

That big companies are deploying AI to improve customer service underpins the concurrent change in business behaviour, one in which business leaders are recognising consumers’ ever-growing expectations of fast, responsive and top-of-the-line customer service. These changes in behaviour are in turn driving the customer service market, whose value was initially estimated at USD $380 million but is now forecast to soar to as much as USD $500 million.

A catalyst in all this, according to Saraogi, has been the pandemic, which is driving companies on the fence in terms of adopting new technologies into actually deploying them, including AI, to “ensure business continuity and resiliency.” Adoption of conversational AI and AI-powered automation, in particular, became necessary to support the rise of homeworking and improve business efficiencies.

With Opportunity Comes Challenges

There is, in other words, a growing if not unprecedented demand for AI and this is an opportunity for this ever-evolving technology to move even more into the mainstream at the enterprise level. But along with this opportunity are challenges that might possibly hinder AI adoption globally in general and in the region in particular. One of these challenges is AI apprehension fueled in part by the misconception that AI adoption will mean widespread loss of jobs and in part by an overall fear of this technology.

“There remains some anxiety and misconceptions regarding machines and AI taking over jobs lost in the pandemic. Even before 2020, some already felt that the shift in the way things are worked due to automation can have an impact on jobs,” said Saraogi. “Some also view AI as a cause of disruption, with the pandemic pushing organisations on fast-tracking the deployment of new technologies to bring down the costs and enhance productivity and be less reliant on human beings. But being fearful of AI automation is simply not the way forward.”

Saraogi gave as an example cab-hailing technologies that drive companies like Grab. Powered by AI, Saraogi describes cab-hailing as being transformative, having created thousands of jobs globally and enhancing revenue opportunities for different individuals. This AI use case disproves the widely held notion that AI will cause people to lose jobs and instead underscores how technology can create even better opportunities for people and businesses.

AI: A Collaborator for Positive Change

Rather than fear AI, Saraogi is enjoining fellow business leaders to embrace it and treat it as “a collaborator capable of enhancing jobs and providing more opportunities than challenges.” To emphasise this point, Saraogi highlighted how AI can help human agents in a contact centre categorise customer calls into “nuggets of insights which are more comprehensible,”—and in real-time.

These same agents can also receive from AI tips and suggestions on improving customer engagements without having to look into historical data and backup databases anymore. In short, AI can “augment the human capability,” rather than displace people from their jobs.

To further emphasise his point, the Uniphore Co-Founder cited the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2020,” which predicts that AI, automation and the rise of machines will eliminate approximately 85 million jobs globally by 2025. In that same period, however, these same technologies are forecast to create 97 million jobs, which translate to an additional 12 million opportunities for people around the world. Critically, these new jobs are more adapted to “new divisions of labour between human, machines and algorithms.”

AI Is the Way Forward

Suffice to say, it is nearly impossible to envisage a future in which AI is not taking a leading role in the world of business, especially on the customer service front. To highlight this emerging reality, Saraogi likened AI’s adoption curve to that of the internet over 20 years ago, when many were initially hesitant to go all-in on leveraging the Worldwide Web and mistakenly believing that it will not work out. Nevertheless, some organisations that did use the internet to their advantage, and those that did ultimately were left in a position of strength during the market crash of the late 2000s.

This is the same scenario happening with AI, with Saraogi noting, in particular, how organisations who will go in and adopt AI and become early adopters “are set to win.” The Uniphore executive added: “ Organisations who adopt AI-based technologies and focus on customer experience, later on, will face certain difficulties going forward. Either Uniphore does it or someone else does it, AI is here to stay.”

Indeed, AI is here to stay and will surround consumers in every conceivable way, whether in the way they travel, in the way they eat, in the way they view content and in the way they operate in their day-to-day lives.