In 2020, AI has become a competitive advantage for businesses. With CIOs and their businesses now using AI to get ahead of their competitors, it is a matter of time before AI becomes a salient feature. That means processes are smarter than ever, intelligent applications are an expectation, not the exception; and systems learn because that is how they were designed, not as an overlay.
Looking at how the market has shifted in 2020, I caught up with Joanne Peplow, our AI expert to understand the predictions for 2021. This is what I learnt:
Retail leads the way
The development around AI and analytics has been exciting, as AI adoption has accelerated in the COVID-era. The retail sector in particular is one such sector where the value of AI has been magnified. Here, businesses have been faced with unprecedented changes around consumer behaviour and external factors such as high street closures, and AI has played an integral role in survival. In 2021, we expect this trend to continue as retailers look for AI-driven solutions that can help with areas such as range planning, demand forecasting, and delivery management/route optimisation, to name a few.
Health sector and data
We have also seen data being used in a very impactful way in the health sector during COVID-19. Use cases include predictions around bed availability and implementing local tier systems, and even the quick production of a vaccine. In the future, while there may not be as many COVID-driven uses cases; it will be interesting to see how the health sector reapplies some of these technologies and solutions to future health service needs and planning purposes.
AI: your strongest ally for decision making
COVID-19 has made the C-suite realise the value that AI can drive for their business.
What we have been able to prove, due to the situation driven by the pandemic, is that there is enough data of a good enough quality to drive insights and decisions in a valuable way. While the quality of data is still of paramount importance, CIOs have realised that there are opportunities to start building out solutions now whilst investing in the ongoing data quality in the background in order to enable better decisions and improved customer experiences. We expect to see this change in mindset be accelerated in 2021, with many more businesses taking the leap to becoming a more insights-driven organisation.
Driven by COVID 19, we have seen virtual learning emerge as a strong trend in 2020. While virtual learning has been around from higher education perspective for a while i.e. the open university, junior and primary schools have been forced to adopt this as well due to the restrictions placed by the pandemic. We predict that in 2021 artificial intelligence will arrive in the classroom — but not as a replacement for teachers. AI-driven education can help evolve teaching methods, use several digital applications in schools and even personalise the experience for students while still being overseen by their teachers in in person or virtually. We predict education is at the cusp of a revolution and AI will prove to be a powerful assistant in 2021.
Experiential stores pick up in 2021
In the short term, brands have been moving online to engage and service consumers. As stores reopen, retailers will have to reimagine their instore services.
A tremendous amount of innovation during the pandemic was born of the need to reduce physical interactions. And shoppers have embraced the trend with gusto. Digital shopping has soared, contactless payments have quickly become the norm, and several digital technologies that have been the edge of more widespread acceptance for the last few years are poised for growth. Technologies like AI, robotics, IoT, RFID, QR codes and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), are enabling retailers to bring the convenience of online shopping to offline shops and stores, and the richly interactive environment of offline shopping to the world of e-commerce. These technologies have now gone from a nice-to-have to an essential part of retailers’ eCommerce offerings. Some examples already seen include Shiseido is using hands-free technology (along with artificial intelligence and algorithms) to analyse skin and offer personalised suggestions remotely. Burberry has opened its first “social retail store” in Shenzhen which is a social store experience is centred around a custom WeChat mini-program to reward consumers for engaging with the brand online as well as in-store. These experiential/digital offerings will start to generate data which stores can use to develop insights and AI solutions to feed back into the customer end to end offer from R&D and product development to fulfilment and omnichannel commerce.