The genre of science fiction is littered with variations of stories warning of the imminent takeover of human society by artificial intelligence. Popular culture has even embraced the concept of ‘the singularity’ to denote a given point in which AI overtakes human capability in some aspects.
But even as the pace of technological advance has accelerated over the years, we’ve seen that the biggest influences of AI in our daily lives aren’t exactly sinister. Sure, some people might feel that robots threaten their jobs. They needn’t worry; there will always be other occupations where the need for human intuition will offer them a role.
Instead, the growing role of AI in society has manifested in fairly innocuous devices. Devices powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) give us the chance to enjoy an elevation of function and performance. Wearable fitness trackers remind you to get enough exercise each day. A mobile integrated healthcare model allows your health data to be shared securely with hospitals and other service providers to give you customized care.
From scouting out their competition to doing market research, businesses have been engaged in some form of data capture and analysis for centuries. However, the proliferation of consumer devices, apps, social media accounts, and other channels through which data can be shared has given rise to the trend of so-called “big data.” Within a few short years, it’s become widely accepted among businesses that if you don’t invest in data analytics, you’ll lose your competitive edge.
Issues of complexity and trust
Yet, at the same time, businesses need to beware of the potential for increased complexity. After all, the term “big data” is derived from the fact that today’s consumer data sets are too vast to be processed with traditional means.
Your business might be using AI to harvest data with minimal effort. Maybe you’re merely paying a much larger information-gathering service, such as Google or Facebook, to provide you with the analytics you need. But even pre-processed and filtered data sets can be huge. Is that data beneficial to your operations, or is it adding to the bloat you could eliminate from your decision-making?
Without the right strategic approach to data, a business could be sitting on a mountain of wasted effort and investment. And if you’re sharing and storing that data, you can be at risk from cybersecurity threats or changing regulations and compliance governing the exchange and control of consumer information.
Increasingly, consumers themselves are becoming digital natives. The most influential and well-represented market demographic is comprised of the millennial generation, and the up-and-coming Gen Z will further swell their ranks. These younger consumers are savvy and protective of their data. They are willing to share it with brands they trust, but only if those companies can translate that data into tangible value.
Focus on actionable data
The promise of data to improve everyone’s experience as end-users of different products and services is undeniable. IoT-enabled devices in modern ‘smart homes’ can tell homeowners about their practices and highlight ways to save energy. Your average Netflix binge-watcher or Amazon shopper enjoys these benefits daily through related recommendations. We might be just scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating value from consumer data.
But how does a small business fit into this picture? How can you ensure that data is being used effectively to drive the desired results? The success of your approach starts with a definition of targets. You don’t harvest data in need of a problem or just because everyone else is doing it. Rather, the endeavor must be directed towards answering a specific question or need.
This focus is essential to creating an actionable data set. By limiting the scope of your inquiry, you can apply lean principles to various aspects of your business operations. Conduct small surveys or do interviews and run tests with early adopters out of your target consumer base. Empower the people in charge to test different solutions and make changes in response to the data they’ve gathered. Eventually, what works on a trial basis can be presented as a permanent or wide-scale solution for the rest of your organization to apply moving forward.
Leveraging data for future business success isn’t the exclusive domain of big companies. By getting it right on a small scale, you avoid complexity creep and create value for consumers. You get to improve their experience and develop trust that you can build on as we move into a future that’s still owned by humans, but enhanced with AI.