2020 AI Predictions: Get on board with boring AI

Focus artificial intelligence efforts on back office tasks and automation to reap ROI and lay the foundation for real transformation. This is one of five priorities for making the most of AI this year.

In 2020, much of the AI excitement will come from results that may sound mundane: incremental productivity gains for in-house processes. Forty-four percent of survey respondents cited “operate more efficiently,” and 42% cited “increase productivity” among the top-three benefits they’re expecting from AI investments. Yet, for your company’s bottom line, automating routine tasks in administrative functions, such as tax and finance, is anything but boring. Companies can see remarkable savings from (for example) using AI to extract information from tax forms, bills of lading, invoices and other documents that typically require long and tedious hours of human work.

Such quick wins are a good way to start, but AI can do much more, even when it comes to automating routine tasks (something 35% of executives said would be a key capability in 2020). A new breed of enterprise voice assistants, for example, can fundamentally change how people work—navigating myriad systems behind the scenes to quickly deliver needed information, prompting employees to complete tasks. And over time, these voice assistants continually learn and improve

Managing risk, fraud and cybersecurity, supporting decision-making and gathering forward-looking intelligence (cited as top AI capabilities by 38%, 31% and 30% of survey respondents, respectively) are great examples of how AI can augment complex processes. This kind of practical AI—ranging from chatbots to recommendation engines and advanced modeling methods for business processes and better decision-making—will become more widespread. In cybersecurity, for example, AI can auto-classify devices on a network to uncover unauthorized entry, perform pattern recognition to identify malicious behavior in software and eliminate false positives in cyber alerts.

Soon, AI will go even further. We asked which AI-related scenarios respondents considered among the top-three threats over the next five years. A full 46% cited disruption, whether of their geographical markets or of the sectors in which they operate. Yet, when we asked which benefits they were hoping to achieve with AI, only 12% said they were planning to disrupt their own or other industries. In other words, nearly four times as many respondents fear disruption as plan to be disrupters themselves.

Considering the size of the AI prize, the disruption of markets and industries is simply a matter of time—and the clock is ticking. So, companies that take the right steps to make AI payoffs a reality have an opportunity to use AI to create the disruption their competitors fear.

For your company’s bottom line, automating routine tasks in tax and finance is anything but boring.

Your 2020 to-do list

Be strategic. Create an “intake strategy” to identify where AI can have the greatest business impact, and build the capabilities (including data and workforce) that AI needs to succeed. Look for tasks that are common across the business so you can develop reusable AI solutions, such as a model for processing unstructured text.

Get organized. To make sure that AI solutions really are used (and used with good governance) everywhere they can add value while being integrated smoothly with other systems, create centralized oversight that covers not just AI, but data, analytics and automation.

Set the metrics. To support the adoption of AI (and other elements of the next digital revolution), create enterprise-wide KPIs that include measures of efficiency, effectiveness, disruption and innovation of existing business processes.

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Anand Rao

Global & US Artificial Intelligence and US Data & Analytics Leader, PwC US

Scott Likens

Data and Analytics Leader, China and Hong Kong, PwC US

Michael Baccala

US Assurance Innovation Leader, PwC US

Michael Shehab

US Technology and Process Leader, PwC US