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Vowels Of Reason

Wed 10 May 2017

Why AI is the new workplace hero

AI. These two letters are generating a lot of headlines these days, and it’s little wonder as to why they are creating such a storm.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is starting to transform the world around us, and although we are really only on the cusp of the capabilities that AI can offer, there’s a kaleidoscope of opportunity already available to us.

One area that AI is gaining traction in is the workplace. While we’re not quite talking about robots moving in and taking all our jobs (although in some industries, such as manufacturing, this is certainly tangible), we are looking at a future which can reduce, if not eliminate, some of the more tedious, repetitive tasks within workplaces using intelligent software.

The capabilities of this new technology span a spectrum of labour-intensive administrative work, largely falling in the realm of data-analysis and systematic processes that often rely on human instinct or simply the movement of information. But there’s also a whole lot more.

Intelligent time-savers

The capabilities of AI range from managing customer interactions through to IT requests and document management – processes which can potentially take employees hundreds of thousands of hours per year.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. recently announced a newly-adopted learning machine which is parsing financial deals via a sophisticated automated document review process. The programme, called COIN (for Contract Intelligence), conducts the tedious task of interpreting commercial-loan agreements that would otherwise consume 360,000 hours of work each year by lawyers and loan officers. The software reviews documents in seconds and is far less error-prone and doesn’t require annual leave.

According to the programme’s designers, COIN has helped JPMorgan cut down on loan-servicing mistakes, most of which stemmed from human error in interpreting 12,000 new wholesale contracts per year – a small feat for a bit of tech, yet a potentially dramatic improvement on the organisation’s financial and productivity output.

The organisation is continuing to develop its relationship with AI, scouring for more ways to deploy the technology (which learns by ingesting data to identify patterns and relationships). With a plan to use it for other types of complex legal filings like credit-default swaps and custody agreements, this type of AI deployment will likely be followed suit by numerous other banks and organisations as they see the wealth of efficiency it offers.

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For simpler tasks, the bank has created bots to perform basic functions such as granting employee access to software systems and responding to IT requests – i.e, password resets. Bots are expected to handle 1.7 million access requests this year, carrying out the work of a staggering 140 people. Bots are no stranger to many companies who are now using them for a myriad of customer service requests and internal processes.

In its continued lean towards the world of AI, JPMorgan has recently set up technology hubs for teams specialising in big data, robotics and cloud infrastructure to find new sources of revenue while at the same time reducing risk and expenditure. Still, the organisation’s use of AI is only in its embryonic stages and we could be looking at a whole new era of automation for the financial services industry and many others like it.

The financial services industry has already earned itself a reputation for sitting at the forefront of technological innovation, and these new investments in AI are becoming a priority for many companies; especially in the bid to fend off competition from savvy young tech startups.

 Man vs machine?

While AI is enabling organisations to operate more efficiently and perform better, there is an underlying concern that the growing advancement of technology could also threaten to replace the need for humans, reducing the number of jobs available. However, a survey conducted last year by recruiting firm Options Group found the majority – out of 3,200 young financial professionals – expect new technology will improve their careers, citing workplace performance as an example of a key benefit.

Employees will be freed up to work on higher-value responsibilities, presenting a myriad of opportunities for both employees and organisations.

Simple transference of information, convoluted data processing, or extensive reviewing of documentation where automation isn’t currently deployed are processes which are ripe for AI, and organisations are latching onto the scope it carries.

Furthermore, back office functions which require repetitive and administrative-heavy tasks are far more prone to human error due to the lapse in concentration when the brain is tasked with performing the same function over and over again. So the reduced risk in human error is attractive to companies – greater speed and accuracy of machines carrying out such tasks will improve business efficiency and reduce cost.

For companies such as Equiniti, which manages hundreds of thousands of documents in the form of pensions and share registrations, the implementation of AI presents an exciting new era.

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As the technology evolves, there will be an inevitable increase in uptake across workplaces, helping to improve operational processes and productivity, but for the moment, we have only just started to scratch the surface of the possibilities around AI.

 Liam McGrath, Group Chief Operating Officer of Equiniti, said: “There is huge potential for AI, and we are already actively looking into implementing it as an organisation. AI for inbound mail is really starting to grow. As an organisation we take in a large number of documents every year, with a whole team of people who sort them into queues for processing." He continues:

There is a big opportunity for AI to automatically scan documents and even read freeform handwriting, and then intelligently place items and action them as appropriate. This would save a considerable amount of time and manual input.

In addition, Liam says "Where AI is managing incoming customer service requests, it also speeds up the process for customers at the same time. It’s not just direct mail where it’s applicable either – customers are now communicating with chat bots which are solving customer enquiries."

The blurred boundaries between AI and robotics

AI and robotics are often referenced as being part of the same concept, which ultimately, borne by technology, they are. But there is a difference between the nuances of AI-driven software programmes and robots – which are physical, tangible machines conducting tasks that they have been programmed to carry out, with capacity to respond to human interactions such as voice and gestures.

Underlining the vast potential in blending the capabilities of both AI and robotics, Liam said: “What the industry isn’t doing is stitching the solution all the way through – AI at the front end managing customer requests etc, and then feeding it into appropriate robots which carry out the work at the back end. I think the future will see an end-to-end solution which is completely automated all the way through, without human interaction in the middle of it.”

Liam remains confident that the introduction of both AI and robotics are not necessarily a threat to jobs in the workplace: “It may impact jobs in the short term, but it will only be temporary as we go through a cultural adjustment with these types of technologies. As society evolves we will just need more people with different jobs – there’s going to be countless new job opportunities around programming robots and developing AI software programmes, so in a way it will create opportunities for humans. Ultimately, existing roles will just evolve into different roles as the technological landscape advances.”