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How analytics and AI is changing business

There is no doubt that those businesses that succeed in a digitally transforming future will be those that are not only prepared for the next wave of disruption, but which understand the importance of data and how to use it to their advantage.

As Desan Naidoo, VP, SAS Africa, suggests, the days of organisations being successful after making critical business decisions based on little more than gut-feel are over. One look at today's market disruptors, the Ubers and Airbnbs, is all it needs to see that these entities are disrupting their industries through a careful blend of analytics, data and collaboration.

"It is also worth noting that while these new wave digital businesses like Uber hog the limelight, digital disruption is rapidly progressing through all industries, meaning the digital economy is now infiltrating every aspect of our lives, from banking, to shopping and on to dating. All of this is ultimately being powered by analytics," he says.

"This analytics economy is built on value and on the new opportunities that are now emerging, thanks to the democratisation of analytics. We have now reached the point where analytics can deliver value to virtually anyone, because it is now available to everyone. Therefore, if your business is not making use of analytics to drive your organisation forward and to change the way you do things, the question you need to be asking yourself is: 'why not?'"

Naidoo points out that business leaders today should be actively seeking out the business value that can be derived from analytics, via the adoption of initiatives like artificial intelligence (AI). Moreover, he adds, AI is not some potential future technology either, it is already considered one of the top five priorities for today's CIO.

"AI is the science of training systems to emulate human tasks, through learning and automation. Its goal is to enable your company to get the most out of its data. The real advantage offered by these deep learning cognitive systems is that it makes it possible to analyse increasingly vast quantities of information at a very rapid speed. This has placed AI firmly in the front row of must-have technologies.

"The beauty of combining AI with analytics is that it lends itself to a multitude of different roles and vertical markets, offering each of these enormous benefits. A timely example here would be the manner in which asset performance analytics could assist power utilities like Eskom. Benefits include not only predictive maintenance, such as when a particular transformer will likely fail, but even down to providing management with knowledge around the optimal period for shutting down specific pieces of machinery, to conduct maintenance while having the minimal impact on users."

There are many other examples of how analytics and AI can drive optimisation and increase efficiencies, he says. One such possibility is with regard to manufacturing optimisation, where it could assist with the kind of quality control that could prevent disease outbreaks such as the recent Listeriosis crisis.

"Furthermore, it offers opportunities in everything from wildlife conservation, providing non-invasive monitoring of endangered species through image recognition, to chatbots, smart Q&A search systems, robo-advisors, the monitoring of both self-driving cars and the people in the drivers' seats, and even performance assessments in sport, by detecting the passes players make, as well as their speed, turns, distance covered and the angles they run.

"When it comes to AI and analytics, it is all about finding patterns in the existing data and applying this to new information in such a way as to be able to make new inferences from it. In other words, it is about more than simply distinguishing between apples and oranges, but also between different types of apples, and ultimately, about finding the rotten apples, preferably before they have even gone rotten. The true beauty of AI, deep learning and cognitive systems is that, as can be seen above, it is the solution to help enterprises turn today's most critical challenges into tomorrow's most incredible opportunities," he concludes.

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