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Artificial intelligence: think beyond the buzzwords

February 27, 2020
clock 4 MIN READ

We hear it every day — from the smallest startups to the largest SaaS providers — everyone is playing buzzword bingo, rattling off terms about artificial intelligence (AI) in rapid fire, as if they’re trying to get that diagonal path crossed off on their bingo boards. And why not? AI has already begun to transform almost everything we touch, including the way we deliver products and services. However, as a business leader, investor or startup entrepreneur, you need to recognize the true business value and then articulate differentiation. But how? 

Hint: It's not through buzzwords!

Whenever emerging technology moves into the mainstream of business, many tend to throw out the traditional rules of identifying and articulating the business value and instead lean more into the technology itself. The technology is the bright, shiny object that’s grabbing the world’s attention, and there is a temptation to lead with the buzzwords that will equally grab the attention of potential clients or investors. If you lead with the acronyms and buzzwords, you risk sounding just like everyone else. No differentiation and more importantly, no articulation of the true business value, which really is what ultimately earns you the revenue of clients or capital from investors.

Lead with business value

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a startup looking for that next investor, a well-established provider seeking to land the next enterprise client, or a business leader trying to evaluate solutions — it’s how artificial intelligence answers key business questions that’s critical to identifying true business value.

Follow with enablement

Once you’ve identified the business value, your next opportunity – and challenge – is uncovering how the underlying technology enables that business value. This is where the technical capabilities of AI are the most important, but are equally the most challenging to articulate and assess. Often presenters simply gloss over capabilities and roll them up into broad categories or acronyms, such as machine learning (ML) or natural language processing (NLP), without putting much thought behind it. Yet in other circumstances, capabilities are presented at such a technical level that it can feel almost like a graduate class in calculus. How do you find the right balance in presentation? 

Focus on alignment of people and messaging

Before digging in to the content of a meeting, make sure that everyone at the table speaks the same language. If you are a startup at a technical due diligence meeting, and you’re looking to convey the power that your AI enables, ensure you have the right (more technical) team member(s) and messaging, so your audience can appreciate the capabilities without having to become experts – or get a degree – in the science. Likewise, if you are an investor or business leader seeking to evaluate what is defensible or will scale, you will likely need more specialized skillsets in data science, algorithms, and statistics, rather than the same technical leaders you would work with to evaluate traditional SaaS-based solutions or API-driven architectures. 

Whether you’re the startup presenting or the investor evaluating, here are questions that should always be addressed:

  • How is AI used in the solution or system?
  • How does the system learn – reinforcement, supervised, or unsupervised?
  • What amount of data is needed for the system to be trained and how is it used?
  • Is the data aggregated across clients or isolated by client?
  • If natural language processing is being used, how is the dictionary administered?
  • Are the types of algorithms used open source or proprietary?
  • What is the confidence level of the outcomes presented?

Changing the game

Ultimately, playing AI buzzword bingo is a temporary trap that many companies have fallen into, but one that needs to evolve into a focus on business value. Companies that continue to play the AI buzzword bingo game will ultimately be left behind. Whereas companies that change the game and focus on real business value will be the ones who generate the revenue, capital, scale and impact they seek long-term. 

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