What are the biggest AI trends in 2021 and forward?

14.01.2022 | AI

The usage of artificial intelligence is ever increasing due to the many benefits that can be achieved. Just to name a few trending topics within AI, we see that process automation, behavioral prediction, and price optimization are components of modern AI-systems that elevate the sophistication, efficiency, and profitability of industry-leading companies. 

The industry for artificial intelligence is huge and is only gaining momentum. But what are the most important trends, and what should businesses focus on in order to follow the trends, and even dictate the trends? 

That is a crucial question, and staying on top of it could very well be your ticket to unprecedented success.

One of the most popular areas for implementing AI today are retail and e-commerce. 

Today, major on-line retailers are already using AI to smoothen the ordering process.  Think about Amazon and some of the AI trends they have been following.  This is huge enterprise and the human impact of the process can be a major source of friction.  But as retailers such as Amazon, move to fifteen minute deliveries, they need to be sure that the right product is in their forward stocking locations (FSL).  This is for the convenience of the customer.

AI trends then, are about how we look to introduce better convenience for the end customer; faster access to services, more relevant offers, better loyalty, better ways to pay, time-relevant pricing.  Retail AI trends are  driven by convenience.

But in the world today, AI trends are impacting us in more than just retail.  Manufacturing and engineering is already being driven by the so-called Augmented Workforce, the ability for humans and machines to interact, for AI to assist.  Support services are being streamlined thanks to enhanced chatbots and even AI-driven voice assistance.  In cybersecurity, AI trends around payment management are helping to protect us from inappropriate use of our payment cards.  And finally medicine, where AI trends are helping us drug discover and clinical development to design and develop powerful immunotherapies, thereby revolutionizing the process of drug discovery and development. The AI technique also plays a huge role in the fight against COVID-19.

Why is AI booming now? 

The world is at an inflection point.  We can choose to vaccinate, and potentially rid ourselves of COVID-19, or we can skip the vaccine and allow the virus to flourish.  We know this because AI can tell us the trends in the data.  But what is behind the hesitancy around the vaccines?  Mainly, people don’t understand how the vaccine was developed so quickly.  Well you can thank AI for that.

Thanks to AI, effective modeling, virtual care, and other features were used in order to make sure Pfizer was first to market with their vaccine.  Pfizer’s AI helped identify patterns in millions of data points in their COVID-19 trial. Then using another AI tool, they were able to review clinical trial data in less than 24 hours, rather than the normal 30 days, leading to a consolidation of the process from 10 years down to one year.

AI is touching every aspect of our lives, and AI trends lean more towards making our lives easier and better, than worse.

A shift towards customer centric marketing 

Trends when it comes to loyalty have moved a long way from the three dynamics of the old class system.  In the old marketing world, we were bundled into groups, A1, A2, A3, B1…

Today though, customers are demanded a different experience depending on who they are as individuals, or even based on their mood.  As a retailer, how are you supposed to know how to communicate with these people?  

This is where AI trends are coming into play.  The rise of Customer Centric marketing, allows for us to recognise the individual and define how we should address the customer demand around the way we communicate. Many young people don’t even watch network television, so how do we know we are reaching them?  They don’t read newspapers or magazines, so how do we convey our message?  AI will allow retailers to identify how best to reach their customers.  AI will know what is the correct message at the correct time, via the correct medium.

Rewarding loyalty

Of course, once we recognise the customer, it is going to be important to understand how to reward loyalty.  This isn’t just about discounts or points, it’s about understanding how to define relevance in the reward.  AI trends will allow retailers to define the most appropriate reward for a customer based on time, date, situation, location, relevance and much more.  Once we know the individual, we will be able to reward to their satisfaction.

1: Learning and predicting customer buying behaviors

As the needs and expectations of customers continue to evolve, AI allows businesses to predict trends in consumer buying behaviours. Even a product of the highest quality will miss the mark if it is not aligned with the values and needs of the customer. Location, culture, age, gender, religion, nationality, mood and environment all play a significant role in a customer’s buying habits. Using AI, businesses can truly understand their customer allowing them to offer the right product, to the right customer at the right time. 

Key takeaways for business leaders

How should you as a business leader navigate in regards to this specific AI trend?

AI can predict customer behaviours allowing businesses to stay ahead of the competition and, most importantly, become customer-centric. 

By truly understanding their customers, businesses can create more effective marketing campaigns, tailored to their preferences. 

A great product on its own is not enough. Businesses need to ensure their offerings align with the needs and values of their customers. 

2: Enhancing customer experience

By understanding the needs and expectations of customers, businesses can enhance the customer experience on site and create relationships that extend beyond the bricks and mortar stores into the online world. AI can help retailers understand the customer’s desired end-to-end journey, whether that be a fast refuel and payment or a customer that wants to shop for dinner and enjoy a relaxing coffee. By understanding the individual customer journey, businesses can identify opportunities to increase satisfaction and improve loyalty and retention. Critically, customer experience now extends beyond face-to-face interactions. By creating a successful online relationship with customers, businesses can connect with them in new ways and gain even further insight into their behaviours and expectations. 

Key takeaways for business leaders

  • The more you know about your customer, the more relevant you can make their experience. 
  • In the digital age customer experience goes beyond the store and businesses must look for ways to create online connections that extend beyond the bricks and mortar stores. 
  • Online connections become even more critical as the role of the fuel station starts to move away from fuel and towards other services.  

3: Introducing discounts and promotions at the right time

Generation Z has already made it clear – they want to be rewarded in a way which recognises them as individuals, not as a part of a group.  This means discounts and promotions must be tailored.  Being able to recognise the individual is never easy, but AI trends show an increasing drive towards a more intimate customer engagement, providing timeboxed promotions for individuals at exactly the right time and location.  Through the idea of personalised promotions, customers will feel recognised and rewarded in ways which suit them, and this can only be achieved at scale through the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

Key takeaways for business leaders

  • Promotions and discounts are not one-size fits all. By truly knowing your customer, you can offer timely, relevant promotions that make customers feel rewarded and ultimately increase brand loyalty. 

4: Price optimization 

You own a gas station. Your nearest competitor is the station just across the road from you.  That station changes their price at 6:05am, what do you do?  Your response may be to change your price too, but that response is wrong.  Another response could be to wait and see, but that is wrong too.  The truth is, only AI can help determine what the right course of action is. It could be best to wait four or five minutes, and then respond.  It could be that the competitor is not a competitor at all in the morning, because their station is too difficult to reach in rush-hour traffic.  When it comes to fuel price optimization, AI can show you the trends in customer behaviour in order to influence how you achieve the best possible price, at the right time.  

Similarly for dry-stock sales, AI trends today show how dynamic the price can be in-store.  Prices can be optimized in order to provide the best return on the products you sell.  Do you make the most return on a branded energy drink, or the most on your own-brand energy drink?  The truth may be that whilst the cost of the branded energy drink is higher, it is usually bundled well with another product and therefore the overall return is higher from selling that product over your in-house product.  AI can help determine the right time to optimize the price of each product in order to maximise the profit.

Key takeaways for business leaders

  • Rather than chasing the competition, customer-centric artificial intelligence allows you to understand your customer and communicate with them. 
  • AI removes the guesswork and makes data driven decisions that can improve margins on the forecourt and in the c-store. 

5: Using historical data to predict future demands

Data is king – that is the message we have been hearing for the past few years. Many companies have invested millions into big data, only to have that data sitting on server farms for months on end, doing nothing.  However, when this data is applied to AI, it creates patterns of behaviour and learnings for the AI to help predict future demands and behaviours.  AI trends today are using masses of historical data to predict the future demands of society, of business, retail and others, in order to be ready for what comes next.  The world is moving faster than ever before, with people changing their habits in ways nobody could have ever predicted previously, but that is only because AI was in its infancy.  Now, we are better equipped than ever before to put that data to use!  

It is for this reason that A2i and PriceCast Fuel are so powerful. Using pattern recognition, we put your data to work for you, leveraging AI to understand your customers and competitors and providing you with the tools to get the best possible return for your business.

Key takeaways for business leaders

  • Businesses are sitting on vast amounts of historical data that, with the help of AI, could unlock key insights and predict future trends. 
  • The world is moving fast, AI technology can help you understand current trends and recognise new customer behaviours as they emerge. 

6: AI chatbots

Remember those days where speaking to chatbots felt like you were speaking to clippy?  Frustrating stupidity which led you nowhere?  These days, AI chatbots are more powerful and mimic human-thinking in ways like never before.  Here are some AI trends to look out for:

  • Voice responses – these will be more realistic and will feel more like a conversation.  It will be easier to discuss information with chatbots.
  • Payment processes will be simplified – a simple request to a chatbot to make a purchase smooth, looking for the most suitable payment process.
  • Access to more precise statistics – insights and analytics will become more precise, with clearer data and the chatbots will have more potential outcomes to consider.
  • Language and translation – the ability to express itself in another language will become more accurate and available.

Key takeaways for business leaders

  • Chatbots allow businesses to provide 24/7 support to their customers. This offers a smoother journey for the customer and saves you money, reducing tedious time-consuming interactions and allowing you to put resources where they are needed most. 
  • The data generated during interactions can help you better understand your customer and, with each interaction, the self-learning technology will continue to improve making the experience even better. 

7: Using AI to push greener and more sustainable business models

The climate crisis is more relevant today than at any other time, and it’s only going to become more important. Businesses feel the pressure to respond to public outcry over what will have a disastrous impact on the future of society.  Leading clothing manufacturers have already begun to look towards sustainability for their garments, with the idea of using recycled materials, coupled with clothing maintenance to address this potential problem. 

The fact is, the answer will most likely need to come through AI.  Already, trends show the rise of green cities, designed and managed by AI, in order to change how cities are shaded, managed, or even how energy can be gathered and stored.  Business models are now being predicted by AI in a new trend of “business greening” whereby AI is predicting how to place employees in order to achieve the minimal environmental impact.  Office space is calculated and designed, and delivery systems are being adapted in order to help grow towards net-carbon-negative behaviours.

Key takeaways for business leaders

AI can enable future systems and business models to be more productive for the economy and for nature.

Business leaders can leverage AI’s strengths and utilise them to tackle the most complex challenges obstructing the reduction of emissions at scale.

The top 5 concerns for business leaders going into AI

[Reading the PwC study on “AI predictions” many interesting things could be said about AI trends. E.g. companies should focus on picking the “right strategic ally” in order to achieve satisfying ROI on the AI investments.

In that regard, we can talk about A2i being the right type of strategic ally that can successfully bring companies to the forefront of implementing profitable AI-systems]

1: Is your workforce skilled enough to utilize AI?

As AI gets more popular, the need for skilled workers is growing as well.  AI does not operate without some form of human interaction; humans may need to take action from the results, or provide new data inputs.  However, without proper training, the workforce may be led to believe myths about AI, believing it to be something which is negative, looking to enslave the world, or just remove the humans from their job. 

Without proper training, there isn’t proper trust.  This means that the AI could be operating perfectly, but if the human doesn’t trust it and follow it, the outcome will still be bad, and who is to blame for that?  The human or the AI?  In the analytics, the AI is blamed for human error.

Training, trust, and finding users who are open to AI will be critical to the success.

2: Is your company organized for AI?

In order to leverage the endless possibilities of AI, the organization needs to accommodate some key areas:

  • Data sharing
  • Governance of AI 

This continues from above. As AI involves automation, it means changing processes internally, and can also mean removing some of the human barriers in the process.  Think of an approval process.  If you have to have fifty-levels of signatures in order to make things happen, then AI is probably not for you yet.  If data is restricted by policy to the point that it can’t be adequately retrieved by the AI, then that will be a problem.

Implementing AI means more than just being open to technology; it means being open to the possibility of change.  Processes will require change.  The chain of command will require change.  The company organisation will require change.

3: Are you achieving a satisfying ROI?

“Fifty-eight percent of our survey respondents have increased investments in AI for workforce planning, 48% are ramping up investments for simulation modeling and supply chain resilience, 43% are upping investments in AI for scenario planning and 42% for demand projection”.

From PwC’s annual AI Predictions survey

For years, businesses, especially large organizations, have jumped onto the bandwagon when buzzwords became mainstream.  For retailers, the big one for a while was omni-channel, something everyone wanted, but few, if any, truly implemented.  The other was big data; the investment into the collection of data streams, without any real reasoning behind it.  

Artificial Intelligence (AI) should not become just another buzzword.  Implemented correctly, with true thought behind it, AI has the power to increase profit, revenues, volumes, productivity, and so much more.  The value of AI is exponential, so long as it is implemented with consideration of why it is there.

The first step is to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with AI.  What are your targets?  What do you expect it to do and is that going to be a benefit?  The second step has to be, will this AI help me in other areas?  In other words, I have implemented AI to handle one area of my business, do I need to find a different AI solution for the other area of the business, or can I work with my first supplier to expand the solution?  

Why is that a problem?  Well, simply put, if your business is a gas station and convenience store, then you probably have multiple profit areas.  If you implement PriceCast Fuel for the gas price, and a different solution for the c-store, you may be providing yourself improvements in both areas, but you won’t be maximising for your whole store.  However, if you utilized just one solution for the whole station, you could maximise the potential by using all the different profit areas together to achieve the best possible ROI.

4: Is your AI-system compliant?

There are a multitude of factors to consider in terms of compliance when it comes to the implementation of AI.  We live in a global economy, with local regulations.  If we try to implement a solution which does not meet the conditions of the local market, not only could that land you in trouble with the authorities, but it could cause longer-lasting trust issues around AI with the general public.

  • Compliance with privacy regulations

In Europe, GDPR represents one of the strictest privacy regulations ever created.  Failure to meet GDPR requirements can be catastrophic for a business, as the size and scale of the fines are huge.  Therefore, it is critical that the AI system you implement meets all the requirements for handling data and privacy that exist in your region.

  • Bad data

AI is only going to be as good as the data you give it.  When the data is biased or problematic, AI can produce bad results.  The data you give the AI must be checked and cleaned first.  Additionally, a good AI system will be designed to handle the bad data in a way which is not damaging to the business.  

But that is not the only thing bad data can do.  Biases and unethical historical behaviour can introduce similar patterns of behaviour, if the AI has not been programmed to behaviour ethically.  Take for example a natural disaster.  PriceCast Fuel’s AI has been specifically designed to behave ethically. When disaster hit the area of one of A2i’s clients, PriceCast Fuel behaved ethically.  It didn’t price gauge, or behave in any way which could lead the retailer into ethical or regulatory trouble.

It is important that your AI provider knows what they are doing with the data.

  • How to defend AI against cyber threats

AI works best with access to as many data streams as possible, but that also means sitting in an environment where that access is as simple as possible.  You might think the safest way to protect that AI would be to place it on your own private cloud infrastructure, but that might be the biggest risk you could make.  

By using services such as AWS, you gain access to a myriad of security services which protect your AI.  Think about the investment you are making into cybersecurity for your own hosting centres, and then think about all the combined investment being made by all the companies using AWS and Amazon itself.  

Our advice here, use mainstream services; use security experts to guide you; use security services provided by the service provider; and use a good, strong AI provider who has built failsafes into the solution.

  • Improve explainability 

AI is a powerful tool, that much is very clear to most; but it is also one of the most silent things.  You can’t actually see AI, you can only see the output.  But if that output is not clear and simple, then it won’t be understood, meaning the people at the top might not believe it is a benefit.  “Sure, my bottom line results have improved dramatically since we implemented AI, but that could have been my awesome management skills!”  

Good, clear visual analytics tools, such as Qlik, can make it easier to make the outputs of AI more digestible and trustworthy.  It will make the AI outputs explainable, which means you are more likely to see, understand and trust the function of the AI.

5: The human element

One of the major concerns customers in grocery markets have, is that Self-Checkouts remove the need for cashiers, in other words, people lose their jobs.  The fact that most staff were reassigned to make the whole store more productive, and introduce flexibility to how customers are served, largely went unnoticed.  AI raises the same concern, so it is only natural to assume that at some point, once AI becomes more prominent in our society, we will see the public turn against AI.  

The human element of AI has to be properly identified and explained, in order to reduce negative expectations about the solutions.  AI has the possibility to automate some roles, yes, but that does not mean that those roles become unnecessary; it simply means that they evolve.  Think of fuel pricing.  Today, fuel pricing teams probably manually analyse a ton of data to try to come up with a correct fuel price.  They analyse the competition, and then react to what the competitor does.  However, when PriceCast Fuel is introduced, all of that is automated; so what then, is the role of the fuel price manager?  Simple, they are now armed with a superweapon, meaning they can care less about the competition and more about the future.  They can think strategically.  Being many steps ahead of the competition means they can use the AI to achieve business objectives.

Used correctly, AI won’t ruin our lives, but rather augment our lives to be less stressful, more productive, and even more sustainable.

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