Louise O’Shea: AI integration is a very human endeavour

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AI integration is a very human endeavour

The financial industry is facing a period of great transformation as Artificial Intelligence (AI) changes the way businesses, like ours, operate and how our customers are served. What’s more, this change is happening at a time when people are questioning how their personal data is used and concern is growing around the impact of intelligent technologies on jobs.

The truth is that, harnessed in the right way, the benefits of AI are enormous and far-reaching. We are already using it to gain a better understanding of our customers’ needs in order to help them save time and money.

But it requires investment, first to upload vast amounts of data to the cloud and, second, to ensure people are offered complete transparency and confidence about how their data is collected and used. Once in place, though, that same data opens doors to an endless number of solutions and help us to move quickly and turn our AI strategy into reality.

The willingness of the finance sector to embrace AI for the good of customers is encouraging. Research from Microsoft has found that the sector is leading the way in adopting AI technologies including machine learning (used by 29 per cent of organisations), voice recognition/haptic technology (28 per cent) and big data analytics (47 per cent). But there is a very human challenge to solve, too. Namely, the worrying lag when it comes to retraining staff to thrive in an AI-augmented workplace. Indeed, Microsoft’s research found that just 23 per cent of the industry’s workers say they are learning new skills to keep up with future changes to their work caused by AI.

At Confused.com, we have been on exactly that journey. Initially, we regarded our own AI integration as a technology project, basing our strategy around uploading our data to Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure. Yet 12 months on, our experience has taught us that it is, in fact, a very human endeavour.

With understandable distrust around AI and the future of the workforce, our focus has been on ensuring employees not only understand the technology but also feel invested in its success. Rather than see it as a threat or unwelcome complication, we want to help them view AI as a tool to augment their job, not automate it. A way to free them up to do more valuable and interesting work, serve customers better, and progress their career in a way that would otherwise have been impossible.

A big part of this involves accessible education initiatives. We run a number of learning programmes and training sessions, including the ‘School of Tech’, where employees can hear how AI could make their job easier. Employees feel involved in – rather than subjected to – the process. They get hands-on with the technology, and gain the skills they need to harness AI’s potential in their everyday work. What’s more is once they understand what’s possible with AI they start to think about how the technology can in-turn benefit our customers.

Inspired by our ‘School of Tech’ sessions, one employee, who had no prior knowledge of artificial intelligence or coding, approached the tech team to automate his manual, repetitive tasks. With this support behind him and the right training from the tech team, he’s been able to write simple code to reduce what was a manual task of over four hours to just one hour, crucially allowing him to focus on more valuable, interesting work.

Of course, there is no escaping the fact that AI is causing – and will continue to cause – significant disruption for businesses across the financial sector. However, as we ourselves have found, it is also unlocking new and exciting opportunities to improve experiences for customers and employees alike.

The key is seeing the big picture. AI cannot – and must not – be seen as an IT project that happens in the shadows and is presented to staff as a fait accompli. Instead, it must be diffused across the business, allowing workers at all levels to experience it, feedback on it and shape it for themselves.

Above all, employees must feel empowered and equipped to make AI work for them so they can do their own jobs better. Since our inception, Confused.com’s mission has been to save money for our customers. If AI frees up our people to spend more time doing that, it can only be a good thing.

Interested in AI in HE? We recommend the Mission Critical HR Analytics Summit 2019.

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About Louise O'Shea

Louise O’Shea is CEO of Confused.com, the UK’s first and longest-running price comparison website. Louise worked within the Admiral Group since 2009. Following her role as Admiral’s Head of Investor Relations she spent three years at Confused.com as Business Development Manager and Finance Director, before taking on the role as CEO.

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