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We can’t talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the future tense anymore: it’s here, and it’s changing the world. Business intelligence and analytical processes are being rapidly automated. Robot-assisted surgeries are expected to improve patient outcomes. Machine learning startups in South Africa and all over the globe are launching with the express intent of taking this technology into hitherto-uncharted territory.

It has been called revolutionary and it actually lives up to the hype. However, in some respects AI is a victim of its own success. It’s so transformative that some professionals fear it will put them out of their jobs.

It’s a valid fear, but somewhat misplaced. At its best, AI is an aid to the modern worker. If it’s well-integrated into a corporate environment, the human employee should benefit.

If you’re running a business, here’s how you can turn it to your advantage.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap

To understand AI, you need to know AI – and that can be a difficult proposition in South Africa. Christine Van der Mescht of NMRQL Research argues that “…access to local data sets, poor data quality and security, workforce readiness and re-skilling for big data insights” remain problem areas – reinforced by an inherent suspicion of new technology and an overreliance on old technology.

Nevertheless, improving your knowledge of AI and its applications should be a clear priority. Cloud software for example is enjoying wide – and widening – adoption. Microsoft opened two Azure data centres in South Africa in 2018 and where Microsoft goes, others often follow.

AI: The Future Is Right Now

The benefits of AI shouldn’t be understated. Repetitive, tedious manual processes that take valuable employees away from their core duties can be automated and improved. In the accounting function, this means no more laborious data entry, reconciliations or information verification. Best of all, AI gets more intelligent the more it learns and stores - becoming increasingly effective and powerful over time.

But for AI to thrive within South African businesses, it must be built on the right technological infrastructure. Cloud technology can provide just that.

Getting AI-ready

AI is ready for your business – so your business needs to get ready for AI. Yes, some jobs might become obsolete but lots of other jobs will sprout in their place; roles with requirements that we haven’t even contemplated yet.

In the meantime, businesses should prepare – and that doesn’t just mean embracing AI, but the cloud software that creates the foundation for machine learning and the insights it can provide. The first step is to identify a suitable cloud provider that can supply a robust platform for AI deployment; the second, to foster an open-minded, digitally-savvy corporate culture.

If AI solutions are the flowers in the garden, cloud infrastructure is the soil. Start cultivating!

Born in the cloud, Xero is beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software loved by businesses and their advisors. See why Xero is trusted by over 1.6 million subscribers worldwide.

This article was written by Colin Timmis, General Country Manager, Xero SA and professional accountant.

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