“Data is the new oil” – the famous quote by British mathematician Clive Humby has resonated well over the years.
Today, trillion-dollar companies such as Google and Amazon serve up perfect examples of just how valuable data can be. From targeted advertising to same-day deliveries, it is an integral part of some of the world’s biggest business models.
Data collection, in itself, makes up a huge market – one which is expected to grow by 25 per cent a year through till 2028. Most businesses, if not all, partake in this process, whether it’s through feedback forms or internet cookies.
As this process has become cheaper and more efficient, it no longer imparts the same competitive advantage it once did. Take e-commerce businesses for example – they can all use Google Analytics for free and access customer demographics, sources of traffic, and more.
In order to gain an edge, companies need to do more. Now that the data’s available to everyone, it’s about who can make the best use of it.
This is where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) come into play. Systems can be trained to sift through large amounts of data, recognise patterns, and offer solutions.
Turning data into information
“When you apply for a credit card, banks send you a long list of offers. 90 per cent of those might be [irrelevant to you],” says Raju Bhupatiraju, Chief Revenue Officer of Crayon Data, a Singapore-based AI and big data company. “That’s called a spray-and-pray method.”
Banks present a wide variety of offers with the hope that a few might be enticing enough for potential customers. It’s an inefficient system which can often result in resource wastage.
AI offers solutions to tidy up this process, using data which banks already have access to. For example, spending habits can help determine the type of offers which someone might be interested in. “What Crayon Data does is use AI and ML to try and understand customer tastes,” Bhupatiraju says.
Using a variety of data points, AI systems can recognise patterns and suggest the best course of action. A person who often spends at vegan restaurants may not be interested in vouchers for a steakhouse, while someone who goes for weekly massages might appreciate spa discounts.
The inferences may not be extraordinary, nor will they always be right – but where AI stands out is in the speed at which it can go through data and come to such conclusions. “Pattern recognition is something humans can do but it’d take a lot longer. A system can take care of 80 per cent of it.”
Using AI and ML systems, Crayon Data is able to offer a variety of solutions, tackling problems involving revenue generation, cost-cutting, and customer experience.
For example, travel industry players such as airlines and hotels, might benefit from Crayon Data’s capability to curate highly personalised itineraries. By understanding tastes and preferences, companies could enjoy a greater share of their consumers’ travel budget.
Working with Crayon Data, a hotel could offer an app which recommends the ideal restaurants and tourist attractions for each guest. Guests would save time planning their trip and enjoy the convenience of booking their entire itinerary from a single app.
Consequently, the hotel would reap benefits in the form of commissions and an improved overall guest experience.
Such solutions are applicable across most industries, whether it’s travel, healthcare, banking, or education. Data analysis using AI can be the key to better conversion rates and more efficient operations.
How will AI impact the world?
Ever since generative AI took the spotlight with the launch of ChatGPT, AI technology as a whole has benefited from more interest and funding. Around the world, companies are showing more willingness to make use of such systems.
“AI is an orbit shifter,” Bhupatiraju says, adding that companies which opt out of using the technology could face an existential threat. “It’d be like riding a bicycle when everyone else has a motorbike. You could have the best bicycle, but that wouldn’t make a difference.”
Bhupatiraju explains that AI has the potential to bring about change in a non-linear fashion. “You can enjoy double the benefits without having to double your investment.”
Today, a startup can use generative AI tools for branding and copywriting. Chatbots can replace human customer support and AI analytics tools can help improve the results from targeted advertising. All put together, the initial investment to set up a business — whether it’s a travel agency or an e-commerce store — is brought down significantly.
With data solutions such as those offered by Crayon Data, “a four to 10 times benefit is common,” he adds. There’s a lot of time and money to be saved by delegating work to the machines.
That being said, what happens to the employees who were once responsible for said work? As AI takes over job roles, questions of job security have become prevalent across a number of professions. Copywriters face competition from ChatGPT while artists try to keep up with Midjourney.
Bhupatiraju believes that despite this, there’ll be jobs around for those who want them. “People overall will not lose jobs, unless they’re unwilling to change.”
As AI takes over mechanical work, there’ll be more time for humans to spend on jobs that require critical thinking and reasoning. This will require retraining and reskilling — an investment decision that will fall upon companies and governments, but the need for humans in the workplace will remain.
Which countries are leading the way?
As is the case with most innovations, their impact is determined not only by businesses, but policymakers as well. There’s a continuous need to find balance and ensure that new technologies are rendering a net positive effect.
Earlier this year, Italy became the first Western country to ban ChatGPT, claiming that the program didn’t comply with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Given their heavy use of user data, AI tools – especially ones as popular as ChatGPT – could pose a great threat if hacked or breached.
As AI technology develops, such considerations become more and more important for regulators to address. “It’s important for AI to grow responsibly,” Bhupatiraju says. “Regulations will definitely evolve.”
With this in mind, companies need to be careful about where they choose to operate, lest they be blindsided by new policies. After starting off in Singapore back in 2012, Crayon Data is now exploring growth opportunities in Dubai and the Middle East as well.
Bhupatiraju looks at it as a question of willingness and readiness. On one hand, governments and the local clientele need to show an interest in AI-based systems. “[Some countries] simply have bigger problems to solve.”
Along with that, there’s a need to have the knowledge and capital — among other factors — in place to actually implement such solutions.
In addition, it’s also necessary to consider the social impact which AI could have on a region. “Southeast Asia and the Middle East roughly have the same GDP, but the population in Southeast Asia (SEA) is around 50 per cent higher,” Bhupatiraju says.
As such, AI solutions can be introduced in the Middle East without a significant impact to the country’s workforce. On the other hand, retrenchments are a lot more likely in SEA in the short run. The emergence of AI calls for significant investments to retrain workers and create new job opportunities.
Featured Image Credit: Crayon Data