Digital predictions for 2022: The year of AI and business experimentation

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By Susana Duran, Vice President of Digital Experiences at Sage

If the past 21 months are any indication, Canadian business leaders can expect an exciting year ahead, dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) and continued experimentation. Let’s look at some of the trends shaping how Canada’s businesses will experience 2022. 

Susana Duran is the Vice President of Digital Experiences at Sage

Pattern detection will optimise our workloads

Data is now widely viewed as a company’s most valuable commodity, a powerful tool for driving productivity and connected experiences. With 66 percent of Canadian businesses adopting digital tools such as cloud computing or e-commerce, according to the Bank of Canada, many have likely accrued a high volume of customer and employee data– and unlocking the full potential of that data will be key to their growth in 2022. That’s why we expect to see more Canadian business leaders invest not only in digital tools, but artificial intelligence-powered software capable of detectingpatterns in their data and gleaning valuable business insights that can help them see around corners. 

Take HR, for example: Sage’s “HR in the moment: Impact through insights” report, released last year, found that while 81 percent of C-suite leaders said they would not have beenable to operate effectively without HR technology during the pandemic, more than half believed that HR leaders weren’t using digital tools to their full potential by playing a leading role in areas such as operational excellence (62 percent), skilling and upskilling (55 percent) or company culture (54percent).

There are greater benefits to be gleaned from enterprise technology than simply digitizing business operations: AI-enabled HR software, for example, is capable of trawling existing data on staff tasks, timesheets, and workloads and predicting the amount of time it will take to complete a certain assignment. Based on this information, business leaders can optimize their staff’s workloads by remotely managing their time and matching different employees to the tasks best suited to them. The software can also track data on sick days, holiday requests and shift scheduling, helping managers balance staff leave and wellbeing while maximizing productivity.

Elsewhere, AI-powered finance and accounting software can detect patterns in cash flow, identifying anomalies and helping business leaders make strategic decisions such as where to increase investment and where to reduce spending. The goal isn’t to monitor or replace employees – any data collected is typically anonymized – but to provide leaders with the accurate and timely insights they need to deliver the best decisions for their business.

AI will become more generative—and face more regulation

When AI works correctly, it can reduce a task that used to take days to minutes. Unfortunately, building AI to fit a use case for businesses is the easy part. There are wider ethical questions that need to be considered, and top of mind for Canadian businesses should be the data privacy of individuals and the laws that protect them.

AI bias is a real concern, with models often trained on insufficient datasets that lead to well-documented biases regarding race, age, gender, and more. To manage the risks associated with handing such power to machines, Canadian businesses can expect to see new regulations for AI in 2022, and should be prepared to quickly and diligently adjust. In Ontario, for example, the provincial government is in the early stages of developing a Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence Framework to support “AI use that is accountable, safe, and rights based”.

Whatever is developed will likely be modelled after laws governing data use in the European Union, such as the precedent-setting General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which still requires technology companies operating in Europe to disclose their data-collection practices. More recently, the European Commission developed an AI strategy that divides AI systems into three categories: Unacceptable risk (including real-time biometric systems used in public spaces for law enforcement and all forms of social scoring), high risk (including systems that evaluate creditworthiness or systems that would place EU residents at risk if they failed), and limited or minimal risk (including AI chatbots, inventory management systems, and customer- and market-segmentation systems).

Canadian business leaders need to be ready for these and similar incoming regulations by implementing clear, ethical AI practices today. They must ensure the enterprise technology providers they rely on use ethical instructions and diverse data when training AI, in addition to testing for biases and measuring their models against third-party standards and principles. Only then can AI be trusted to provide recommendations.

Experimentation will lead to crucial discoveries

Over the past two years, businesses have faced economic, technological and environmental turbulence. For example Sage’s “Forward Together: Building a Resilient Future” report, released in October 2021, found that 71percent of Canadian business leaders expect the pandemic to continue having a neutral or negative impact on revenue,.

That’s why, in 2022, we expect more Canadian businesses to shift their focus from long-term planning to short-term experimentation. According to Sage’s Forward Together research, four in five businesses have taken action to improve their resilience to future disruption, with 48 percent offering a flexible work environment, 40 percent boosting staff training, and 29 percent adopting cloud-based business applications.

The consequences for not doing so could be significant: While Sage’s Forward Together research found that 56 percent of Canadian business leaders are concerned about their employees burning out and that 40 percent of their workers have also expressed concerns about burnout, it also found that 60 percent of businesses have taken no action for mitigating burnout among workers – a potential reason the Business Development Bank of Canada has found that 55 percent of entrepreneurs are struggling to hire the workers they need.

The future of AI in business starts with a culture of innovation

While Canadian business owners can’t predict what the world will throw at them in 2022, they can be prepared for it. An experimental approach allows leaders to take a step back andbe more creative when addressing the challenges they face. Just as Thomas Edison is famously quoted as saying: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” every attempt brings them one step closer to the solution they’ve been hoping for.

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Susana Duran