COVID-19 has wiped out budget extras for enterprises around the world, as organizations have seen their earnings hit by the economic downturn created by the virus pandemic.
Yet, enterprises should not give up on their AI digital transformation projects, even if they have to sideline them in the short term. For now, enterprises may want to consider turning to automation, or at least overhauling necessary projects, as the world quickly becomes more digital, according to machine learning vendors.
Importance of AI, even now
"AI is the single most important technology area that enterprises have to invest in," said Ryohei Fujimaki, founder and CEO of DotData.
DotData sells an auto machine learning platform, so it's not surprising that Fujimaki pushes AI. Still, much evidence supports his view -- businesses are generating, and will continue to generate, huge amounts of data, too much to process with AI.
Enterprises, then, will need to turn to AI at some point. Yet, with limited budgets and workforces due to the economic downturn, they may not be able to complete their AI digital transformation projects in the near future.
Instead, at this stage, enterprises need to think about how to use existing people more efficiently, including augmenting them with automation, Fujimaki said.
"Automation is a really promising approach for maximizing the efficiency of an existing team," he said.
Ryohei FujimakiFounder and CEO, DotData
Automation tools, such as RPA platforms, are generally quick to set up and can automate repetitive tasks with ease. That's important, as COVID-19 has decimated enterprise earnings as they have been forced to temporarily close and lay off or furlough employees.
Many enterprises, at least in the short term, likely have limited budgets to spend on major AI and digital transformation projects, even as such projects could prove more beneficial than ever given their now limited workforces.
"Many enterprises don't even have data science teams," and cannot hire them now, making AI digital transformation essentially impossible anyway, Fujimaki said. Automation tools, typically deployed on top of existing systems, rather than replacing or overhauling them, enables enterprises to cheaply augment their employees.
Nintex, a process automation vendor, for example, is doing fairly well even during this economic downturn, Nintex technical evangelist Chris Ellis said.
New and old customers are turning away from their large-scale digital transformation projects, Ellis said. Instead, they are focusing on individual, necessary projects they can get done quickly.
Financial institutions are buying and deploying process automation from Nintex to help simplify invoice handling, as they are turning to digital invoice processing as bank branches have temporarily closed. These institutions are also using automation to help navigate government legislation, tax forms, wage surplus reporting and other key tasks.
"People are coming up with these use cases in the blink of an eye," Ellis said.
"People are deviating from these big, big bang projects in digital transformation" to instead focus on smaller use cases that deal with worker productivity, he said.
Financial institutions will likely do more digital transformation projects in their back offices, while consumer goods companies will probably introduce more AI in their supply chain processes, said Traci Gusher, principal of data and analytics at KPMG in the U.S.
Many industries will also change how their call centers operate, introducing more AI and automation to offset remote or laid-off workers, she noted.
Don't lose sight of AI
Monte Zweben, co-founder and CEO of data platform vendor Splice Machine, noted that as enterprises begin to recover economically, they will likely start or broaden their digital transformation efforts.
Splice Machine, which sells products and services to help enterprises modernize their cloud applications and databases, has already seen an uptick in customers over the past several weeks as enterprises begin to see the need for digital overhauls in their systems and are recovering enough financially to make those changes, Zweben said.
Those customers are looking to move things onto the cloud, as well as deploy and run AI and analytics at scale across the cloud, he said.
That's important, because "almost every business interaction will be digital" following COVID-19, Zweben argued.
"Customers are definitely focused again," he added.
For the many enterprises not yet at that stage, turning to automation and focusing on necessary projects will help them get through COVID-19 and its aftermath, Fujimaki said.
Yet, these enterprises should not lose sight of their overall AI digital transformation projects, he said.
"This isn't eliminating the need for digital transformation, but it's suppressing them in the short term," Fujimaki said. "It's very important that the customer continues their AI project."
Once they stop completely, he added, it's hard to get it started again.