AI Automation is Coming to Your Organization - But What Does That Mean?

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ChatGPT, Copilot and other AI automation tools are rapidly arriving – but how can your business leverage them effectively? Read on for guidance.

It's been less than a year since OpenAI launched ChatGPT, and already its presence is ubiquitous. After setting the record for fastest growing consumer application of all time in February, research showed that nearly half of all companies were using it. Alarmingly, a quarter even reported job displacements as a consequence of its adoption.

At one time, the possibility of next-gen AI taking over office work and pushing humans out was remote - the stuff of speculative fiction and overly excited tech journalists. But now it is a reality, and with Microsoft set to release Copilot any day now, the virtual assistant built on top of OpenAI's technology is posed to revolutionize the way we do business forever.

Hype abounds, and so do questions. Where do tools like ChatGPT and Copilot belong in your tech stack, how can they benefit your business, and what steps can you take to prepare for a future of AI-driven automation?

It's hard to give an answer that will remain true tomorrow: AI strides are happening so fast that a large group of tech influencers have asked researchers to please slow it down until we can all catch up – but a moratorium is not forthcoming.

In times like these, organizations must lean on seasoned expertise to help them navigate uncertain disruptions in the world of business tech. But in the meantime, we will give some answers that are true today, beginning with an overview of two tools: ChatGPT and Copilot.

It's All Large Language Models (LLMs)

While ChatGPT hit the Internet like a bolt of lightning when it launched in November of 2022, the technology behind it is not new: OpenAI has been building and refining Large Language Models (LLMs) since 2018, from GPT 1 to GPT 3.5.

To create ChatGPT, OpenAI simply modified an existing LLM for a more conversational style of input and stuck that technology behind a user friendly interface (with certain tweaks to prevent problematic outputs).

But why is the technology so effective? Today's LLMs are based on emerging machine learning (ML) models that are trained on very large corpuses of text. With the help of advancements like attention mechanisms and long short-term memory, these models have gotten better and better at predicting what word follows another in a sequence of words.

Thanks to this simple function, they have also gotten better at writing everything from blog posts and emails to poetry and love letters. With language being integral to everything we do in the context of business and office work, apps like ChatGPT exhibit emergent functionality that can be bundled into new apps and use cases.

For instance...

Microsoft Copilot

Announced in March of this year, Microsoft's Copilot promises to integrate GPT-powered assistance into its suite of Office 365 apps, including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and the Power Platform. Moreover, it augments individual sessions with collaboration tools like Business Chat, and a unified database for emails, documents, meetings and conversations that will make the assistant more useful.

For now Copilot is still in its beta testing phase - but if initial reactions are anything to go off of, it's fair to say that it will be a one-of-a-kind product: an ultra-smart personal assistant accessible to everyone in an organization using Office 365 products. With a single prompt, users will be able to:

  • Generate first drafts for emails, documents, and PowerPoint Presentations
  • Set up automations for repetitive tasks, build applications, chatbots and more through the Power Platform
  • Query the assistant for insights buried in its Knowledge Model of their organization
  • Collaborate with other Copilot users to finish projects in record time

Even if Copilot falls short of these goals, just one of them could make a major difference for businesses and their employees. But how much of a difference?

Is it All Hype?

We often hear about new tech breakthroughs, and many of them are not truly newsworthy. According to Gartner's Hype Cycle, most tech advances go through a period of inflated expectations, a period of disillusionment and a period of stabilization.

AI is no exception - in fact, AI goes through these cycles so often that they have special names: AI spring (inflated expectations) and AI winter (a period of disillusionment). Today, we're in the middle of an AI spring that arguably began about 10 years ago when generative adversarial networks (GANs) were perfected by Ian Goodfellow.

But we can't assume our AI spring is unfounded - and even a conservative assessment suggests there's more fire than smoke in the hype train's engine right now. Business benefits from ChatGPT alone have been numerous:

  • Time savings – with the ability to generate passable first drafts of just about anything, ChatGPT can dramatically cut down on time spent writing emails, blog posts, articles, social media posts and much more. Anecdotal evidence says copywriters can slash time spent by 50%.
  • Improved productivity – for a brief period of time in April, ChatGPT was banned within the country of Italy. During the days proceeding the ban, researchers found that the productivity of computer programmers decreased by 50%. Not only does this show how quickly programmers adapted to the tool – it also shows how much extra work it allowed them to accomplish.
  • Augmented capabilities – for organizations that are in short supply on writers, marketers, assistants and other kinds of talent, ChatGPT provides a much needed augmentation to missing capabilities. An employee who has never written a Press Release before can get the hang of it much more quickly with the help of AI.
  • Better customer service – chatbots and various forms of automated customer support have existed for a long time, but they have never been as powerful as they can be with the use of ChatGPT and other LLM-powered applications. Not only can they handle complex queries far more intelligently, but they can also personalize assistance for the customer and make them feel valued.
  • Reduced costs – every one of the previously mentioned benefits converge on lower long- and short-term costs. While data on money saved from ChatGPT is in short supply, data suggests that up to a quarter of companies using the app saved $75k or more.

While there’s every reason to regard media coverage of ChatGPT, Microsoft Copilot and other emerging use cases for AI automation with skepticism, touted benefits are not merely pie-in-the-sky projections: they are grounded in the concrete truth of what’s already happening.

Future-proofing Your Business

Ultimately, like shadow IT, employees will bring ChatGPT, Copilot and other AI applications into the workplace (CodeWhisperer, Bard, Bing…take your pick) whether they are authorized to or not.

Most companies won’t mind it – but taking an intentional approach will help them to leverage the benefits more effectively. It will also help them to spot opportunities in emerging AI use cases, such as code writing, product design, cybersecurity, and ML-models fine-tuned for their business.

  1. Be proactive – to make the most of AI automation, organizations must have a clear view of problems they are trying to solve, and how automation can help to address them. They should ask how automation can improve service for their customers/clients while driving up concrete metrics for success. Defining these metrics ahead of time will help you to leverage AI before competitors do.
  2. Budget – money for IT expenditure is tight these days: but IT drives business outcomes, and modernization isn’t optional. Organizations who hope to navigate the waters of disruption must set aside resources for discretionary spending ahead of time – with nearly half of small businesses operating without a clearly defined budget, creating one is a top priority.
  3. Find expertise – in many ways the AI boom is just getting started, and businesses have a precarious road to walk down: on the one hand, they must avoid hype and try not to entangle themselves in dead end technologies. On the other hand, they must avoid incurring technical debt by allowing their competitors to achieve automation benefits first. Ultimately, all businesses can benefit from a vCIO, who can help them to define priorities based on the intersection of IT and business outcomes.