John Fremont is the Go to Market lead for Artificial Intelligence at Accenture in North America.

Previously the Chief Revenue Officer and a managing partner at Chaotic Moon (acquired by Accenture in mid-2015) and the Global head of Digital Product Creation for Accenture, Fremont has been in the AI space for years, driving clients and partners to understand the impact and complexity of the impending transformation.

He contributed to a recent Salesforce panel on Artificial Intelligence, and we took some time with him to discuss his take on the impact of AI on business.


How is AI going to change business strategy over the next five years?


I think the fundamentals of business strategy will stay quite consistent - in the sense that the overarching goals will still be to create more efficiency, drive more profitability and the like.

However, there is a major shift underway - in which a company’s operations and their interactions with customers are taking place increasingly in the digital world.

This digitalization allows for a lot more data collection. Companies that are collecting that data effectively start to build up a knowledge base from which they can start to extrapolate a lot of interesting outcomes.

That’s where strategy will change. Companies can start to identify and leverage new opportunities that simply weren’t possible to see before. Artificial Intelligence is going to be critical for both identifying and leveraging those opportunities.

To effectively make that strategic change, the decision has got to be made from the top down. This transition can't be led from the bottom up - it has to be led by the CEO and the board.


Why is a top-down approach so important?


Companies don’t have a problem with data collection any more - digitalization means there’s more of it than there has ever been before. But a lot of companies still have problems in organizing and then actually using that data.

The bigger a company gets, the more silos you get. You've got people in the IT world choosing one piece of technology; and you have HR choosing another technology; and then you've got sales teams choosing something and marketing choosing something different.

Suddenly, you've got a whole mess of technology that you have to try to unwind if you want to use data to its full potential. That’s why a top down approach is important - it's the only way to break down those silos. 

Companies that are able to take data from across operations, from employees, from customers, and apply it in an intelligent fashion moving forward are those that can really add to the value proposition of their own business.


How is Artificial Intelligence going to impact on the future of the workforce?


I think the big question for companies right now is “how can we augment employees?”.

The team at Amazon Web Services are doing this well. They use AI to guide employees to work more effectively. The company uses predictive analytics to suggest to employees that “these are the places that you should focus your attention today". It helps them be more efficient and make better decisions. It's not taking away from their job, it's actually enhancing their capacity in a very valuable fashion.

One thing that we do need to think about moving forward is how to educate those employees. Over time, our education system changed from one designed for an agricultural society to one designed for an employee base largely working in factories. That's largely the educational system we have today - and it's not going to be fit for purpose.

We have to really think about that - how we educate the next generation differently - because the kids today will come into the workplace in a very different environment than what they're being trained for right now.


How is AI going to change the customer experience?


AI helps us to use the influx of new data available as a result of digitization to actually build meaningfully better customer experiences. The more we as customers give our data over to innovative companies, the better those companies will get to know us. If you know my buying habits, you can start to give me a really personalized experience.

Now we have this plethora of potential touch points where customers are sharing with companies, and where they expect to interact with those companies. You may choose Twitter as your outlet. I may use Facebook or SMS. It’s tough for companies to have a presence on all of those channels, and to be responsive on them in real time.

This is where AI can really help - it can give companies the capacity to be present across all of those touch points and responsive to customers immediately via automated tools like ChatBots. AI can also help to identify in which of those conversations the user is exhibiting signs of wanting a more human experience, and can then facilitate a quick hand off to a human representative to ensure that happens.

Immediate, personalized customer experiences like this are starting to create real loyalty with customers, and that encourages those customers to share even more, enabling even more personalization. It’s a virtuous circle.


If you could only give one piece of advice to companies about AI, what would it be?


Artificial Intelligence is not like a little blip on the radar. This is here to stay.

It's a really difficult time right now because innovation like this is hard. It's expensive. It's risky and people are nervous. Making big, big leaps can be very scary. But the businesses best placed to thrive are those who put a comprehensive plan in place and act on it.

If you don't do that right now, in a few years from now you're probably going to be left behind.