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Artificial intelligence has become hugely influential for CFOs

Data is like a diamond mine – you have to chip away to get the diamonds of information

The term “artificial intelligence” might still carry a creepy resonance for some concerned about machines taking over the world, but in the world of the CFO the field has become hugely influential in a very short space of time.

One clear sign is the development and growth of the Centre for Applied Data Analytics (CeADAR). Funded by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA and established in 2012, it assists firms in adopting and applying data analytics to help them achieve competitive advantage.

It now has more than 70 member companies, ranging from small SMEs up to the well-known blue-chip multinationals. These include banks and financial firms like Bank of Ireland, AIB, KBC, Fexco, Deutsche Bank and State Street.

In the context of mining data, says director Edward McDonnell, terms like artificial intelligence, decision-support systems, machine learning, cognitive computing and data analytics tend to be used interchangeably but mean generally the same thing.

“There is a wealth of information in your data. It’s a bit like a diamond mine – the challenge is that you have to chip away to get those diamonds of information to help you make key decisions.

“Data analytics is very broad in its areas of interest, particularly in financial services,” he said. Companies could be working on contact centre analytics, fraud analytics and detection, social media, decision-support recommendation engines and customer segment explorations.

Documentation

One interesting area is the Docupool, whereby companies with large amounts of documentation can store the text of these documents so any relevant information or data they contain can be easily analysed for hidden topics that they should be aware of.

The centre provides a bridge between pure academic research into data analytics and developing applications for specific industry uses.

“We’re are dealing with some of the world’s largest companies, but at the same time we’re also dealing with a lot of Irish financial services who are aware of the potential that AI can bring.”

CRM software giant Salesforce has already embraced the technology by developing a new platform called Einstein that integrates AI capability into all of its products, according to Carl Dempsey, Salesforce's vice-president of solution engineering.

CFOs whose role has become more technology driven can use AI to get “smarter and more predictive about their customers and their business”.

Close a deal

“Einstein can drive sales by predicting which opportunities are most likely to close, and make recommendations on how to close a deal. It can deliver pro-active service by resolving issues before they happen. Having visibility of this in the cloud allows for finance to plan smarter, better and quicker.”

Dempsey says AI has been around for decades in applications like GPS or in Google search in the way that it suggests the questions as you type them in.

“The current AI revolution is happening now thanks to the previous trends of web, mobile, social and cloud,” he said. “Mobile, social and IOT [internet of things] are generating tons of data, and thanks to the virtually unlimited computing and storage capacity of the cloud, we can use all that data to do great things for users.

“It’s the combination of the massive new data sets and the unlimited compute that is enabling AI breakthroughs that were dreams just five or 10 years ago.”