Why manufacturing can’t afford not to invest in AI – and how the cloud enables it

Artificial intelligence (AI) is often touted as the brain behind Industry 4.0. Even the government is backing this emerging technology with its industrial strategy, which aims to “propel Britain to global leadership of the industries of the future including AI and big data”.

Yet research suggests that manufacturers are behind the curve. According to Oneserve, the UK manufacturing industry is failing to invest in AI and creating a potential loss of £151,000 to each individual company, leaving it trailing behind Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

Manufacturers need to keep up with developments in AI, otherwise they risk being left behind. Failing to prepare for the inevitable will eventually impact their bottom line. They’ll be unable to compete against manufacturers who, with AI at the heart of their digital transformation strategies, will be more productive, agile and prepared for change.

All manufacturers therefore need to embrace disruptive technologies and see them as playing a positive impact on business. It needn’t be as daunting as some think. A first step in transformation is informing staff on their vision and getting commitment from them – C-suite included – as it requires a change in working and often developing new skills. Manufacturers also need to begin researching suitable partners in the technology ecosystem and establish relationships with those that have expertise in the industry. Trusted partnerships will be critical in making AI projects a success.

Crucially, manufacturers also need to keep up with and invest in the cloud, an essential component in AI and other digital projects. It’s therefore vital that AI and cloud companies (and indeed the government) educate manufacturers on the positive impact technology can make. Without this, manufacturers will continue to hold back on investment and be unclear on the benefits of AI.

But is the cloud really that important for AI? Simply put, yes. It’s a technology that is dominant in many businesses today and will continue to be in the future as we enter Industry 4.0. One way that all manufacturers can immediately take advantage of the cloud, with minimal risk, is in their finance department. Not only can it streamline mundane tasks (such as invoicing and accounts payable), removing the administrative burden, and saving businesses thousands of pounds a year, but a cloud-based financial management system can also help CFOs and other senior decision makers view and share important data in real-time from any device and any location.

Similarly, cloud-driven AI can be applied to virtually every manufacturing function. It’s similar to automation in that it can sift through vast amounts of information, automatically crunching data and identifying patterns significantly faster and more accurately than humans, it can streamline processes and improve efficiencies. By automating mundane takes, AI leaves staff to focus on higher-value and strategic activities that could further grow the business.

In finance, for instance, AI and automation can be used as a cognitive computing tool to handle basic accounts payable questions such as when an invoice will be paid. Automating this in a chatbot style response could drastically cut time spent on administrative tasks. It can eliminate paper-based processes – something that many factories still rely on – and ensure manufacturers are operating more efficiently. Decisions can ultimately be made more quickly because manufacturers will have accurate and timely data at their fingertips, allowing greater control.

The bottom line is that it’s important to understand that AI doesn’t demand that manufacturers take a major leap right now. It’s about taking small steps. So, rather than buying into the hype around AI, manufacturers can use more accessible technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which is based on the notion of AI. They can plan and test RPA software to see the impact it has on its operations and staff, providing an indication of the benefits that AI can bring. That way, they can dip their toes in the water – see what works and what doesn’t – and then expand when they are ready.

Finally, AI and RPA isn’t just for manufacturers. These technologies can streamline virtually every repetitive business process in every market. In fact, we are already seeing industries including agriculture reap the rewards. The possibilities are huge and are continuing at a fast pace. The good news is that both AI and the cloud are yet to reach tipping point, so there’s still plenty of room for businesses to jump on board.

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