The Future of Sales and Operations Management – Artificial Intelligence?
It should come as no surprise that Artificial Intelligence or “AI” now plays a greater role in our lives. We take for granted virtual assistants from Windows or Apple products – which are constantly learning new capabilities to become more effective (see this article: Coming Soon – Artificial Intelligence as a Remote Worker Assistant?).
My bank just launched a virtual assistant that works on their mobile phone app. Given all these advances, what role might Artificial Intelligence have in the future of sales and operations management?
At first blush, this concept may seem ridiculous. How could AI or a virtual assistant really be your next boss? In a purely literal sense, not likely. But, the world we live in is seldom black and white. It isn’t that unreasonable to expect that AI could play a role in management, which might then permanently change management best practices.
Those working for a terrible boss might now be playing through various scenarios in their head on how AI could help improve their situation. Others might be a little worried about what this means for future promotions. Can you “brown nose” a computer program?
Based on what industry experts now predict, the management team of the future will still likely be human – but with greater intelligence to operate at superior performance, through a little help from Artificial Intelligence. The future world of sales and operations management will likely look quite different tomorrow, compared to how it is today.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
Most reading this article have likely heard the term but might be a little unclear how it is defined or what it really means. This article will help clarify any ambiguity:
One definition from this article is worth repeating. AI is not a specific single technology – it refers to several technologies operating together, including Machine Learning, Algorithms, Natural Language Processing, Neural Networks and Deep Learning. Think of these technologies as ways to automate intelligent responses, based on inputs received. Taking it one step further, AI can identify new opportunities that might not have been readily apparent.
A good example is how Prodoscore works. A distributed sales team works on various activities throughout the day, which in the end (hopefully), results in sales. Collecting the time spent performing various activities throughout the day can be considered the “input,” with a Productivity Score™ being the “output.” Intelligence can be extracted from this process whereby insights into best practices and future performance improvement can become evident over time. By creating an easy way to compare performance across teams and geographies, performance can then be improved.
What Makes a Great Manager?
It’s fair to say there are a series of traits, which when co-existing within a manager, make them an all-star performer. Attributes of excellent management characteristics might be that they become invested in not only the company but also the culture. They constantly are talking about how to improve the company, department, product, etc. They have a positive mental attitude, believing anything is possible – not taking no for an answer.
Maren Hogan, leader of Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development, believes the key to overall management success is “dependent upon prioritization and the ability to focus for an extended period. Specifically, they can manage multiple projects at once to make sure everything gets done on time and completed to client (or company) specifications (source).
Those who are managers, however, know there is another side of management. The administrative tasks, including a review of time cards (as applicable), expense reports, issue resolution, policy enforcement, disciplinary actions and performance reviews, amongst other activities. Not all time can be devoted to strategic exercises, team building events or other engaging activities that can drive improved team performance.
The Future Role of AI in Management
Here is where AI might find its way into management – by helping to support existing, more routine tasks, and then either streamline a process, improve accuracy or provide other insights that might then be used to gain future productivity and performance.
Sam Schechner recently wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Meet Your New Boss: An Algorithm,” which focused on the role AI is now playing in management. He included a few interesting use cases.
One explained, “When Shell wanted help evaluating digital business models in the car-maintenance sector, executives plugged the project into an algorithm that scanned for available Shell staffers with the right expertise—and assigned the job with a click. Shell uses machine-learning software … to match workers and projects. The program tracks and evaluates their activity so it can refine the next round of matches.”
Shell took a routine, labor consuming process and figured out a way to extract intelligence that could then help make a better decision and do so for far less effort. With less time spent performing this staffing exercise, more time can be devoted to more strategic activities – a win-win situation.
Another use case Sam described was Chicago-based Nexus, which uses AI to search employees’ profiles and backgrounds to determine which ones would work best together on particular projects. It even performs automated performance reviews.
There are several opportunities to leverage AI within a planning and scheduling environment. Staffing coverage at large events with multiple people and shifts can be a daunting management task. Add to this the complexity of people randomly not being available, getting sick or missing a flight to the event.
In this case, AI could be used to improve how an existing process is executed, and to do so with less or minimal human involvement. Under this type of scenario, it might be possible to have a scheduling app that is instantly updated every time a new variable changed. This information could then be shared with the staff via a mobile phone, with new calendar invites explaining when new shift times begin – all done automatically based on someone calling in sick.
Lastly, beyond taking routine tasks and adding AI to improve productivity, management is faced with the same feeling of being overwhelmed by big data – just like their staff. In this article I wrote last year, “This is Why You Need Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence,” I explain that there has been a geometric growth curve tied to today’s digitalization trend.
Data is everywhere – and is exploding in volume. Regardless of what activity you do, big data is changing how business gets done. AI is a great technology to help make better sense of the data, which can be readily applied to management tasks.