From retail to health care, artificial intelligence (AI) technology is seeping into just about every industry, including the administrative field. And it’s only going to increase in popularity in the coming years.
Yet some assistants see AI as a threat to their careers and think it could potentially replace them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Assistants have nothing to fear when it comes to AI. Instead, we have a tremendous amount to gain from engaging with this new technology – from increasing efficiency to reducing errors and improving productivity.
Take a look around and it’s not hard to find the latest innovations in software, electronic devices, and even office furniture. But as innovative as those things maybe when they were first purchased, they quickly become obsolete because another idea or new and improved version inevitably follows, resulting in the next latest and greatest thing everyone has to have. Our smartphones are out of date within weeks (and sometimes days) of purchasing them.
I read recently that a college degree can become obsolete within 18 months if you aren’t constantly engaged in learning beyond the degree.
Yet, we don’t stop purchasing the latest phones, upgrading our computers and software, or pursuing higher degrees. We learn to adapt to the new technology and integrate it into our work world to a point where we can’t do without it.
The same holds true for the introduction of AI technology in our workplaces.
Many view AI as a potential threat to their job. And in some cases, it may eliminate certain repetitive or lower cognitive tasks you do. But that’s not all you do. In fact, it’s probably a pretty low percentage of what you do if you track your time and tasks over the course of a week or month.
I believe AI is going to be a tremendous boost for any administrative professional who is actively engaged in taking their skills to the next level and expanding their business acumen in the 21st-century office. We’ve been trying to clone ourselves for years. Now there’s technology to help us do that in part, and we’re suddenly scared to death of it? We asked for this.
So, now that it’s here, how can admins use it? Where does it make sense? And how do we show our executives and teams that we are proactive, innovative administrative professionals who embrace integrating these technologies in our daily work?
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
One of the best definitions for AI is on the SAS software site:
“AI makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs, and perform human-like tasks. Most AI examples that you hear about today – from chess-playing computers to self-driving cars – rely heavily on deep learning and natural language processing. Using these technologies, computers can be trained to accomplish specific tasks by processing large amounts of data and recognizing patterns in the data.
The term artificial intelligence was coined in 1956, but AI has become more popular today thanks to increased data volumes, advanced algorithms, and improvements in computing power and storage.
While Hollywood movies and science fiction novels depict AI as human-like robots that take over the world, the current evolution of AI technologies isn’t that scary – or quite that smart. Instead, AI has evolved to provide many specific benefits in every industry.”
A Harvard Business Review report suggests it’s more accurate to refer to AI as machine intelligence. And I think that is helpful in framing this technology appropriately.
If you’ve ever used Siri or Alexa or Cortana to do searches or to ask questions, I think you’re probably familiar with the limitations of these AI technologies. While they continue to improve, they are still computers programmed by a human. And they still have a long ways to go.
How does Artificial Intelligence Work?
AI works by combining large amounts of data with fast processing and smart algorithms, which allows the software to learn automatically from patterns or features in the data.
In fact, one of the things I find compelling about AI is its ability to analyze patterns, data, and information in ways my brain could never figure out.
So, if a system of computers can pull the data, find patterns, integrate image and speech recognition, and help me do what I’m doing more accurately with better data, I am all ears!
Who is Using AI?
Almost every industry is looking at ways they can leverage AI in their fields. In a global HubSpot survey, they discovered 63% of people surveyed were already using AI technologies but they didn’t realize it. And 86% of the general public are interested in trying AI technologies out.
Have you ever shopped online and interacted with customer support to ask questions or get more product information through a live chat feature? One of the fastest growing uses of AI technology is the use of chatbots for e-commerce.
The SAS website highlights a few industries where AI is being used already:
Every industry has a high demand for AI capabilities – especially question answering systems that can be used for legal assistance, patent searches, risk notification and medical research.
Banking: AI in banking is helping serve the customer better and provide offers that are more relevant to them at the right time through the right channel.
Health Care: AI applications can provide personalized medicine and X-ray readings. Personal health care assistants can act as life coaches, reminding you to take your pills, exercise, or eat healthier.
Retail: AI provides virtual shopping capabilities that offer personalized recommendations and discuss purchase options with the consumer. Stock management and site layout technologies will also improve with AI.
Manufacturing: AI can analyze factory data as it streams from connected equipment to forecast expected load and demand.
Sports: AI is used to capture images of gameplay and provide coaches with reports on how to better organize the game, including optimizing field positions and strategy.
Education: AI is being used to create specific learning models for the students – whether they’re children or adults. It tailors the experience to their specific needs.
And AI is already being used administratively in many companies for editing documents, writing better emails, monitoring and forecasting sales, calendar coordination and reminders, transcription of meetings, customer service situations, and more.
Meet Olivia – My AI Assistant!
One of my first in-depth AI experiences was when I enlisted the help of my AI assistant, Olivia.
Thanks to the team at Albertai.com, I’ve been able to create and program my own assistant to help with customer support on the All Things Admin website.
Olivia joined our team about 10 months ago, and she has already been a big help in providing improved customer support to our website visitors.
Before you say, “See, there you go, replacing someone on your team with an AI assistant,” let me explain how this works from a business owner’s perspective.
- I did not replace anyone on my team by implementing Olivia.
- I was paying a member of my team to answer customer support emails that we’d receive almost daily. The email responses were the same repetitive, brain-numbing email replies day in and day out. This was not a good use of my team member’s time. She’s a smart person. And this was a very poor use of her time and skills, nor did she enjoy doing it. But it was very important that we answer our customer’s questions accurately and in a timely manner.
- Because I was paying this team member to answer the same email questions over and over, I was unable to have this person do more of the fun and engaging tasks and team projects. I couldn’t afford to add another team member, so I was not getting things done because of a limitation of my resources.
Then I discovered Albert AI and the ability to create Olivia.
Now, we are able to answer most customer questions instantaneously while they are on our website – no matter what time of the day it is. They don’t have to open an email and send it and wait for a reply. They can get their answer instantly which helps them make a decision on the spot. This also helps our customer satisfaction, and potentially helps us make a sale more quickly as a result.
We can also help Olivia learn how to answer the questions better. On a weekly basis, we can pull up the data to see who asked which questions. If we don’t have a good answer programmed, we can update our Word document and reload it to the site, and Olivia is updated within a couple of minutes. (Yes, programming Olivia is as simple as uploading a Word document with styles applied to it!)
The Hubspot survey also found that 57% of their respondents were interested in getting real-time answers from bots on a company website. Service bots provide the shortest path to the answers consumers are looking for online.
There are Fortune 100 and 500 companies using this same technology to integrate their office procedures into an AI tool that helps their teams work more efficiently and productively.
Imagine not having to answer the same questions over and over again. Imagine your colleagues being able to type the question into your AI assistant and get what they need without interrupting you. Then you would be able to focus on your bigger tasks and important project work.
How much time do you waste today on repetitive tasks that could be automated with the right AI tools? The possibilities of implementing these tools in your workplace is incredible to think about.
Challenges and Limits of AI
Artificial intelligence is going to change every industry, but we have to understand its limits. There are still a lot of things it can’t do – things that make admins indispensable to their executives, teams, and companies.
The principle limitation of AI is that it learns from the data. There is no other way in which knowledge can be incorporated.
That means any inaccuracies in the data will be reflected in the results. And any additional layers of prediction or analysis have to be added separately.
SAS experts also point out that today’s AI systems are trained to do a clearly defined task. The system that plays poker cannot play solitaire or chess. The system that detects fraud cannot drive a car or give you legal advice. In fact, an AI system that detects health care fraud cannot accurately detect tax fraud or warranty claims fraud.
In other words, these systems are very, very specialized. They are focused on a single task and are far from behaving like humans.
The Innovative Admin™ has the Advantage
The Innovative Admin is an administrative professional who introduces, creates, or applies new or renewed ideas or methods of doing things to the office environment. This is someone who is actively doing, seeking, and implementing – not someone who is simply coming up with ideas or maintaining the status quo. The Innovative Admin is adding value in ways a machine cannot.
Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University and author of Robot Proof, points out the importance of integrating our pursuit of knowledge in three areas: logical literacy (understanding how machines work and how to interact with them), data literacy (understanding the enormous flow of information and how to make sense of it), and human literacy (what we do as humans that machines are not able to replicate, such as creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, empathy, etc.).
This is why The Innovative Admin has the advantage. When you are actively engaged in cultivating creativity, collaborating with others, working with teams, developing your business acumen, and taking action to implement your ideas at the office, you have nothing to fear and so much to gain when it comes to integrating AI into the workplace. The more I research AI, and the more I learn about it, the more excited I get about the potential it holds for admins to improve our ability to do our jobs. AI can help us be better assistants if we leverage it proactively.
This means we need to learn about the tools that are available, test them out, and implement them into our work when it makes sense to do so. Some will work wonderfully. Others may be a total flop. But we take what we learn, apply it to the next situation, and continue actively implement our ideas to improve the workplace.
Nothing in our careers can remain static if we want to be on the cutting edge of our profession. We have to consistently engage in strategic activities to develop and advance how we think, how we work, and how we approach planning for our careers as a whole. Otherwise, we will become obsolete and risk being replaced by AI…and it won’t be the technology’s fault.
Interested in learning more about how to integrate AI in your workplace?
This article first appeared in Executive Support Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at www.executivesupportmagazine.