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You're Already Using AI — Here's How to Apply it to Your Business

Mon February 03, 2020 - National Edition

Ellis Talton
Ellis Talton

Let's clear up two things about artificial intelligence (AI) at the start. First, it's a broad concept, not a specific product, in the same way hydraulics is a broad concept, not a specific product. Yes, both AI and hydraulics are fundamental to countless specific products, but neither is in and of itself a product.

Second, you're already using AI on a regular basis. You travel and pull out your smart phone to find the best place to get a burger in an unfamiliar city. A few taps and you have restaurant ratings, reviews, locations, menus, business hours, phone numbers and directions. That's AI and, as it happens, quite complex AI. The same is true with Amazon and other online shopping services and all social media.

Better Business Outcomes with AI

Now that we've cleared up those matters, the question is, "How do I apply AI to my business?" Just as you wouldn't travel without your smart phone, you shouldn't run your business without AI. And the objective? "What we really want to talk about is outcomes," said Ellis Talton, head of growth with briq, "And, specifically, better outcomes."

He said while "artificial intelligence" is the accepted standard term, AI can also be thought of as "augmented intelligence" or "applied intelligence," either of which is closer to describing how AI works in the business world.

Because of the flexibility of application of AI, those better outcomes can include improved PM scheduling, reduced downtime, fewer lost-time injuries, selection of higher-profit jobs and any other aspect of business that has data associated with it, which is essentially every aspect of business.

"At its heart, AI is statistics," said Talton. "It happens to be good at using large numbers of statistics, large volumes of data, which yields high accuracy, which is the foundation of its value."

AI for the Construction Industry

Since AI is driven by numbers, can contractors simply use Excel spreadsheets to create their own AI?

"Not really," said Talton. "While general contractors have much more data than they think they do, AI requires complex management of data using sophisticated algorithms. Contractors should be subbing out their AI."

Many firms offer AI services; briq is one that specializes in AI for the construction industry.

Pam Hummel, director of field marketing at briq, pointed out that "business intelligence is not business analytics. Knowing something isn't the same as understanding and applying it." And firms specializing in AI services are better at understanding and applying AI; they know maximizing the value of AI involves more than just harvesting numbers.

And there are a lot of numbers to harvest. While you likely have an abundance of your own numbers to work with, the deepest pools of data lie outside your firm.

"There's a lot of information in the public space," said Talton. Trade and industry groups are excellent resources; AEM has a wealth of information available to its members. And don't forget other contractors. "Your peers are part of that public space."

Here are three tips to get you started in using AI to derive better outcomes in your business:

  • Focus on those outcomes. Don't get caught up in buzzwords. You don't need to know the metallurgy of chrome vanadium to understand how to use a good wrench. Likewise you don't need the background of AI to put it use it well.
  • Consider a service. You may want to start with AI as an in-house effort, but to get the real benefit you'll want to employ a service. "Subbing out AI delivers value in half the time at half the cost," said Talton.
  • Pick the right service. Until you start shopping for AI services, you may not realize how many are out there. Filter for those who speak the language of construction. Just as you wouldn't bring your backhoe to an RV dealer for service, neither should you bring your AI needs to someone in the wrong market within that industry.

"AI is not some scary monster in the sky," said Talton. "It is an accessible, affordable and effective way to use the massive amounts of data now available in order to do business better. And if you currently have a well-run company, realize that even small improvements can pay big dividends over time."

The team from briq will be presenting the Tech Talk "Driving Decisions with AI" at ConExpo-Con/AGG on March 13, from 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. The Tech Talks Stage is located in the Tech Experience in Silver Lot 3.

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