AI can unlock benefits from the hospital to the boardroom

25 June 2024 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

With institutions of all shapes and sizes having to do more with less, while responding to huge existential challenges, artificial intelligence is being touted as a solution from healthcare to the corporate world. Barrie Brien, group CEO at STRAT7 explains how the technology can help save money, and turns hunches into game changing insights.

The potential of generative AI in medical diagnostics was recently displayed when researchers used ChatGPT to analyse speech patterns, successfully identifying Alzheimer's with almost 90% accuracy.

It’s a breakthrough that could help doctors swiftly validate a suspicion and detect the disease sooner, bypassing more extensive testing. And it’s just one example of many – with AI and machine learning helping detect cancers early, improve disease surveillance, make predictions, or understand drug interactions.

AI can unlock benefits from the hospital to the boardroom

Yet the transformative potential of these technologies is not just confined to the world of medicine. Just as ChatGPT can analyse complex data for medical purposes, similar AI tools can be employed very broadly across the business sector to analyse patterns in market data, customer feedback, and operational metrics to identify trends, forecast market shifts, and detect potential issues before they escalate.

From the hospital to the boardroom

Of course, just like in the medical field, human intuition and skill will always play a key role in discerning patterns in data – we’re highly evolved for this task, after all – but the complexity of our modern world, and the sheer volume of data which underpins business operations, means it’s now necessary to supplement biology with technology. We may have a hunch, but we need something deeper to prove it, or tease evidence out of the noise.

Consider then AI and machine learning to be part of an organisational-wide ‘sensory system’ with which to cope with the world’s many, many new inputs. In this way, we view these tools as helping hands (or dare I say it yet, colleagues?) which detect and respond to more subtle or hidden changes – the ones humans tend to miss, whether they’re looking for them or not.

For example, consider the potential of analysing large amounts of ‘unstructured’ data, like millions of customer emails, call centre logs, or aggregated market data, to extract critical insights pointing towards emerging trends. It is now next to impossible for a human to adequately identify patterns in such extensive troves, nevermind successfully detect emerging trends or forecast potential outcomes.

Like doctors that now use AI to offer second opinions on brain scans – searching for signs that the human eye might not detect – businesses can do the same to take a more forensic approach and ensure nothing important is missed. And like human health, detecting problems early always provides the advantage of time and preparation.

By incorporating predictive analytics as one of their tools, alongside understanding of long term cultural change and short to mid-term consumer behaviours, companies not only gain foresight but also the ability to craft proactive strategies covering multiple time horizons. This approach enables them to navigate potential challenges and seize any opportunities arising.

Learning to adapt

Fostering a culture that is not only capable of embedding this kind of technology, but also able to act upon what it reveals – in most instances – requires a change in attitude and organisational structure. This is because such insights almost universally present businesses with a compelling reason to adapt to change – whether it’s the opportunity to satisfy an unmet customer need found buried in aggregated call-centre logs, or a subtle market indicator hidden in reams of investment data. Yet so many businesses are built to act defensively and relatively.

Having better pattern detection systems shifts this model and demands businesses operate offensively, always actively seeking ways to leverage emerging trends and customer preferences to their advantage.

To make this cultural shift, organisations must therefore dismantle the barriers between siloed departments, which often operate with conflicting goals and divergent views of who the customer even is, and foster a culture of open communication. This approach enables them to harness the varied perspectives within their teams effectively. Indeed, this stands as the most viable method for large corporations to develop a holistic view of market dynamics.

Furthermore, by encouraging cross-functional collaboration, individuals from various departments and with differing levels of expertise can build a shared intelligence that is not present in more conventional and hierarchical organisational models. It is this mode of working that in my experience tends to lead to the discovery of distinctive insights and groundbreaking ideas.

For example, a multinational client we collaborate with conducts extensive market research across a variety of markets, accumulating substantial data, including quantitative surveys, qualitative interview transcripts, and unstructured data for each of their target consumer segments. It had become impractical to expect teams to manage or sift through this data effectively, so we created an AI chatbot to interpret complex insights across departments. A user simply poses questions via a GPT interface, and the chatbot undertakes the detailed analysis, ensuring knowledge and insight is quickly accessible throughout the business, even functions not used to dealing with market research deliverables.

For such a strategy to be executed effectively, however, companies must cultivate an environment that promotes experimentation and the celebration of inventive risk-taking. This might include organising special events, from company-wide hackathons (now proven to accelerate corporate innovation) to specialised innovation hubs, where teams are given the freedom to investigate various solutions, scenarios, and methodologies.

At the same time, AI is playing a unique role in enabling businesses to question established norms and conduct scenario analysis by simulating different outcomes, predicting future trends, and revealing unforeseen connections. Thus, AI can foster new ways of thinking that contribute to the creative process and open up new avenues for growth.

But to get the most from these tools, we must adopt the right mindset. Whether a doctor or a business strategist, no one wants or needs to relinquish all control to machines; but if we use them correctly to supplement human knowledge, skills and instincts, we will make better diagnoses. That’s a boon to both human and business health.