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How SA Businesses Can Do More With Less Using Automation, AI, And Machine Learning

A report published by market research specialist In On Africa in August last year presented some interesting insights about AI adoption in South Africa.

In a survey of more than 3,000 South Africans working across various industries, 59% stated that they knew about ChatGPT but only 38% had used it previously.

Those who had never used the generative AI chatbot offered several reasons for not making it part of their day-to-day operations. More than half said they did not know enough about it (53%), 20% said they had never needed to use it, 14% did not know what the technology did, and 11% were apprehensive about AI.

Concerns about AI adoption in South Africa are largely based on the country’s high unemployment rate and fears that AI would hurt, not help, efforts to reduce joblessness.

“There is a resistance to change and huge insecurity around jobs being lost due to the efficiencies machine learning and AI bring to the market,” says Muhammad Ali, managing director of South African ISO specialist World Wide Industrial & Systems Engineers (WWISE).

While these concerns do have merit, Ali suggests these technologies should not be viewed as job replacements but as job enhancers. If mundane and repetitive tasks can be performed by AI and machine learning, employees will be freed up from endless data capturing to focus more on strategy and analysis.

In this way, not only are costs saved and human resources allocated to parts of the business where their skills could be put to better use, but a machine’s ability to collect quality and accurate data can lead to better and more informed decision-making.

The advent of AI and machine learning in operations essentially compels employees to upskill themselves, which brings obvious advantages to companies. More effective workers make for better businesses which in turn leads to higher profit margins.

“At WWISE, we search through 3,000 websites in 10 minutes with an AI tool every day, simply by using keywords. Previously, a human resource could only do 20 websites a day. The AI and ML tools assist in managing repetitive tasks more efficiently and allow human resources to focus on more challenging tasks that empower them and enrich their ability to learn and grow,” Ali says.

It is interesting to note what South Africans who have embraced ChatGPT are using it for. According to the In On Africa report, 53% of respondents employ the chatbot to improve their writing, 43% to enhance research and analysis, 42% to create content and 40% to resolve general problems.

Sixty-four percent agree that it has increased speed, efficiency and productivity at work.

Given that many South African companies deal a lot with counterparts in other parts of the world – most of which have integrated these technologies into their operations – AI and automation adoption must align with international standards and best practices.

Subscribing to standards set out by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is crucial in this regard, Ali says, particularly since cybercrime is extremely prevalent in most parts of the world.

“The ISO/IEC 42001:2023 – Information Technology – Artificial Intelligence Management System is the international standard of choice for organisations looking to develop AI and machine learning use and management.

“This safeguards organisations by ensuring they are not compromised from a security perspective and addresses the unique challenges AI poses, including ethical considerations, transparency and continuous learning.”

Ali says it is now a case of when, not if, businesses introduce these technologies into operations. Just as AI is now part of the search function on Meta products, so it will be with other business products, as has already been seen with Microsoft Copilot.

“The sooner we accept this, the better, and it is up to organisations to educate staff on effective implementation.”