One of the hottest topics of summer 2018, apart from the heat of course, is artificial intelligence. Wherever you look there are new takes on how AI is going to affect business and it can be hard to take on board some of the predictions. For instance, Gartner, the research and advisory group, reckons that by 2020, businesses will manage 85 per cent of their relationships without any human interaction!
In our conversations with accountants, AI can be too easily dismissed as not being relevant to their practices but when we explain how chatbots will work, it’s as if the lightbulb comes on and they can start to visualise the benefits.
Imagine having a new staff member who never takes a day off for illness, never needs a holiday and will never hand in their notice. Immediately, faces light up. Communicating with chatbots works exactly as if you were messaging a friend and the technology is there for chatbots to evolve and become intelligent virtual assistants that can perform a useful role within today’s accountancy practices.
Deep learning technologies
Over the past year, we have been working with Amazon Lex, which offers developers the same deep learning technologies that power Amazon Alexa. It is allowing us to build sophisticated, natural language, conversational bots to work with our apps. This is an exciting opportunity, we believe, for practices to generate big cost savings by automating some tasks that have, until now, required a member of staff.
The appeal of AI is not restricted to cost reduction. There are other real benefits including improving the client experience and eliminating the Google threat. We have long talked about the Google effect and how this poses a real threat to accountants as clients can find it quicker and easier to Google a question that they could ask their accountant if they were available 24 hours a day.
AI has the potential to change this and for accountants to offer a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year service that is manned by virtual assistants that can run help desks and help with scheduling appointments and other administrative tasks.
This frees up the time of administrative staff, so they can focus on higher value-add services and may help employees warm to their chatbot colleague.
Natural synergy for AI
While we do not agree that Chatbots are the new apps, as Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said earlier this year, we do see them working closely with apps and providing interaction with tasks performed within the app and such as with calculators.
We see a natural synergy for AI within the practice environment following a careful analysis of its needs, the potential uses for AI technologies and their business value.
And, in the alpha launch of our own Virtual Assistant, basic voice and text conversations will help to deliver a heightened client experience.
Over time, this will be enhanced to become even more intelligent and to deliver better interaction with clients.
As we enter an age of conversational commerce, AI techniques will be used to improve client interactions, eliminate wait times and provide greater in-depth expertise. All of which will help boost client retention and differentiate the practice.
It may well be, that further in the future, there will be a dedicated chatbot tailored for each client, making them far more personalised as the intelligent systems driving them know all about the person they are helping.
They know their language, the services they require and their preferences and used in the right way, can help to make clients relationships truly ‘sticky’.
The move to AI technologies has been brisk, as demonstrated by the fact that in 2016, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ did not even appear in the top 100 search terms on gartner.com. By May 2017, the term ranked at No. 7 and Gartner predicts that by 2020, AI will be a top five investment priority for more than 30 per cent of CIOs.
The level of automation that AI can bring to a practice will undoubtedly drive great efficiencies and present accountants with opportunities to add value to clients.
The pace of technological change can be daunting, but the key is to remain open to new introductions that have been carefully developed by those working with the profession and to evaluate their ability to strengthen firms while at the same time helping to make cost reductions and improve efficiency.
MyFirmsApp provides a compliant solution for accountants, to help overcome these challenges whilst putting them at the heart of their clients’ mobile lives.