Why CEOs should keep investing in AI

Original article can be found here (source): Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Why CEOs should keep investing in AI

Arup Chakraborty

As the business environment gets more muddled with COVID-19, and as uncertainty triggers more panic and rumors, businesses will soon start realigning their budgets to preserve cash in a bid to make it run few extra miles.

Some have already resorted to cost cutting drives. Others are in a consolidation mode while many are compromising efficiency as they attempt to preserve expensive working capital. There are those, too, who are rolling back or even pushing new initiatives into cold storage.

As we all continue to tread this COVID-19 quagmire, businesses across the world are faced with many challenges. Large enterprises with fat balance sheets will be able to tide over the crisis with more ease than the majority of small- and medium-size (SME) businesses that will struggle to survive. That said, CEOs continue to face some uncomfortable questions.

I have listed a few of these from recent chats with my peers across industries:

1. Should we preserve cash to run extra miles, or push the gas pedal to invest more in technology that will help us in the long-term?

2. Given that growth has a direct correlation with innovation, and innovation with investment, how will businesses cope with the recession that experts are predicting to hit most economies the most in the second quarter of this calendar year?

3. Moreover, is it wise to invest in innovation at a time when the future is uncertain, or should we put a freeze on investments till the dust settles down?

4. Finally, should we look at this crisis as an opportunity to realign our resources to find an opportunity that we can maximize? Or, should we simply focus on keeping the lights on and ensuring that all employees are safe during this crisis?

5. Should the cure be more expensive then the disease? And if yes, can we afford to sustain the additional stress on our assets?

To begin with, there are no easy answers to these burning questions even as all of us agree that the health and safety of employees should be given prime consideration during this crisis. However, being a going concern implies planning for the future — especially if you want the very same employees that you are protecting now by allowing them to work from home, to have a business they can come back to and continue to work for when normalcy returns.

As people are confined to their homes, and mobility is highly restricted, brands can start looking innovative ways to adopt technology solutions to tackle logistics barriers. Along with online collaboration tools, advanced computer vision, machine learning, deep learning and other artificial intelligence (AI) tools can provide some answers.

Many companies have already understood the need and have developed, or are developing in-house “innovation teams”, and these teams can develop solutions to find a perfect synergy.

Here’s an example. Over 4 million commercial robots are expected to be installed in over 50,000 warehouses by 2025, up from just under 4,000 robotic warehouses in 2018, according to ABI Research — a market-foresight advisory firm.

With advances in computer vision, AI, deep learning, and robotic mechanics, robots are also becoming increasingly adept at performing traditionally harder-to-automate tasks. Economically viable mobile manipulation robots from the likes of RightHand Robotics and Kindred Systems are now enabling a wider variety of individual items to be automatically picked and placed within a fulfillment operation, notes ABI Research.

Further, by combining mobile robots, picking robots, and even autonomous forklifts, fulfillment centers can achieve greater levels of automation in an efficient and cost-effective way.

How can we afford these robots at a time when some of us are even struggling to stay afloat, you may rightly ask? The answer: Many robot technology vendors are providing additional value by offering flexible pricing options. Robotics-as-a-Service models mean large CapEx costs can be replaced with more accessible OpEx costs — moves that will please your CFO and shareholders too.

Let me share the example of our company — Mirrorsize. We believe the global virtual fitting room market is expected to grow exponentially in the next five years. This, we hope, will continue to grow on the back of the growing number of smartphone users, improved customer experiences, and increased adoption of technologies are expected to drive the market.

Hence, we invested our own money — and continue to pump in money during this crisis too — to develop an AI enabled 3D body measurement solution by harnessing advanced computer vision, deep learning models, and mesh processing to instantly provide precise body measurements on any device.

The result: An app that can provide measurements for both tight- and regular-fit clothing, and shows users their 3D avatars too. We offer retailers a free trial and even in this lean period, we have had many inquiries for our app since it can help retailers align costs by automating many processes.

In sum, investing in AI to help your business during a crisis may sound counter-intuitive to some CEOs as there is an outgo of money that you may be under pressure to conserve from your CFOs, yet the return on investment may actually help your company cut costs and stay competitive when the crisis ends.

As we say, necessity is mother of inventions, Crises like these are times to sharpen the axe. It’s a tough call but that’s what separates good leaders from the great ones.

(Arup Chakraborty is Founder and CEO of Mirrorsize, an AI-powered 3D body-scanning platform)