By Ciarán Daly
LONDON, UK - Industries transform, collapse, and are reborn. This is an iron-clad rule of economic cycles. However, AI and automation technologies - rather unfairly - attract particular ire as job and industry-killers, rather than being considered a hugely valuable prospect for businesses and workers alike.
The past ten years have seen completely unexpected revivals in the fortunes of industries long written off by the media—just look at how well vinyl records and film photographers are doing. Conversely, for industries that have faced long-term decline, digitalisation and AI technologies offer a new path forward, illustrating their potentially transformative value. Nowhere is this clearer than in printing.
[caption id="attachment_11622" align="alignleft" width="250"] Simon Coulson, Toshiba TEC UK[/caption]
“If you look at where print is going as a whole, it is declining,” admits Simon Coulson, Head of Corporate Sales for Toshiba TEC UK Imaging Systems, a firm whose background traditionally lies in document and print management. “If we were to put our minds forward 20 to 30 years from now, the amount that people are going to be printing is minimal. It’s going to be a very, very small part of people’s businesses. Having said that, we've had a fantastic year.”
From print documents to document capture
Rather than lying down and accepting the same fate as many other players in the sector, Toshiba TEC has leveraged its technological reach and expertise to move the business in a new direction. They’ve spent the last five years developing a portfolio of AI-based digitized solutions for producing and managing business documents. No longer confined by the outdated medium of paper, Toshiba TEC are able to capture and automate any kind of document or text-based information flow through an organisation using AI.
“If there’s any text-based process within any organisation, we have a way of capturing that information, and adapting and changing that data to whatever the needs of the input or output channels dictate,” Coulson explains. “We’ve won some new clients and we’re investing now in increasing our market presence. From my perspective, I’m looking to create a legacy for people like me in 10, 15, or 20 years’ time."
It’s a bold proposition, to say the least. Document imaging has implications for every single industry, as illustrated by some of Toshiba TEC’s top-tier customers, such as News UK, T-Systems, Santander, McLaren Technology Group, and many others. “On the one hand, we’re looking high and wide to try and engage with board-level people within organisations to try and tap into an overall view of their strategy and where they see things like AI and technology change fitting into their business," says Coulson. "On the other hand, we’re also making sure that we’re not missing the engagement with the line of business managers who know how specific solutions can solve their problems.”
Find the sweet spots to make AI work for you
In practical terms, this means talking to a vast number of people handing paper, documents, and information—anywhere from sweet spots in finance, HR, operations, warehouse, and delivery, through to customer services and contact centres. The applications, Coulson says, are vast. For example, TEC identified an issue with T-Systems’ head of finance with manually managing a huge invoice once a quarter from a variety of suppliers which could include over 9000 lines of text that they were having to manually reference and check against their systems. After putting AI software in place to work on testing that data, ingesting the documentation, and crossreferencing with their systems and applications, Toshiba were able to help T-Systems scale down their processing time from about 9 days to about 9 minutes.
"You want to sell the fact that an organisation can benefit across a huge number of different areas through this one application.”
“Fundamentally, the more efficient our customers are with a variety of different processing methods, the more effective they are as an organisation,” Coulson claims. “From a customer service perspective, the same applications can be used to create a very quick omnichannel input lookup. For example, if I were to contact Toshiba, our application can identify all those different input channels, marry them up, and then look into the organisations’ applications and systems to create a single response to all of those. As a result, organisations are becoming leaner and are able to respond more effectively with less people—and customers are seeing a quicker, more informed turnaround.”
Solve problems without scaring anyone off
The use cases may be clear, but getting organisations started out with AI is when the real challenge begins. Many AI vendors tend to find that the disconnection of board-level personnel from everyday business processes is a significant challenge. The C-Suite might like the idea of using AI in their organisation because they’re aware of its benefits, but are so detached from their own functions that they’re unwilling to take what they see as a risky endeavour.
This is why, Coulson explains, much of the work Toshiba TEC do takes place with heads of different business functions. “I think our experience is that we have much more success speaking specifically to individual heads of department about how to solve their problems,” he says. “The biggest challenge you’ve then got in terms of engagement is keeping AI very specific to them while retaining a holistic overview of what the system can do for the organisation. You don’t want to scare anyone off by saying it’s too big. You want to sell the fact that an organisation can benefit across a huge number of different areas through this one application.”
In mobilising a wealth of expertise and background in a once-declining sector, Toshiba TEC have been able to forge a completely new path forward using technology, offering a truly valuable service to companies that rely on the same shifting landscape to succeed. It is a testament to the fact that, by sitting at the crossroads of every industry as an enabler of innovation, AI can transform the fortunes of everything from a medium-sized enterprise to a large legacy company.
Toshiba TEC are proud sponsors of The AI Summit London. You can catch Simon & the team at next week’s event, June 13-14.