According to a report by The Economist, the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil: it’s data. From sole traders to the world’s largest multinationals, businesses of all sizes and structures continuously generate data. Sales figures, inventory levels, image files, process documents, emails: there are countless examples of what data can look like.
While many sectors generate similar types of data due to the nature of their business, how that data is leveraged by individual companies differs dramatically. And, those that successfully adopt digital tools to harness the potential of their data end up with a massive competitive advantage.
Machine learning (ML), also known as predictive modeling, is one such digital tool that companies can use to harness data for profit, growth, and long-term success. ML refers to machines that learn on account of some sort of prior knowledge, hence making them smarter and more likely to give results close to human intelligence. Our recent blog, AI and ML: Are they one and the same? covers the key differences and similarities between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ML. Machine learning offers businesses the ability to identify new opportunities that would have been missed otherwise – and all by accomplishing a deeper understanding of their own data.
Reaping the benefits of Machine Learning
Every industry and sector benefits differently from machine learning algorithms. The impact of machine learning depends largely on the type and amount of data that gets fed into each unique ML tool. Some sectors may also be more suited to ML than others: those that collect massive volumes of data are able to achieve greater accuracy in identifying patterns and predicting consumer behavior.
There are several key industries that we believe have the potential to be the biggest winners from predictive modeling.
Machine learning can help identify diseases, diagnosis, and drug discovery. One example is Microsoft’s InnerEye Initiative, which assists radiographers and cancer specialists to extract more meaningful data from 3D images. InnerEye uses algorithms to deliver tailored medicine for better patient outcomes, and also uses data to augment medical images and get a better picture of a patient’s needs and the possible solutions. ML can also assist with surgical robotics, specifically suturing and surgery workflow modelling.
Businesses can significantly improve their supply chain management through increased efficiencies across each stage of the process. Data from shipping, storage and sales can be processed by algorithms to find efficiencies, unblock workflow obstacles, and optimize processes throughout the supply chain. ML also enables forward-thinking businesses to integrate autonomous driving into their fleets, with mining another sector benefiting from these algorithms.
Costs can be reduced through streamlined inventory management, making production more efficient. Machine learning also supports the development of predictive maintenance plans with the goal of minimizing the possibility of unexpected failures, thereby reducing unnecessary preventive maintenance activities.
Arguably one of the world’s biggest accumulators of data, retail is already reaping the financial rewards of ML. From analyzing historical consumer data and using insights to predict future patterns through to supply chain improvements, the benefits of ML for retailers are immeasurable. For the sales and marketing function, predictive modeling allows for greater accuracy with forecasting, assists with interpreting consumer behavior and supports key decision making such as the timing of a new product launch and marketing strategy planning.
The power of cloud computing and increasing digitalization is reinventing the way industries and businesses operate. We may at times feel fatigued by what seems like a never-ending conveyor belt of new technologies, but ML is one such tool that should be embraced by every industry. While the financial benefits for businesses are significant, society also stands to gain from better medical treatment, smarter marketing, and better customer service. From healthcare through to retail ML algorithms have the power to positively transform our lives. It will be fascinating to watch its evolution over the coming years.