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What Is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?


Artificial Intelligence is the creation of devices, computers, computer programs, or any combination of the above that allows a computer to make a decision that would otherwise have to be made by a human being.

When you think about artificial intelligence it is easy to conjure images of Skynet and terminator-like machines roaming the Earth.  In reality, artificial intelligence, or AI, can be as simple as an internet connected light switch operating on a schedule or as complex as determining if a mammogram shows healthy tissue or cancer.

From a small business perspective, organizations can dramatically improve sales numbers, service levels, and operational consistency by implementing a few layers of simple AI.

For example, any basic piece of equipment that operates in an on/off status like lights or an open sign can now be automated to turn on or off under predetermined conditions like time of day, day of the week, lighting conditions, or even the presence of staff in a facility.  

Many of the sensors that make such decisions possible are not new, however by interconnecting them through the Internet of Things, they can now be controlled by a central system.  This central system can be connected to databases, websites, apps, and other sensors to create some spectacular results that were simply not possible 10 years ago.

Consider the cost of processing payroll.  In a medium sized company with multiple locations and over 15 employees, there is one person responsible for calculating hours worked and submitting them to a payroll company.  Employees at times forget to clock in, forget to clock out, purposely come in early or stay late to gain additional hours that are not in the budget, or end up working overtime.

The human resource specialist may spend 30 minutes a day confirming all of the punches in the timeclock were correct, and there were no unexpected punches.  Additionally this person needs to contact employees each day who missed a punch to determine what the punch time should have been. At the end of the pay period, hours need to be calculated and submitted to the payroll company which consumes another hour of labor.  

The total time used by the HR specialist per pay period is approximately 6 hours.  Assuming a pay rate of $20/hour that amounts to $120 per pay period, or $3,120 annually for the organization. This doesn’t account for the inevitable events that can lead to payroll reporting mistakes as well.

AI can solve this problem with the following data that can be collected by commonly available sensors:

  • Record the bluetooth signature of each employee’s phone
  • Input the list of available employees
  • Input the schedule of which employees report to each location and the time they are to report
  • Record the time and date from the Internet as needed

Next, an AI computer program is needed to take the provided information that is available to any manager or HR specialist and use it to make the same decisions humans would.

In this program the computer knows who is supposed to be where at any given time.  If an employee’s bluetooth signature is detected on premises, and they are scheduled to work, gthe system can automatically clock them in.  If the phone leaves the premises, the system will clock the employee out.  

Interruptions of less than 10 minutes are ignored because they are probably due to interrupted signal.  Work breaks of 15 minutes are recorded for federal compliance, while breaks 30 minutes or longer are recorded as unpaid meal breaks.

The program can even take further actions like sending a text message to a manager if an employee is approaching overtime pay status.  Another possibility would be to cover a sick employee’s shift automatically by contacting other employees who are not scheduled to work to determine if they are available to cover the shift.  This can all be accomplished through basic text messaging services that already exist.

The end result is a one-time organizational investment in AI that saves an organization at least $3,120 annually in labor costs, increases compliance with state and federal regulations, and helps the organization run more efficiently.

This example can grow in complexity with the addition of employee smartphone apps, inputs of each employee’s skill set or specialization, and even be paired with real-time sales data to automatically cut labor expense when business slows (in a restaurant setting on a slow day for example).

Every business that exists today can benefit from the implementation of some degree of AI in their operation.