It may be everywhere in the news right now, but AI isn’t new. For years, machine learning has been used to crunch data and extract insights. Companies have then leveraged that valuable information to automate business processes and guide strategic decisions, from steering consumers to specific products and services to predicting what types of loans are most likely to be repaid.
But these capabilities came with a catch.
In the past, AI could only effectively work its magic with highly organized "structured" data—think points in a spreadsheet or the Internet of Things sensor data flowing from endpoints around a manufacturing plant. But industry analysts suggest that 80%-90% of a company’s data is "unstructured." Everything from papers to photos and videos, PDFs, slide presentations, memos, emails, social media posts, internal handbooks and more. And as the global market intelligence firm IDC notes, because of the inherent challenges in organizing it, about 90% of unstructured data is never analyzed.
It means businesses are sitting on a trove of incredibly valuable unstructured content, unused and essentially hiding in plain sight. Now, however, advancements in the capabilities of AI tools (called "generative AI") are changing that paradigm.
"What’s groundbreaking about the new wave of AI is its ability to manage any type of content, whether structured or unstructured," says Holly Muscolino, group vice president, content strategies and the future of work for IDC. "Companies are capable of making all of that knowledge useful."
It means previously unreachable content inside the organization has the potential to be made instantly useful and valuable, helping workers uncover and spark insights instantly, create new content in seconds and automate processes on a scale never before seen. The ability to combine content with AI can aid in unlocking the full value inside an organization’s files, and helps every person in the company work smarter and be more productive.
How AI Transforms the Way People Work With Content
The practical applications of these advancements to help businesses extract more value from their content are myriad:
- Surfacing insights. An executive who needs to understand the key points of a 50-page report before participating in a meeting can ask an AI chatbot to "read" the document, summarize it in a few paragraphs and extract the most important insights. If they’re still confused, they can ask the bot to explain the concepts in a more straightforward way. "It’s almost as if you had an assistant who’s always sitting next to you waiting for you to ask questions," says Ben Kus, chief technology officer at Box, a leading provider of cloud-based content management solutions.
- Brainstorming. Say a team needs to come up with a name for a new product. They can describe the product for an AI chatbot, which can then generate a list of potential names. If one suggestion comes close, the team can ask the chatbot to generate more in the same vein. It’s a dynamic "conversation" that increases the pace of ideation. Even if the company ultimately chooses one from outside the list, AI can spark ideas and set the team in the right direction.
- Creating new content. AI can draw on a company’s content archive to generate drafts of press releases or emails—or to optimize the tone of a piece of writing for a particular audience. Human employees, benefitting from that head start, can then shape that content to reach the final product. "Something that might have taken 30 minutes might now take five minutes," Kus says.
- Automating everyday processes. Automation can eliminate processes that typically demand significant amounts of human time and effort to manage. "Think about legal teams pouring through contracts looking for specific clauses," Muscolino says. "An AI solution can do that very, very quickly now, which was a challenge before because the content was so expansive." The same benefits could be found mining presentations for particular data sets or managing customer-facing communications like emails or chats.
But where once only a fraction of a company’s data was accessible, the ability of generative AI to unlock unstructured content unleashes a massive store of institutional brain power that had been dormant.
"Things that used to be impossible are suddenly possible," Kus says.
Empowering Productivity and Innovation Securely
As AI becomes more powerful and more widely adopted, security, privacy and compliance have become increasingly pressing concerns. That includes issues like leaking information externally and adhering to local governance policies. Not everyone in a company has permission to access the same documents, and in a world where more workers are handling files remotely, it becomes an even more critical issue. "The need to provide the right access to a potentially remote workforce requires greater control at a much more granular level than previously possible," Muscolino says.
Software companies like Box are already investing in ways to combine enterprise standards with AI. "We’ve built the Content Cloud so that global, security-conscious businesses that have to follow governance and compliance standards can adopt and use modern technology with peace of mind," Kus says.
The business world’s exploration of generative AI is still in early stages. Questions remain about how best to safely and securely implement AI at work, and the full range of use cases that will develop. But experts like Muscolino believe it benefits companies to develop strategies around advancements in AI for content management now, in order to maximize its potential benefits. "It’s going to evolve quickly," she says. "Organizations need to understand how it works, determine how it fits into their own risk profiles and evaluate how it can make their processes more efficient."
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