Digitalk Inteview 2023: Cloud services are a prerequisite for the use of AI

You can learn more about the possibilities, real applications and good practices in the implementation of AI during the master class AI Explained

How do Bulgarian companies perceive artificial intelligence, how does it change the business environment and what will be the consequences of its increased use in the future? These and other questions are answered by Ivo Zimbilev, Managing Partner and Commercial Director at Cloud Office in his 2023 Digitalk interview. As co-organizers of the exclusive master class AI Explained, prepared by Digitalk and "Capital", we're happy to share this interview with you here as well. You can find the interview in Bulgarian at Digitalk's web page.

You can learn more about the possibilities, real-world applications and best practices in AI implementation during the exclusive AI Explained masterclass, which will be held on November 7. Registration for it is now open, and the program will be announced at the end of this week. Stay tuned to the event page for more information.

Mr. Zimbilev, how does artificial intelligence change the business environment?

Since its creation and definition of the term ‘artificial intelligence’, as far back as the 50s of the last century, the topic has excited society and business. According to my observations, it has been extremely relevant in the last decade. AI has permeated our daily lives, from popular voice assistants and customer service bots to autonomous cars. The change in the business environment is expressed in increased productivity, increased speed of reaching the market (time to market), improved quality. Companies that adapt more quickly in such a changing environment will gain a strategic advantage and increased competitiveness.

According to your observations, how are Bulgarian companies adapting to the new opportunities that technology offers? Is the business in our country ready to invest in AI?

At the moment, Cloud Office supplies solutions for over 500 companies in the region, of which about 300 are based in Bulgaria. In my opinion, the adaptation is at a different level both from the point of view of the size of the enterprises and the sector of activity. Large companies and the public sector traditionally approach innovation more conservatively. At the same time, the readiness at the technological level is not such that such solutions can be implemented easily and quickly. A large percentage of this sector is still using outdated solutions with on-premise infrastructure and AI is not on the agenda outside of buzzword trends.

At the other extreme are the companies founded in the last decade that have been cloud-based and completely digital since their inception. For them, artificial intelligence is a natural appendage that further facilitates work and increases productivity. Generative AI (Gen AI), which had a flying start earlier this year, is a great example. Using just one of hundreds of applications at the moment - both Google Workspace has Duet AI and Office 365, Copilot - solutions through which presentations, emails, notes and minutes of meetings, summaries of internal or external communication can be generated with extreme accuracy . While this may not seem like a daily thing to some, imagine instead of spending two hours putting together a presentation for a client or manager, spending 10 minutes making small changes. Now multiply that time by the number of employees and working days per year. It seems as if you have doubled the number of employees, because now they are focused on their goals, creating added value, and not performing daily tasks.

These are the technologies that can help businesses in Bulgaria deal with the challenges surrounding demographics and hiring staff. And while this rudimentary example is a relatively plug & play solution for companies already using cloud services, imagine how difficult this would be if the organization was using an on-premise infrastructure "like the old days". Examples of visual inspections, customer service, medical diagnostics and many others are identical. In my observations, the ROI in AI is multiplied and sudden after integration. To answer the question directly - the propensity for investment in both AI and cloud-based solutions is high when the prerequisites are in place - visionary executives.

You mentioned that public sector organizations are more conservative towards technology. Which industries are showing the most interest and which are lagging behind? And what will be the consequences for the latter?

For the last 6 months, we have completed dozens of projects in almost all sectors - fintech, energy, insurance, finance, e-retail, media and communication, BPO and of course - the technology sector. I would say that there is no sector that is not interested in AI. The differences are more in the technological readiness, the internal capabilities and the time frame that the different sectors are looking at. The desire is there in everyone, but not everyone has isolated an appropriate application of the technology. We have a large number of such inquiries - we want to integrate AI, but what scenario it will serve is not a completely clear-cut question. In order to meet the demand and at the same time target our customers, we had to develop a methodology together with colleagues at Google, which is in general terms: aligning the strategy, executing an action plan and working POC/MVP. With that, we managed to reduce the time from idea to initial implementation to two weeks.

Regarding lagging sectors, I haven't seen any interest from the public one yet. In terms of completed projects, of course, the technology sector is the undisputed leader for me. Regarding the consequences, in my opinion the dividing line will not be on a sector basis but on a company level. Good historical examples of once-successful companies that missed the technological trends of the time are Blackberry and Kodak - and we all know what happened to them.

What are the main advantages that the implementation of artificial intelligence solutions will bring to companies? Is AI a guarantee of increasing competitiveness?

Increased productivity, exceptional quality and predictability. Good examples beyond those already mentioned are - visual inspection in production, assistance of disease diagnostics from visual results, various prediction models from simulating marketing campaign success, electricity consumption, probability of action - future purchase in e-commerce or trend to conduct activity by users online. The applications and benefits are many, but at the same time the results are not guaranteed. The success of such projects is directly related to the knowledge of specialists who isolate the application of a technology, carry out the implementation and continue to build on the initial solution.

What are the challenges that businesses most often face when implementing an AI-related project? How can these difficulties be overcome or avoided?

Usually the challenges are related to several aspects: what scenarios or process is suitable for such projects; is there a need for AI or is it a question of automation; internal staff's knowledge of the technology; the price for infrastructure. A good approach to overcome these challenges is a hybrid model between balanced internal resources and an experienced partner in the field to guide and facilitate the implementation, while keeping the knowledge within the organization itself.

In closing, what are your predictions for the next year in terms of business adoption of AI?

Both in Bulgaria and around the world, business faces challenges whose solutions lie in AI. I see a sustained trend of increased interest that I believe will increase significantly over the next 12 months. Imagine the following example: competing enterprises A and B. Enterprise A has suddenly started to produce more (or provide more services), significantly increasing the quality of its products or services, reducing its operating costs, and these funds are directed into business development, marketing or product development. Company B is faced with the choice of leaving things as they are and losing ground or looking in that direction. Now let's take this example to sectors where there are dozens or even hundreds of competing companies. The problem is that there are few companies with proven competences in the field and it will be a challenge to cope with the demand. In my opinion, this trend will continue not only next year, but at least for the next five years, until demand and supply are balanced through increased supply.

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