AI an unprecedented opportunity for businesses, says Alawwal Bank MD

Experts at the Arabian Business Technology Forum have warned that the 'hype' surrounding AI is blinding many businesses to its possible applications
AI an unprecedented opportunity for businesses, says Alawwal Bank MD
Alawwal Bank managing director Soren Nikolajsen.
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Sun 31 Mar 2019 11:37 AM

Artificial intelligence has created unprecedented opportunities for businesses, provided that they move past the hype and find practical applications for the technology, according to Alawwal Bank managing director Soren Nikolajsen.

Speaking at the Arabian Business Technology Forum on Sunday, Nikolajsen said that he believes AI “represents the single biggest opportunity businesses have seen in a long time.”

“It is an opportunity we simply cannot miss,” he added.

In the case of Alawwal - Saudi Arabia’s oldest bank - the company last year began training its entire workforce in the basics of AI in a bid to educate staff on its applications in the financial sector.

According to Nikolajsen, the bank uses AI for a number of different purposes, such as KYC (know your customer) and security functions.

“[We collect] vast quantities of data, that can tell us a lot about our customer’s behaviour as a group or individually. But we are really only scratching the surface of opportunities in my opinion,” he said. “AI can help us to do all that, by bringing more of our data together and using it in smarter ways.”

The main challenge AI implementation going forward, he added, is that many businesses still do not have an adequate understanding of the technology and how it can be used in various sectors.

“There is a toxic mix of misunderstanding, false expectations and fear,” he said. “Hype surrounding AI has blinded us to the real-world applications it has in every day business. We are often blinded by the science fiction.”

AI giving companies an edge

In Dubai, government statistics show that the emirate attracted over $21 billion of foreign direct investment (FDI) for AI and robotics between 2015 and 2018.

Speaking at the forum, Ahmed Helmy, the CTO of American technology giant Avaya in Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, said that the increasing AI investment in companies is giving them “a competitive edge” over their rivals.

“I’ve seen organisations focus on bringing AI into their day-to-day processes,” he said. “The other investments I see a lot is how...[AI] can create a better customer experience in their business.”

“What we’ve been learning is that these investments are not mainly related to outcomes,” Helmy added. “Even learning, testing and identifying these differentiators are becoming an acceptable ROI for AI investments. This is a different culture.”

UAE leading the way?

Pavel Nestorov, the principle data scientist of Reaktor - the AI training firm that works with Alawwal Bank on its courses - said that he believes in many ways the UAE is well placed to take advantage of AI technology and become a global leader in its implementation.

Already, the UAE has a Minister of State for AI. The technology plays a crucial role in the government’s ongoing ‘smart’ initiatives.

“The main different is that the UAE’s government has a vision about AI,” he said. “Such vision can bring world class experts to this country, people who really want to work on ambitious, adventurous projects and do new things and not be constrained.”

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