AI has actually been here for years

Whether you like it or not AI or, put less frightening, new forms of technology have been around for many years. You may not have realised it and have probably been using forms of AI for decades

AI has actually been here for years

People of a certain age, like myself, will remember when the World Wide Web was spoken about in the same way as AI is now with phrases like ‘that will never catch on’.  Fast forward to today and no business can operate without a website and much more. AI, as it is now more commonly known thanks to Chat GPT and other Open AI platforms is the new www., so you need to start researching it and thinking about how it can help your business, though in every likelihood you have actually been using it already.  Ignore the pace of technology at your peril. I agree it is very early days with some of the AI technology, so some care is needed. There are also very limited legal precedents or guidelines but we are expecting something from the UK this year.

So let’s look at what has happened so far. The first decade of the 21st century saw the emergence of AI through Machine Learning or put more simply the analysis of massive amounts of data and ‘learnt’ from it. Since then every company has been analysing data, finding patterns, generating insights, making predictions and taking action. It has helped business plan accordingly. As we moved into the 2010s AI moved on to Deep Learning or the vision and speech phase when self-driving cars and voice recognition evolved – and continues to do so now. As we moved into the 2020s where we continue to be now is the Generative AI phase and the launch of technology like Chat GPT.

Azura joined the Canadian Franchise Association (CFA) at the beginning of 2024 and attended their annual convention recently. During the event, there was a very thought provoking session around this topic and the practical uses a franchisor and their franchisees can employ. By now most franchise professionals have used Chat GPT but there is much more to take a look at. The most common uses of Chat GPT to date have been helping with writing articles (not this one or I would have z’s instead of s’!!), writing job descriptions, seeking questions to ask in an interview and asking questions similar to those you might ask in Google – without getting the advertisers. Of course, some of the information could be inaccurate but personally, I have found it to be useful.

These uses of Chat GPT are fairly light touch and the information needs to be carefully considered and perhaps a second opinion is required. But, what other uses can franchise networks benefit from?

Well, to begin with, AI-powered stock management systems can predict which products will or do sell best, optimise stock levels, and reduce waste. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can handle routine customer enquiries, freeing up human agents to focus on more complex issues. Things are advanced now so the chatbot can resemble the person you are looking for – after recording your own image and voice.  It can help franchises personalise marketing campaigns, target customers more effectively, and optimise pricing and promotions. AI-powered scheduling systems can optimise employee schedules based on predicted demand, reducing labour costs and improving customer service. AI-powered quality control systems can detect defects and anomalies in products, reducing the cost of returns and improving customer satisfaction. AI-powered maintenance and repair systems can predict when equipment is likely to fail, reducing downtime and maintenance costs. AI-powered training systems can personalise learning for employees, improving knowledge retention and reducing training costs. AI-powered financial management systems can automate routine tasks, such as invoicing and expense tracking, reducing errors and improving accuracy. AI can help franchises identify optimal locations for new stores based on demographic data, traffic patterns, and other factors.

Of course, much of this is already being undertaken, so as I said at the beginning of this article AI has been with us for decades we just haven’t considered it as that.

The real question is – what technology will improve your business?

Mark Scott
Mark Scott