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Artificial Intelligence in Business Communications: Good for Privacy?

Artificial Intelligence is being used more and more in business communication. While companies are able to gain better insights and increase the profitability of their technology investments, there are some concerns. Lack of privacy is something that most consumers care about. Centralizing data for AI and machine learning models to work creates a single point of failure. In order to protect consumers and their company, communications professionals need to develop principles and a roadmap for rolling out these initiatives.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of machines to resemble human capabilities with different degrees of technical sophistication and autonomy[1]. AI is actually an umbrella term that covers several interrelated technologies, such as speech to text, natural language processing (NLP), predictive analytics, and machine learning[2].

AI and machine learning systems automate repetitive tasks using large data sources. Typically, the more data available means better-defined insights. AI is being used more and more for everyday tasks. Some examples include sorting photos, deciding where to eat, processing receipts for work, and even organizing a calendar[3].

AI is also used for gathering, analyzing, and combining large amounts of information from many sources.  What has made AI attractive for use in information gathering in the first place are three things: speed, scale, and automation. AI can do calculations faster than human analysts and in theory, the computation can be increased by simply adding more hardware.

People increasingly use AI for everyday tasks, from organizing their calendars to processing business receipts to sorting photos.  For many of these services, users expect that no human is reviewing or processing their data. This is a privacy benefit because consumers are often more comfortable with computers processing their personal data than humans[4].

AI is also important for a company’s bottom line. In a recent survey, 80 percent of executives have stated that they are seeing moderate value just from the AI deployment[5].

AI is used in business communication in a number of ways:

Chatbots – Chatbots are programs that usually reside on a web page or within a messaging application. These programs use artificial intelligence algorithms to determine what a person is looking to know more about and come up with replies.

Smart campaigns – Smart campaigns use A.I. algorithms on online advertising platforms like Google ads, Facebook ads, and Instagram ads. Costs per click and customer acquisition costs can be determined and ads can be automatically matched up with users who have a projected higher return on investment.

Smart call centers – Virtual call centers have become a popular solution for companies trying to reduce the size of their call centers. Technologies allow for voice over the Internet and integrations with different tools in order to allow the operators to understand what a user is talking about and how they can best solve any issues.

Email filtering – AI can easily sort and filter out different types of email in business communication. Keywords can be found and even things like flight reservations and meeting invitations can be sorted and added to a calendar. As email spam becomes a bigger and bigger problem, machine learning helps users control their inbox so important messages get through.

Smart replies – Programs like Gmail can use data from millions of previous emails in order to create a suggested reply. This saves users time and frustration. According to Forbes, employees spend an average of two and a half hours per day replying to emails.

One of the biggest uses of artificial intelligence in business communications is creating new solutions for the customer support process. Customers have come to expect an “always-on” model. Accenture has been partnering with organizations in order to create virtual agents and intelligent automation tools. They attempt to use AI to resolve issues based on context and customer intent. The AI bot can use keywords from previous interactions to provide answers. The idea behind this is to help companies modernize and drive digital adoption. This solution also allows for consistent messaging and communications.

The strategy and technology consulting firm, Accenture, sees this having an impact in several areas, including:

Area of Focus Benefits
Intelligent Financial Crime Detection  30% reduction in false positives
40–50% less effort spent on manual tasks
15–35% decrease in Know Your Customer reviews
Intelligent Supply Chain 20–30% forecast accuracy improvement
20% reduction in lost sales
Intelligent Revenue Growth 10-30% product profit increase
43% increase in campaign customer engagement
72% increase in revenue resulting from personalized support
Intelligent Healthcare Helping to reduce over
50% of avoidable hospital admissions
$300M annual medical cost reduction
50% reduction in medical supply chain costs

As we can see by Accenture’s approach, there is a significant benefit to applying artificial intelligence practices in business.

As with any new approach or new technology, there are always pros and cons to implementing AI solutions in business communications. In fact, in 2016 the Obama administration announced a series of workshops to explore the benefits and risks of AI[6].

The biggest concern most people have focuses on privacy. In order to construct valuable recommendations and perform tasks, the program must have a certain amount of information about its user. While this may be concerning, artificial intelligence actually increases privacy because fewer humans see the user’s personal information. People also tend to use AI more and more understanding that they are more comfortable with computers processing their data rather than humans. The following video is a keynote by Michael

Another concern is the increased use of AI by hackers. In order for AI and machine learning to succeed data needs to be centralized. The more personal information that is stored on computers, the more valuable the targets are. Data experts are working on ways to install false data, known as adversarial examples, in order to confuse the hacking algorithm.

One of the biggest problems with AI is bugs that cause misclassification of data. This is a weakness in machine learning models. These misclassifications can cause unpredictable accuracy rates. In communications, an incorrect response or bad recommendation can negatively impact the customer experience.

AI is also inherently adept at utilizing large data sets for analysis and is arguably the only way to process big data in a reasonable amount of time. Finally, an AI can perform the designated tasks without supervision, which greatly improves analysis efficiency. These characteristics of AI enable it to affect privacy in a number of different ways[7]:

  • Data Exploitation
  • Identification and Tracking
  • Voice and Facial Recognition
  • Prediction
  • Profiling

A pretty serious negative effect is the potential for AI models to discriminate unintentionally against protected classes and other groups by weaving together zip code and income data to create targeted offerings[8].

One approach to addressing the risks of centralized data in AI is to use federated learning. Federated learning secures data by decentralizing it. Developers can still use the data. It just can’t be tied to a specific user[9]. Also, data can be masked in order to avoid personal information to be leaked. With a large volume of data, masking it makes sense[10].

At the end of the day, there are a lot of concerns by consumers about privacy and data being leaked through the use of artificial intelligence. It is up to solution providers and researchers to consider these concerns when rolling out new products. Artificial intelligence is hugely helpful in business communications, but it must be approached with caution.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ #AIinPR project created a list of actions to better understand AI in communications:

  • Develop guiding principles. Every company deploying AI needs to think not just about how to deliver better services, but also how to use AI ethically and transparently. Communication professionals can help their companies or clients think through the use of AI.
  • Learn about the tools at your company. AI-enabled tech can save a ton of time, especially on manual tasks that involve populating spreadsheets and analyzing data. Find out what your company has already and start putting it to work. Better yet, identify the top three things you’d like AI to help you with and match new or existing tools to your needs.
  • Build the internal infrastructure and processes you’ll need. Communications teams, like tech companies, will need guidance about how to handle data, and exactly what AI can and can’t touch. They’ll also need to understand algorithmic bias — how AI can unintentionally amplify sexist and racist attitudes. Talk to your tech teams to understand how your organization adopts or creates new tools, and what kind of vetting takes place to mitigate bias.
  • Go deep on bots and digital assistants. While it wasn’t popular three or four years ago, voice is rapidly increasing its presence. Many companies are using digital assistants. Thinking about AI is critical. Chat and messaging are increasingly important, too. Companies in China have been using bots in customer interactions for years.

Artificial Intelligence is not a trend that will fade away. Despite privacy concerns, businesses are still embracing AI technology and using it to guide their company’s narrative. With proper controls and some common sense, we can protect privacy while using this new technology.

Below are a couple videos describing where AI is taking us, and some of the concerns we face.


[1] (Crnoja, 2019)

[2] (Yin, 2018)

[3] (Quinn & Castro, 2018)

[4] (Quinn & Castro, 2018)

[5] (Cheatham, Javanmardian, & Samandari, 2019)

[6] (Crnoja, 2019)

[7] (Dean, 2018)

[8] (Cheatham, Javanmardian, & Samandari, 2019)

[9] (Crnoja, 2019)

[10] (Provazza, 2017)

Back At It Again

Where to begin…I guess I’ll start with the next purpose for this blog. Originally, it was just to document my MBA journey. But the more I think about it, the MBA is also a life journey. It is preparing me for all my future endeavors.

First endeavor, I will be hiking the Camino de Santiago after my MBA. I’ll start a new section on the blog. I am also going to write more about the day-to-day experience of my MBA, recruiting, and my thoughts as I continue this journey. Highlights below.

Oh, I also interned in Japan this year. I’ll try to sum up that experience. Life-changing.

Japan Internship

I don’t really know where to start since this internship started at the end of May. I will create a section for the internship and throw out a summary of my travels, learnings, and the experience as an MBA in this amazing country.

MBA Recruiting

So being someone who works in the Bay Area, for tech firms, and wants to start his own firm someday, my recruiting is a little different. However, I have gone through a lot of the traditional recruiting motions. I also have a unique view based on my industry. I’ll share some posts on that as well.

Camino de Santiago

This has been on my mind for a few years now. Yes, I was inspired by the movie “The Way” I think the movie did a lot to give focus on this journey and motivate people to take a deep look inside. This is about a journey of self-discovery, spirituality, and just getting out there and sharing a deeply personal experience with people from all over the world.

The first step is to commit to the journey. I will be walking about a week after my MBA graduation and should finish in about 30 days. This may have a bit of impact on my MBA recruiting. However, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not sure when I’ll get time to do this until I am old and decrepit.

    courtesy of followthecamino.com 

The Value of a Vision

This is the kickoff for my 2016-2017 application season.

After a summer of introspect and debate I have decided to relaunch my b-school application journey. Why would anyone want to go through the “Doldrums” and the pain of rejection all over again? It comes down to one word: vision.

vision:  noun, vi·sion, \ˈvi-zhən\
a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination

Application consultants will talk about selling your story to the adcom. I’ve worked in sales and have seen all sorts of techniques. As the biggest customer of stories in the b-school world, adcoms have developed an ability to sniff out garbage. Your story is typically crap. Words you think they want to hear just so you can get in to their prestigious school, have a good brand on your resume, and get more money at some large company. If this sounds like you then your vision is the same as thousands of other applicants. That is to say, while your goals are clear, your vision is empty. It reads loud and clear in your application and typically ends up in the rejection pile.

How do we fight this? The answer again is vision. If your goals are similar to those stated above, there’s nothing wrong with that. Most people enjoy more money and titles at work. If they don’t, an MBA is usually far from their mind. Developing a vision is probably the most time-consuming task in your MBA journey. GMAT and GPA are great but your essays, interviews, and 2 years of school will be driven by a few very simple themes. Planning up front will maximize the value of your effort. I’ll attempt to break down my approach to developing a vision and then how to use it in the following steps.

Step 1 – Escape

Get out of your office. Get out of your house. Get out of your city. Close the laptop. Put down the phone. Get away from everything familiar. This step is about clarity. You’re taking a major step in your life. Don’t let the barista who made your latte with whole milk instead of coconut milk influence your outlook on school.

Now that you’re settled in, find something that can settle your mind. I use music. Dave Matthews Band (early) or this song usually get me in the right frame of mind:

 

Step 2 – Introspection

I’ll let you guys look that one up. In essence you want to develop an idea of what is most important to you. Write it down if you need to. But the list is just the start. Next to each item dig a little deeper. Think why that item is important. Where did it come from? How can you achieve it? Is it yours or someone else’s? Don’t be afraid to go deep*. This the rest of your life we’re talking about here.

*one caveat, don’t start assigning blame or have negative thoughts about each item. This clouds your mental clarity you achieved in Step 1

Step 3 – Let Go

Now you have a great list of what makes you, well, you. You have a better understanding of how you got there. At this point you can probably see where this exercise is heading. Time for a changeup. Drop the list. The list was to define where you are. It puts you in the frame of mind to create a solid vision for the future.

Step 4 – Back to The Future

This is the core of the exercise. Close your eyes and see yourself 5 years after graduation. We live in fast times. There’s no need for 3, 10, 30-year plans. 5 years will do the trick. When you see yourself in the future take some time to immerse yourself in the vision. Where are you sitting? In an office? On a beach? What are you driving? A bike, a car, a horse? Where and what do you do for work? Take in the entire vision, don’t just pick a job, house, etc…these are still generic goals. See deep into non-professional goals as well. Do you volunteer? Are you an avid traveler? Most importantly, what is the most exciting part of your day and week?

If you are having trouble with this step take the “legacy” route. When you die, what are the 5 things you want to be remembered for? This approach is rather depressing though.

Step 5 – Repeat, then Work Backwards

OK, now you’ve taken the time to really see where you want to be. Repeat this exercise a few times. You’ve tuned out external pressures to clearly find your true vision. Embrace it. Webster’s defines passion as an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction. Vision = Passion.

Finally, work backwards and think hard about what steps need to be taken to get to the vision of your future. Research the career steps or skills needed to get to the job in your vision. Use specific examples from your future to plan out what you need to do. For example, if you want to help technology entrepreneurs in Malaysia you might want to go to a school on the West Coast or Pacific Rim.

Consider events in your past that influenced your vision. Use these examples in your essays and to explain your career/academic choices to this point. Most ask schools why them and how they will help you in your future. Don’t be generic, you already see the future. Find relative examples. You may even realize, for example, that Booth or Cornell don’t have a lot to offer for your specific goals. Don’t apply to schools that don’t fit your plan. Rankings are external pressures.

If you are looking for a tool to help define the path to your future, I recommend mind mapping. There’s a lot of software for this but nothing beats plain paper and colored pencils.

El Fin

So now you have a clear vision of where you want to be and you are developing your path and what b-school really means. This is finally YOUR STORY. Not the generic one that every half-hearted applicant submits. When you start preparing essays, interviews, and school visits you will notice a better reaction. Your passion about the what and why of your MBA will come through clearly.

This is just a first step in developing a vision, applying it to applications, and delivering on it throughout business school. This is also my process. Add to it. Enhance it.

Please feel free to share if any of this is useful and how your journey is going.

 

 

 

 

 

The End…of Round 2

I survived! I even got an interview request at one of my top 3 schools! I will ignore the fact that I think it is because people who attended a diversity event got an interview 🙂

I made every mistake in the book and still feel as if I have a chance to get in to one of my top 5 schools. I have one more application to the University of Hawaii to knock out. This is a unique school with a unique program that aligns with what I am looking to do post-MBA. They are not even ranked in US News but stop into a QS World MBA Tour and speak with Marc Endrigat. He will make you a believer.

I am putting that application on a pause for a couple days to breathe. I am also starting to pick up coding because it’s a skill I feel I need for the future that I finally have time for. The MBA application process is great for those with time management skills. It’s also a great crash course in time management – a crucial skill while at business school.

I will round out my blog with more information once I start back up. The next couple of posts will be around interview prep and summarize how I chose schools, prepped essay answers, and some of the best resources I found for the first stages of the application. It’s hard to believe that I am only about half way through the ADMISSIONS process. Not even in orientation yet :-/

Also, if you are reading this, hopefully you found it through a social media channel. If not, and you are looking at business school, make sure you get active on social media! Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, about.me, blogs, and YouTube are all great ideas. Clean up your Facebook as well. No pictures of keggers in college or flipping off the camera.

One more thing…videos to come soon! for now check out VincePrep on YouTube and follow @TokyoVince for great admissions advice.

Diversity Weekends and School Visits

I’ve been finishing up my Round 2 applications at 8 schools so it’s been a little crazy around here. Word of advice; lock in recommendations early and form a solid essay outline for every essay a month or so before the due date. I am adding this post I started back in December.

It’s been a busy couple of months since my GMAT results. It’s pretty easy to take a big sigh and think you can coast your way into business school once the GMAT is done. I clearly fell into this trap.

During late November and early December I went on a whirlwind tour of my preferred business schools. I will give individual feedback on each one later in this post. These are the schools I visited:

  • University of Texas at Austin – McCombs Business School (Diversity Weekend)
  • Notre Dame University – Mendoza College of Business (On Campus Tour and Interview)
  • University of Michigan – Ross School of Business (Military Preview Weekend)
  • Carnegie Mellon University – Tepper School of Business (Diversity Weekend)

Three of the schools I attended were for some form of inclusion event. I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure how I would be perceived at a diversity event. I have always thought of diversity as inclusion of underrepresented populations.  I had actually registered for the Diversity event at UC-Berkeley in September but took myself off the list. I fell into the trap of thinking diversity events were about skin color or sexual orientation. Bias is a strong foe to overcome. I ignored the fact I was a veteran, first-generation college graduate, and someone whose long-term goal was the betterment of under-served and developing regions. I was just scared that I would be out of place.

I could not have been more wrong. Each school I went to was awesome. The diversity weekends form a sort of community that lasts throughout the application process and into school. I wish I had attended the event at  Haas just to meet some of them earlier. Everyone offers advice on GMAT prep, essay review, and interview tips. As round 1 acceptances came in we all celebrated the victories and supported the defeats.

Many of the people I met are applying through the Consortium. The Consortium is open to anyone who supports its goals of inclusion of minorities in business and business schools. I’ll let the organization speak for itself, but the resources and connections offered cannot be beat.

For anyone thinking about attending a diversity event I strongly recommend it. The fact it’s on your mind shows that you are sensitive to the needs of under-represented students. If you are part of this population or support these initiatives take part in one of these weekends. I learned more about myself and how well I will do in business school at a diversity weekend than I did over the past 6 months of GMAT and essay prep.

GMAT Success

I took the GMAT for the 4th and final time last Tuesday. I was traveling for work so it was a lot of hotels and meals out. I don’t recommend doing this before the exam. All the literature I have read says to get plenty of sleep the week before the exam and don’t study the day before. I threw all that out the window and expected to get a poor grade.

I showed up with a positive attitude. I would focus on timing and switching my mind set during breaks. The essay went OK, the integrated reasoning was tough but ended up with a 5, same as last two times. I took too long of a break and lost 1:49 on the quant section. After this I freaked out a little but recovered. I zoomed through the questions and I was able to answer quite a few. The ones I couldn’t get I made educated guesses and ruled out the obvious wrong answers. I finished quant with a minute remaining.

The verbal section had a few challenging prompts. I spent very little time studying verbal so I answered the best I could. I prepared myself for a score in the 600s and another attempt in December. Then the score popped up:

Quantitative: 47

Verbal: 44

Overall: 740

I don’t know how this was possible because I felt I did so poorly solving problems. My focus was on the overall test. The strategy and patterns is what I seemed to focus on instead of answering each question.  Jon Taves at EF Essays states it best: The goal in quant should be to win the war, not thirty-seven individual battles. Apparently something I did worked.

I was lucky. However, I had spent a lot of time preparing and working on the basics. Do not follow my example the week leading up to the test. Definitely start studying well ahead of time. Focus on individual areas such as algebra, geometry, powers and roots, and number properties. These are the core and the base of the other questions. Once you feel comfortable there go ahead and do some mixed question sets. The Magoosh website has some amazing training videos and questions for a low price. It was $99 for 1  of access.

Now it’s on to the applications. I can apply with confidence that my GMAT score will be a positive factor, instead of a risk.

Stock Market Meltdown

I was watching the stock market implode yesterday morning and one thought crossed my mind: How will this benefit my business school applications? If the market and economy really slows down will less people apply for school? Is everyone already set on their path, making it irrelevant?

Some of the books I have read note that during the financial crisis fewer people entered MBA programs due to a fear of not finding a job in the uncertain economy. I work in the tech sector and my MBA focus is going to be Entrepreneurship. I don’t have ambitions of working as a consultant or in investment banking when I finish school. If a slowdown in the economy means less people apply to school then I welcome it. However, I would also have to worry that as VC reserves dry up and firms take less risk, I might have to look elsewhere for funding if needed. These are interesting times and the challenges are plenty. Back to GMAT prep… 🙂

Beginnings…or Where to Begin?

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

OK, so maybe it’s not that epic but I am hoping for this to be an amazing journey. I have never managed a blog before and I am a little intimidated. The reading I’ve done says that it’s important to just get content out there. It will form and evolve as I evolve as a writer. So this is my blog about my journey to business school.

About Me:

I will have a more detailed “About” page as I get going on this. If I ever get any followers I hope they ask questions and are interested in learning more.

To start off I am an older applicant at 34. I have spent the last 4 years working up the food chain in risk management/information security. I just finished my second bachelor’s in Management with an IT concentration from Golden Gate University. GPA is at 3.55 and I think I did OK while working full time. I have worked many different positions in the past and spent 8 years in the military. I am really going to use my work experience post-military for my applications. The military will also help me address leadership questions when they come up.

My Goal:

Competitive MBA. This will allows me to work with entrepreneurs and startups throughout the world. Great ideas can come from outside of Silicon Valley (where I currently live and work). My goal is to be able to help those people with great ideas build a business and let them focus on their product. I can address the technical and business needs as a sort of one stop shop. If I happen to have some great ideas that turn into businesses along the way, even better. This mission statement will be refined as the blog is.

More to come. I will try to write at least every other day. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with everyone and hopefully set the stage for much bigger things. My biggest fear is that I will feel like Rodney Dangerfield (or Billy Madison for that matter):