Generative AI hasn’t only been the talk of the town most of 2023, it’s also supercharging growth among technology firms in Asia Pacific.

And we’re not talking about global players like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, SAP, or even HubSpot.

Take Zoho for example. The Chennai-headquartered technology solutions provider has been at the forefront of AI innovation for over a decade, constantly pushing boundaries and reimagining the possibilities. Zoho recently announced its action plan and ongoing investment in AI, beginning with the launch of 10 generative AI application extensions and integrations powered by ChatGPT.

DigiconAsia interviewed Gibu Mathew, VP and GM APAC, Zoho Corp, with a focus on how generative AI could be leveraged to deliver superior customer experience and value, while ensuring the highest level of customer privacy and security.

Generative AI has been the talk of the town in 2023. Many solution providers are incorporating generative AI into their solution offerings. What are some key areas of application for generative AI in an organization’s operations?

Gibu: The broad category of problems that generative AI has become popular for revolves around text creation, image creation, music creation and aiding developers to code. The current breadth of solutions that are made possible with generative AI have also become possible because of the availability of huge amounts of data, faster processors (GPU) and research which has all improved in parallel.

The burst in adoption of generative AI is aided by its business use – which ranges from content creation to customer support, lead generation, business research and user experience.

Furthermore, generative AI can also power recommendation engines that bridge the gap between business and customer. Meanwhile, it can also simulate real-world scenarios as well as identify relevant data sources to generate fuller composite hypotheses, that enable data-driven decision-making.

Businesses need to begin by identifying the specific business problems where AI can help business users to be more creative. Once identified, organizations can explore the features that AI brings to the table and how it can be leveraged to automate tasks, speed up business research, improve decision-making and generate actionable insights faster.

Gibu Mathew, VP and GM APAC, Zoho Corp

I think every business will have a different starting point, for example, a manufacturer on the shop floor will utilize AI to provide real-time analytics of data from their factory floor as well as identify defects early (and democratize actionable analytics), while a service orientated business will find the best starting point to deploy AI to automate their customer touch points.

How major an impact would generative AI make on businesses in various industries?

Gibu: We have seen but just a fraction of how transformative generative AI can be.

Thanks to generative AI, automation is on the cusp of going into the next level and further freeing human resources for strategic and value-added activities.

AI is best introduced where there is predictability in the workflow, where there is a repetitive task or where there is a large amount of data to be reviewed and analyzed. Generative AI aids where learning has to be dynamic and is not necessarily in a deterministic environment. 

Introducing generative AI at these points will allow businesses to achieve hyper personalization and efficiencies. To this end, we are also witnessing how generative AI can be used to help mitigate risks and detect fraudulent activities by answering complex questions, pulling from vast amounts of legal documentation, and drafting and reviewing annual reports. This would typically need learning vast vocabulary which may not even be humanely possible.

Generative AI is also enhancing personalization and driving innovative product design, by delivering valuable, actionable insights faster. This could potentially unlock new breakthroughs in research and development that could exponentially increase the speed at which innovation occurs.

What are some key considerations for an organization looking to leverage generative AI for its core business functions?

Gibu: Leveraging the cloud is critical, precisely because building and running the neural networks required for generative AI is difficult and costly to do on premises.  The availability of faster processors (GPU had a big impact in development of generative AI.

Public cloud companies are making it a reality by providing hardware with those characteristics, but SaaS vendors go one step further by integrating generative AI in to business tools. Through as-a-service solutions that are able to integrate with sophisticated generative AI models, organizations can streamline complex business processes, strengthening customer and partner relationships, as well as driving growth at scale.

With so many SaaS vendors, businesses should be conscious of data privacy and security risks when onboarding a SaaS solution provider. Businesses should ensure that appointed vendors align with their companies’ privacy and security stance and are able to safeguard customer data properly.

When looking to deploy AI tools in a way that does not add friction, businesses should also consider how a unified platform seamlessly allows AI capabilities to be embedded into workflows. With the ability to pull data from a wider range of sources on a unified platform, businesses are likely to achieve efficiencies with generative AI and to apply to technology in the context of actual work. This, then, can be a key enabler of AI-powered automation and better informed, swifter decision-making.

What are some future possibilities and benefits that AI can contribute in a big way for businesses in Asia Pacific?

Gibu: It would be difficult at this stage to speculate on the exact possibilities of generative AI, but the fact that its startling evolution thus far shows that the ceiling of expectation is very high. The benefits we have already seen are arguably indicators of things to come. In fact, IDC predicts that by 2026, 30% of AI models will incorporate multiple modalities of data to improve learning effectiveness and address the current everyday knowledge shortcomings in single-modality AI solutions.

Expectations aside, the true value in generative AI will only be realized when businesses are able to integrate into the core workflow to benefit employees, this will be the challenge for businesses and software providers.

Successful generative AI application could enable considerable breakthroughs for businesses in the region. For instance, AI image production – which is still nascent – could iron out some of its existing shortcomings to revolutionize marketing.

Being a regional player by applying expertise in existing in-country expertise by leveraging advanced NLP and language skills already proven by generative AI. For example, local Indonesia businesses giving higher quality services as good as any other in a predominantly English-speaking market.

Then there is video generation, where text-to-video could go beyond single prompts that generate short videos of the same object and scene. Not only will this transform the kind of content that is produced, but it can also be harnessed to push the boundaries of learning and training. The same applies for AI-generated audio, which could bring astounding new use cases for call centers and customer support teams.

Meanwhile, AI-generated 3D renderings are primed to elevate product design and engineering, which could further optimize value chains, specifically when enterprises are introducing new manufacturing principles, such as 3D printing.

There is also the tantalizing prospect of hyper-personalization, where AI-generated communications and advertisements can reach customers in ways that were unthinkable before.

Zoho provides a suite of applications for most business functions. With ChatGPT integration with Zia, generative AI technology is democratized across different roles – empowering all user roles to improve their work quality and employee experience.

From writing emails, to proofreading content and summarizing information, generative AI like ChatGPT helps in the development and refining of content. When paired with Zia – a powerful AI companion to customer relationship management (CRM) in its own right – businesses can harness the power of generative AI from within to know and understand their customers better.

Users choosing to enable generative AI capabilities within Zoho’s applications may do so using their existing OpenAI account API key, thereby enabling privacy for the organization enabling it. Based on the number of APIs used, customers will be billed directly by OpenAI.