Analyzing Artificial Intelligence

Professor Saravanan Kesavan worked in artificial intelligence (AI) before most people knew its name.

Over 20 years ago, he was a consultant implementing supply chain software for businesses. The first time he implemented planning software at a large semiconductor firm, four days went by before it yielded a solution to the problem he was addressing.

“It wasn’t called AI at all,” says Kesavan, professor of operations and Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. “We used to call it decision-support tools.”

Soon, the solution took eight hours. Today, what once took eight hours can now be done in a few seconds.

While companies understand the importance of AI in optimizing performance and they’re investing heavily in the technology, many managers still struggle with how best to use data analytics and business solutions that come from machine learning.

An important question remains: How should companies actually work with AI?

With his latest initiative, Kesavan hopes to give companies answers.

Kesavan has launched the Rethinc. AI Management Lab at UNC Kenan-Flagler, housed within Rethinc. Labs at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, thanks to a three-year, $150,000 gift from founding partner Advance Auto Parts.

The lab’s focus is research at the cross-section of AI and operations management, studying the most effective ways for a wide range of industries to implement AI more thoughtfully. It will explore AI’s role in such fundamental issues as sales forecasting, merchandise planning and employee scheduling.

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