New research profile focusing on AI in industrial organisations

Artificial intelligence, AI, has the potential to radically transform companies in many industries. But how can each company use AI in the most beneficial way for their specific business? And how is the organisation and the people in it affected by the new technology? In the research profile AFAIR at Jönköping University (JU), technological, financial and organisational aspects of the implementation of AI are integrated.

“In AFAIR, we will combine the technological development of algorithms and software with research on how the adoption of AI technologies affect businesses,” says Joakim Wikner, Professor of Supply Chain and Operations Management at the School of Engineering, JU, and project manager of the research profile.

AFAIR’s research will have three focal areas: how AI can be used to streamline flows of, for example, products and information; how intelligent products and services can be developed with the support of AI; and how the implementation of AI influences and is influenced by organisational aspects.

“AI is a collective name for a large group of different technologies, which solve different tasks. In our profile, we primarily use data-driven AI, typically machine learning, which is to say computer programs able to learn and improve from observations and experiences. One example of that is the algorithms controlling what turns up in your social-media flows,” explains Ulf Johansson, Professor of Computer Science at the School of Engineering, JU, and one of the researchers within AFAIR.

Applied AI and AI transformation in focus

A key concept in the new research profile is applied AI, which in this context means that the development of algorithms and methods is pursued with the clear purpose of being directly turned into practical use in the companies taking part in the research projects. Another key concept within AFAIR is AI transformation, which is the process of change that comes with the implementation of AI technologies in a business. This can include everything from single work processes being changed to completely new business models or organisational forms.

“Applied AI and AI transformation is so much more than just the adoption of new, advanced technology. When we start using AI for ever more complex tasks, like decision making, new questions arise. With whom lies the responsibility when decisions are made by algorithms? And how do we ensure that the algorithms are objective and do not make biased decisions?” says Ulf Johansson.

Robothand

his interaction will increase, for example it may be common to have a robot in your work team in the future,” says Annika Engström Photo: Unsplash.com

In AFAIR, the researchers will investigate both what happens to the organisation and the people in it when implementing AI, as well as how human and organisational aspects can be considered in the development of different AI tools.

“We want to find out how this technology and the work processes should be designed in order to benefit the development of the people in the organisation and for the interaction between technology and humans to function optimally. This interaction will increase, for example it may be common to have a robot in your work team in the future,” says Annika Engström, Assistant Professor of Work Organisation at the School of Engineering, JU, and researcher within AFAIR.

Strengthens the companies’ AI journey

The research projects in AFAIR will be conducted in close collaboration with industry, and the following companies have chosen to join from start: Husqvarna, Fagerhults Belysning, SAAB Training & Simulation, Siemens Energy and Combitech. More companies will join later.

For the companies taking part in the projects, the most important gain is perhaps the learning process that they will go through together with the researchers and the other companies. But since the research projects will be based on real problems identified by the companies in their own operations, they will also generate concrete results, such as identified knowledge gaps and software developed specifically for the needs of the participating companies.

We have only just started our AI journey, but we envision that in 5-10 years AI will be an inherent part of our everyday work

Emma Hallman, Industrialization Manager at Fagerhults Belysning, considers the company’s participation in AFAIR as an opportunity to take part in driving development forward:

“We have only just started our AI journey, but we envision that in 5-10 years AI will be an inherent part of our everyday work. By joining AFAIR projects, we can be at the forefront of research – where it happens. We strongly believe in the cross-disciplinary approach of AFAIR and the focus on AI through the whole research profile,” says Emma Hallman.

Investigates the AI readiness of the companies

In one of the first projects of AFAIR, the researchers will investigate what knowledge and readiness the participating companies have today in relation to the implementation of AI in different business processes.

“One purpose of this project is to understand what mechanisms influence organisations’ ability to assimilate the AI technology and take advantage of the opportunities it offers to their specific business. What competence and knowledge are critical to succeed with the AI transformation?” says Annika Engström.

Ulf Johansson emphasises that a holistic perspective is needed to understand in what processes and tasks an AI support can really be beneficial:

“One thing we have learnt from earlier projects is that it takes a strategic decision in an organisation to successfully implement AI technologies. As a researcher, you then need to understand the needs and opportunities as well as challenges of the unique company. This is not least critical in choosing pilot projects, which is an important part of the implementation.”

Facts about AFAIR

  • AFAIR – Ambidexterity, Flows and AI for competitive Responsiveness
  • AFAIR is a strategic commitment and is, in the long term, expected to become an established and strong cross-disciplinary research and education environment at JU.
  • The profile is built within the framework of the KK foundation’s research profile programme and the foundation contributes with a funding of 49 MSEK during the first eight years.
  • AFAIR is part of SPARK, Jönköping University’s research and education environment focusing on knowledge intensive product realisation.
  • The researchers within AFAIR belong to the School of Engineering and Jönköping International Business School.
2021-04-29