SEMA News—December 2019
Company Reports That Write Themselves
With Artificial Intelligence, It’s a Snap
A number of artificial intelligence firms offer tools that automatically generate text reports from company databases.
Businesses looking to automatically generate written reports from their databases now have a raft of choices available, thanks to the emergence of writing software that uses artificial intelligence (AI). Such AI-generated writing solutions can drill down into company databases and automatically produce easy-to-understand written reports, unearthing insights about trends and company performance that might otherwise never see the light of day.
“Any time a business can automate administrative and mundane tasks, it’s useful to the enterprise, reduces human error and boosts productivity,” said Brian Everett, senior partner at marketing firm MindShare Strategies.
In a phrase, any data report your business currently produces or may be looking to produce in coming years can be enhanced with AI-generated writing. Fortunately, a number of new toolmakers offering this tech (also referred to as Natural Language Generation or NLG) have emerged during the past few years to help businesses unearth insights trapped in database columns and tables.
More recently, many of the same AI toolmakers are also ensuring that their AI-generated writing solutions integrate tightly with commonly used business intelligence software such as Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Power BI, Microstrategy, Qlik, Spotfire SAP and Tableau. The result is that businesses can auto-generate rich, colorful visualizations of their data—accompanied by easy-to-understand text descriptions of what they’re viewing—by blending AI-generated writing with already existing business intelligence software.
“NLG-driven, multi-dimensional narratives are the breakthrough that [data-generated] visuals were years ago,” said Sharon Daniels, CEO of AI-generated writing toolmaker Arria. “The ‘big data’ problem was partially addressed with the evolution of business intelligence dashboards, but while visuals paint a picture, they’re not the complete picture. With the addition of NLG, business intelligence dashboards are transformed. The ability to access key information in near real time, communicated as if written by the company’s top analyst, without bias and at an NLG writing speed, is truly astonishing. It’s what users are demanding: complete information, faster conclusions and better decision making.”
Added Ann Schnena, a senior product manager at Narrative Science, another AI-generated writing toolmaker: “Instead of forcing people to learn how to analyze spreadsheets or explore dashboards, data storytelling uses simple, easy-to-understand language and one-click collaboration features to ensure that everyone in your company actually understands data, all the time. With ‘data storytelling,’ your team can read a personalized story that tells them what they need to know about their business—tailored specifically to their needs automatically. Data storytelling technology is intelligent. It naturally articulates the most important and interesting information to each employee every day. And it allows employees to share that information with each other.”
The added insights from easy-to-understand prose makes a business intelligence system more accessible to more people, given that not everyone is comfortable making business decisions based on graphics alone, Schnena said.
Moreover, by customizing the kind of text reports that are generated, business users and others are able to zero in on just the kind of information and just the kinds of insights they’re looking for instead of wading through torrents of data. And having an automated report writer in-house also offers businesses the opportunity to generate more reports more often. For example, why be satisfied with a performance report each month when you can auto-produce a performance report each week—or even each day?
Some seasoned users of AI-generated business reports even program their systems to offer an updated report every time a staffer opens a copy of the company’s business intelligence software on a PC.
One caveat, however: Businesses looking to bring AI-generated writing tools in-house should know up front that their ability to fully optimize their use of AI report-generating tools will need some ramp-up time.
“People must invest a significant amount of time and resources to set up and perfect NLG software on the front end,” said Mindshare’s Everett. “After reports and articles are generated, people still need to review and tweak the text to ensure that it makes sense and is error-free.”
One of the best ways to shop for AI-generated writing software is to check out market leaders in the space and then scout around for other solutions that go for less and have fewer bells and whistles but may be just fine for the reports you want. The top three players in AI-generated writing currently are Automated Insights, Narrative Science and Arria, according to a market research report released last year by highly respected market research firm Forrester.
Those three AI-generated writing toolmakers offer solutions that demonstrate the greatest ability to auto-generate richly worded text from data, according to Forrester. The top three also offer the most customization in terms of the kinds of reports that can be generated as well as the number of writing styles that can be used to generate the reports. They also offer solutions in more languages than other market players.
The second tier—also strong performers—are two business intelligence software makers that added AI-generated writing to their existing offerings: SAP and Salesforce, according to Forrester. And on the third tier are “contenders” AX Semantics, Yseop, IBM and Marlabs.
(A free copy of the normally $1,295 Forrester report is available at a link on Yseop’s website: www.resources.yseop.com/nlg-market-guide).
Gartner Group, another highly respected market research firm, came up with a similar list of key players in AI-generated writing in a report (www.gartner.com/en/documents/3942031) released in June 2019. The leaders were Arria, Automated Insights, AX Semantics and Yseop.
Overall, given the great value AI-generated writing does—and will—offer businesses, look for a number of new AI-generated writing providers to emerge during the next few years that will offer ever more powerful and ever more versatile systems. Such solutions will come in the form of standalone solutions such as Automated Insights and Arria NLG, and others will emerge as add-on tools to comprehensive business software suites offered by SAP and Salesforce.
Even if you’re not in the market for AI-generated writing right now, you’re going to want to track this technology closely in coming years, given that it’s poised to dramatically alter the way businesses glean insights from company databases.
Data reports auto-created with AI-generated writing make insight and decision-making at a company much easier because “everyone knows the same story,” said Pooja Parthasarathy, senior product manager at Narrative Science. “There’s no interpretation and there’s no element of guesswork or [alternative] perspective that goes into to it. Everyone is looking at and understanding the same story. Together.”
Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.