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A bit of data and artificial intelligence can make for a more productive office. Image Credit:

Two years ago, almost to the day, Dubai Customs asked me what they should do about their flat productivity growth. Of particular concern to the leadership team was finding a way to handle their future growth without increasing their headcount.

The question, “How can we handle more volume without hiring more people?”, is common among corporate leaders, and it’s one you’ve probably asked yourself time and again. My immediate response was this: “You should build a productivity engine. And you should use AI in it.”

At the time, I was starting to immerse myself in the world of artificial intelligence and I was attempting to learn to code using Tensor Flow, the open source machine learning library originally developed by the Google Brain team. My motivation stemmed from a desire to teach my computer to write for me. The way I saw it, I could handle far more volume if my computer could do parts of my work.

An eye on productivity

Two years on, the AI Productivity Engine is built and is delivering results for Dubai Customs. Inside the engine is the Trigger-Task-Time algorithmic stack, which uses time-stamped system data to observe the work patterns of employees and the related impact on the units of service or intended result. It generates a standardised productivity score for each employee, team, department and the whole organisation.

Dubai Customs are the first in the world to use such an AI-powered tool to boost productivity using existing employees. In simple terms, the AI Productivity Engine assists leaders in harnessing the power of AI and helps formulate recommendations aimed at creating a better workplace to support legitimate trade.

The result? AI is helping Dubai Customs to turn “busyness” into productivity growth, 32.5 per cent over two years to be precise.

The AI leverage

Personally, when I suggested that Dubai Customs use AI to achieve their goals, it changed my life. It reignited a very private vision that I’ve had since I started my doctoral studies in strategic leadership. I genuinely believe that every employee deserves to be led by a great leader.

Great leadership can inspire employees to be more productive and be the best they can be. That’s why I’ve given my life to coaching, speaking and writing on leadership. But until this use of AI, enhancing leadership and boosting productivity has never been possible at scale.

The more I learnt about it, the more AI Kool-Aid I drank — not because of the popularity of it, but because of the impact it can have. AI is changing the world we live in and it will change the way we work.

I have a profound conviction that time is the most precious gift we have, and artificial intelligence can help us make the most of it.

Work better

Productivity doesn’t mean working more, nor does it necessarily mean working harder. It is all about working smarter, making sure your minutes and hours count for something.

Productivity growth is a holy grail concern in management science and the lack of it is a constant frustration for employees and employers alike. That’s why it puts a smile on my face when organisations like Dubai Customs take a bold step to disrupt the status quo.

Decades ago, management guru Peter Drucker said the country that raises the productivity of knowledge and service work first, will dominate the 21st century economically. Drucker understood that maximum prosperity can only come as a result of maximum productivity. Now, others, like Dubai Customs, are catching on.

However, it is still concerning that many leaders continue to waste precious hours on tasks that AI can do better, leaving themselves little time for the work that human hands do best.

It’s time to embrace AI. In potent combination, human skill and artificial intelligence can make the ultimate impact on productivity. By using AI, you can empower even average employees to achieve more and radically transform your company.

Don’t be satisfied with keeping people busy. Now is the time to turn busyness into productivity.

— Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered Leadership and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.