AI is Making the Dream of Automatically Written Company Reports a Reality

By Joe Dysart
Contributing Writer

Food equipment distributors looking to deepen their understanding of the charts, graphics, and other illustrations regularly generated by their business intelligence software are in luck: New writing software utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) can now add easy-to-understand text descriptions right next to those images.

Essentially, these AI-powered writing solutions can drill down into your business or organization’s database and then auto-produce easy-to-understand, written reports. They use the same data that business intelligence software like Microsoft Excel uses to generate charts, graphs, and the like.

Once the integration is complete, the same data you’re looking at in Microsoft Excel, for example – in terms of charts, graphs, etc. – will be the same data you see expressed in simple English right alongside the graphics and images.

Moreover, many of the integrations will also feature real-time updating of data in both formats – image and writing – making it easier to keep up with changes in analysis. For example: If a graph you’re viewing in your business intelligence software suddenly takes a 20-percent dive, many AI-generated writing programs can instantly explain that change and provide an updated text description.

Powering Better Decision-Making
Interestingly, many of these AI tools – also known as Natural Language Generation, or NLG software – are variations of the same software that’s helping major news organizations auto-generate stories from their databases. Automated Insights, for example, an AI toolmaker that made its name helping the Associated Press auto-generate simple sports stories from AP’s sports databases, now offers a solution enabling companies to auto-transform their data into text narratives.

Some of the more popular business intelligence software packages now integrating with AI writing programs include the aforementioned Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Power BI, Microstrategy, Qlik, Spotfire, SAP, and Tableau. Many proprietary business intelligence packages can also be integrated with AI-generated writing programs.

“NLG-driven, multi-dimensional narratives are the breakthrough that (data-generated) visuals were years ago,” says Sharon Daniels, CEO of Arria, an AI-powered writing toolmaker. “The Big Data problem was partially addressed with the evolution of business intelligence dashboards (like Microsoft BI). But while visuals paint a picture, they’re not the complete picture.”

“With the addition of NLG, business intelligence dashboards are transformed,” she continues. “The ability to access key information in near real-time – communicated as if written by the company’s top analyst, without bias, at an NLG writing speed – is truly astonishing. It’s what users are demanding: complete information, faster conclusions, and better decision-making.”

Adds Anna Schena, a senior product manager at Narrative Science, another AI-powered 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,” she explains. “Data storytelling technology is intelligent. It naturally articulates the most important and interesting information to each employee, every day. And it allows them to share that information with each other.”

Plus, having an AI automated report writer in-house also offers food equipment distributors the opportunity to generate more reports, more often. Why be satisfied, for example, with a performance report on your distributorship’s sales each month, when you can auto-produce that performance report each week, or even every day? In fact, some seasoned users of these writing/graphics integrations set their reports to auto-refresh every time they open-up the business intelligence software on their computers.

Business analysts at food equipment distributors will also welcome the new freedom AI-generated writing offers, allowing them to engage in even more in-depth analysis at their companies.

“With automation, the analysts put their expertise into the software and the software writes the reports,” says Adela Schneider, a spokesperson for AX Semantics, another maker of AI-powered writing software. “The experts are thus relieved of their workload and can concentrate on their main assignments.”

Of course, integrating an AI-powered writing tool with your favorite business intelligence software does take 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,” says Brian Everett, senior partner, MindShare Strategies, a marketing firm. And the human work doesn’t end at the initial setup: “After reports and articles are generated, people still need to review and tweak the text to ensure it makes sense and is error-free,” he stresses

Features and Solutions
One of the best ways to shop for AI-powered writing software that integrates with your food equipment business intelligence software is to research market leaders in the space. Then, once you’re familiar with the industry’s best, you still may want to scout around for solutions that are less expensive and feature fewer bells-and-whistles – which may be just fine for your company’s needs.

Currently, the top three players in AI-powered writing software are Automated Insights, Narrative Science, and Arria, according to a 2018 report by Forrester, the highly respected market research firm that consults for many industries, including food equipment distributors. These three toolmakers offer solutions that demonstrate the greatest ability to auto-generate richly worded text from data, indicates Forrester. The top three firms 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. Forrester notes the three also offer solutions in more languages than their competitors.

On the second tier – so-called “strong performers” – are two business intelligence software makers that added AI-powered writing to their existing offerings: SAP and Salesforce, reports Forrester.

On Forrester’s third tier are ”contenders” AX Semantics, Yseop, IBM,and Marlabs.

Gartner Group, another highly respected market research firm that consults with food equipment distributors, listed key players in its June 2019 report on AI-powered writing: Arria NLG, Automated Insights, AX Semantics, and Yseop.

No matter what solution you ultimately find most appealing for your food equipment distributorship, the features to look for in any AI-powered writing system should include:

  • Custom analysis: Currently, scores of AI-generated writing toolmakers have the ability to transform data into simple text. But fewer offer the ability to fully manipulate that data to unearth the specific insights you need. The best AI-generated writing tools offer the greatest flexibility for unearthing those insights – as well as the ability to blend those insights with a business intelligence program you already use.
  • Granular focus: The best AI-generated writing solutions also enable you to easily produce reports that can be tailored to unearth highly specific insights – even insights that may be of use to just one department or even one individual in your food equipment distributorship.
  • Real-time updating: Many AI-generated writing solutions offer users the option to “set-it-and-forget-it.” Essentially, this enables each user to design a pre-defined report for their personal use, which is continuously updated with real-time data. Continuous updating is an extremely handy feature; for example, if you’re monitoring critical data that’s streaming into your organization non-stop.
  • Custom language style: Currently, basic AI-generated text has a reputation for being a bit plain-and-dry. Less commonly known is that the best AI-generated writing tools offer you the ability to stylize the language generated for your reports. So, if you want to go for more than just plain-and-dry, you can bring in a highly creative copywriter to tweak the language style that your system will auto-generate.
  • Ability to port AI-powered writing to text-chat bots/ voice-chat bots: While not every food equipment distributorship is currently using chatbots to communicate with customers, or to foster communication among employees, you might want to pursue that option in the future. As chatbot technology matures, for example, a chatbot backed by an AI-powered writing system will most likely be able to carry-on a conversation with a customer on your food equipment distribution website in a very natural, intelligent, and innovative manner. The same holds true for chatbots that your employees may want to start using to query your database for easy answers to insights you have buried there. AI-powered chatbots would be a welcome change from conventional chatbots – as many of us have experienced, the latter often are robot-like, and they’re often flummoxed for responses to the easiest questions.

Understanding the Same Story
Given the great value that AI-powered writing can offer food equipment distributors, look for many new writing providers to emerge during the next few years. It’s likely companies will be offering systems that are even more powerful and more versatile.

Some solutions will come in the form of standalone tools, such as those from Automated Insights and Arria. Others, meanwhile, will be developed as add-on tools to existing business software suites like SAP and Salesforce. Bottom line: Even if you’re not in the market for AI-generated writing right now, you’ll want to closely track this tech in coming years. Like most new software driven by AI, these new tools are poised to dramatically alter the way organizations and companies operate.

Data reports auto-created with AI-generated writing make insight and decision-making at a company much easier, says Pooja Parthasarathy, senior product manager, Narrative Science, because “everyone knows the same story.”