Whether you’re on the side of the optimists, located firmly in the ‘we’re doomed’ camp, or balancing precariously on top of the fence trying to see both sides – the artificial intelligence revolution is happening. We can’t undo the advances that have already been made, and technology is only going in one direction – forwards, into an ever-more intelligent future.
For business leaders in particular, this means one thing: AI cannot be ignored. From the smallest local business to the largest global players, every company needs to come to terms with the intelligence revolution and identify how and where AI will make the biggest difference to their business.
Developing a robust AI strategy is about understanding what’s possible and identifying the top priorities for your business – those areas where AI can deliver the most value and really turbocharge success.
Businesses are already using AI to drive success in three main areas:
- More intelligent products
- More intelligent services
- More intelligent business processes
Creating More Intelligent Products
The Internet of Things means a whole host of everyday products are getting smarter. Thanks to increased computing power, and advances in sensor technology (sensors are now smaller and cheaper to incorporate into products than ever before), we have a plethora of smart devices like smart phones, smart TVs and smart watches on the market. We even have smart diapers that come with a built-in moisture sensor that sends an alert to your phone or a vibrating bracelet when your baby’s diaper needs changing. And the diaper overhaul doesn’t stop there; the next iteration of smart diapers being developed by Verily Life Services (part of Google’s parent company Alphabet) will be able to distinguish between, well, let’s call them Code Yellow and Code Brown nappy incidents.
You might wonder why smart nappies are necessary when generations of parents have made do with the good old fashioned ‘sniff test’ (or its more advanced cousin, the ‘sniff and prod test’). Isn’t this a case of making products smart for the sake of it?
AI strategy is not about incorporating AI into everything for the sake of it; as I have said many times before, you must use AI strategically to get the most out of it. From a product point of view (and, indeed, from a services point of view) that means working out how AI could best benefit your customers.
So, what’s genuinely useful about smart diapers, you might ask? Well, consider this: it’s possible to detect early signs of infection from baby’s urine. The data from a smart diaper can be uploaded to the cloud for analysis, and the system could provide alerts if signs of infection are present. For new parents especially, this level of information would provide welcome reassurance.
Which brings us to the key reason why so many companies are making their products smarter: it’s all about making customers’ lives easier, solving their problems and removing those annoying wrinkles from everyday life. Today, consumers expect smart solutions to a whole host of everyday problems, tasks and activities, whether it’s changing their baby’s nappy or training for a marathon.
Delivering More Intelligent Services
Your intelligent products may lead you into the service territory. Or perhaps your business is already a service-based company. In any case, there are many exciting ways companies are beginning to incorporate AI into their services.
Servitisation, one of the hottest business model trends, is fuelled by AI and data. What do I mean by servitisation? Instead of selling a product or service as a one-off transaction, servitisation companies operate on an ongoing service or subscription model.
One example that I often give to illustrate the difference is Disney versus Netflix. Disney produces a film, releases it in cinemas, and maybe it makes the company a lot of money or maybe it’s a big flop. Disney won’t necessarily know exactly how many people have seen the movie, whether they enjoyed it, and what other films those customers enjoyed recently. Netflix, however, has a deep understanding of its customers. It knows exactly how many people have streamed a movie or series, whether they gave up half-way through to watch something else, or whether they loved it so much they went on to watch more content by the same director, actor, and so on.
Servitisation businesses have access to a wealth of valuable customer data and without data, AI is nothing. In this way, today’s servitisation businesses are AI-powered businesses. For example, it’s AI that powers Netflix’s recommendation engine, suggesting similar content that customers might enjoy based on what they’ve watched before and what other similar customers have also watched.
Making Business Processes More Intelligent
Now that we have apps that can accurately measure several aspects of our feet, it’s not impossible to imagine that, in the future, we’ll have companies seamlessly manufacturing customised shoes in their autonomous factories, based on customer fit data from foot-scanning apps. In fact, as we’ll see in this section, companies like Adidas are already creating highly personalised products in automated facilities.
This is possible because AI brings with it lots of opportunities for customisation and optimisation – in other words, the more you understand about customers, the better you can design products and services that perfectly fit their needs. And this, in turn, means you may need to overhaul some of your business processes, such as manufacturing. Or maybe, like a lot of companies, you’re simply seeking greater efficiencies in a more competitive business landscape. By incorporating AI into your internal operations, you can create a more streamlined, more efficient business that’s better able to meet customers’ needs.
In theory, AI could be worked into pretty much any aspect of a business: manufacturing, HR, marketing, sales, supply chain and logistics, customer services, quality control, IT, finance and more. From automated machinery and vehicles, to customer service chatbots and algorithms that detect customer fraud, there are AI solutions and technologies being incorporated into all sorts of business functions.
The trick is to identify which areas are the priority for your business, and where AI will add the most value. Again, it’s not about bunging in AI technology for the sake of it. Rather, it’s about looking at what your business wants to achieve, and determining how AI can help you get there.
When I work with companies on their AI or digital transformation strategy we make sure we look at all three aspects. Even if you view your business as a traditional product company, don’t overlook the service and business processes. You may ultimately end up discounting AI-enabled services and business processes as not relevant or beyond your current capabilities, but it’s still important to consider all three areas at the outset. That way, you can build an understanding of what’s really possible with AI and identify the top priorities for your business.