An increasing number of companies are exploring the realms of artificial intelligence and a wide array of innovative use cases are coming to light. Enterprises of all sizes are considering how and when to incorporate AI into their products and services, which is not at all surprising when you consider the vast opportunities for personalized customer engagement. In fact, AI can be used to tailor every moment and conversation with a customer by learning and applying their preferences, behaviors and emotions to shape human-like interactions.
Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s HomeKit have all piqued consumer interest in new AI-based “smart” technology. Many industry leaders are successfully using AI in their back-end systems. For example, Netflix has just 90 seconds to grab a subscriber’s attention; if they don’t find engaging content in that minute and a half, subscribers lose interest. But with AI technology, the content giant can improve the odds of serving up the most relevant recommendations for each subscriber.
And because nothing breeds competition like success, the AI market is starting to really heat up. Of course, almost every company wants to be first to market with a new product or service — but speed without direction will not get you far. And, if you make a mistake right out of the gate you may never recover. So, let’s get started.
Watch your step
Speed can be a double-edged sword. Too slow and you forfeit competitive advantage. But if you’re not thoughtful, moving too fast can result in missteps and failure to meet customer expectations. If you want to compete on speed and leapfrog the competition, it’s important to take some time to plan your approach instead of just jumping around blindly. Here are some valuable steps to consider before implementing AI-based systems.
- Get your core competencies in order: Core products are responsible for generating the lion’s share of revenue and profit, so be sure to keep them relevant and refreshed. First and foremost, this requires reinvigorating the product’s relevance to a new generation of customers expecting more immersive engagements. Digital transformation of legacy enterprise and consumer products means a new lease on life, such as delivering proactive assistance, real-time feedback or even augmented reality (AR).
For example, IBM revitalized a successful suite of secure, business-to-business networking products by modernizing the user experience. Not only did this enhance the customer experience for millennials, it also made the products relevant to new industry segments.
At the same time, companies need to invest R&D into future products and services that will eventually replace the core. In large part, the success of a company over time will depend on the ability to balance stability of legacy products and by keeping them refreshed and relevant with dynamism generated by smart and aggressive R&D investments in new use cases and services.
- Empower your developers: Every company is anxiously searching for innovative ways to hitch their future to data, which has become the medium for revolutionary product designs and digital services. The new imperative is to purposely organize in a way that empowers a new wave of “digital developers,” keeping pace with platforms that are permanently on the move.
Today’s digital developers are climbing a steep competency curve. They must not only develop products, but also understand user needs and human-centered design. Developers also need to be fluent in data and machine learning, most particularly those implementing AI technologies. The challenge is to find, hire and nurture digital developers who possess the new skills and ability to adapt to rapid technology transitions.
Moreover, developers need to be empowered with key technologies and platforms that unleash their creativity. For example, Android Things and Android Auto let developers work on trusted platforms, without requiring previous knowledge of embedded systems. Likewise, AR software development kits are enabling companies to differentiate immersive experiences, and machine learning support is available as APIs for developers to help recognize text, speech, images and faces.
- Integrate effective AI and frictionless design: Products can function optimally, but only if AI is applied thoughtfully. The number one question business and technology leaders must ask is: What business problems are we trying to solve with AI? The answer to this question needs to be approached with effective, frictionless design for a seamless customer experience, because friction is one of the foremost reasons why customers change brands.
As AI redefines the relationship between humans and machines, companies need to consider the best way to design a generation of products and services where form follows both function and emotion. Emotion requires working with all the senses, allowing highly immersive experiences. Imagine an AI-based device where a consumer could make a shopping inquiry — first by asking and then by visualizing the options using AR and then engaging through gestures to select and pay for the product.
An array of innovative capabilities is being developed today that will enable such an immersive customer interaction. For example, Affectiva, an MIT Media Labs startup, is developing technology to gauge a user’s responses by analyzing facial expressions to understand motivation and intention. This is very cool, but the key is to not lose sight of the end goal — a seamless, valuable, frictionless out-of-the-box customer experience. Eliminating friction is all about going above and beyond what the customer expects.
- Secure your product: Finally, security plays a critical role in the customer experience by creating trust and instilling confidence that goes beyond expectations. When we think of security, we often envision combatting an adversarial threat, such as physical tampering or malicious cyberattacks. However, proper security design and implementation also contributes to value creation and adoption; paving the way for new revenue-generating digital services. In this way, security can strengthen trust and build loyalty over time.
Security innovations also can be used to simplify the many hoops that customers jump through, such as simplification for entering or enabling credentials, passwords, firewalls and policies, making them both transparent and less burdensome — frictionless!
Speeding to the finish line
The greenfield opportunities created by AI are leading to a modern-day gold rush, as enterprises far and wide seek to cash in and reap the benefits of new revenue growth, operational efficiency and market differentiation. Speed to market is definitely an important aspect of building competitive advantage. Yet to avoid stumbling off the starting line, or even rushing off in the wrong direction, it’s important to take time to assess the situation and formulate a plan. Have a solid answer to the question: What is the business problem you are trying to solve and how can AI play a role? You answer could help avoid a false start.
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