Simon Sear

Chief Innovation Officer  – BJSS Innovation Labs 

You can’t escape the Artificial Intelligence (AI) hype. It’s everywhere and everyone is talking about it, even President Putin recently stated that ‘the country that leads in AI will be the ruler of the World’. McKinsey predicts that AI will create more than $5 trillion of value, annually, what they don’t tell you is where to find it!

That is one of the most frequent questions we get asked by our clients, “Where’s the value in AI?” along with “What is AI?” and “How do I get started?” I’ll try to answer those questions in this blog.

Let’s start with the first, ‘what is AI?’ It was first coined by John McCarthy, an early computer scientist, in 1955. Originally, he termed it to mean computers that did things that simulated what humans typically did. Over the last six decades that definition has been pushed and pulled around, but fundamentally remains intact: A computer doing things that we typically think of as human activities, for example, recognising objects, answering questions, driving cars and playing (and winning!) chess.

The reason that it has come to the fore now is that a number of technologies (e.g. cloud compute power, visual recognition, the Internet of Things (IoT) and neural networks), have advanced to such an extent, and become cheap enough, that new AI solutions, that truly represent human behaviour, are possible.

The value of AI comes in two old fashioned business basics; it enables growth through the innovation of new products, services and business models or it leads to operational efficiencies through automation.

The latter involves automating back office functions such as call centres, invoice processing, case management, credit checking and accounting. Companies like Lemonade, have disrupted the Insurance market, providing low cost insurance by having virtually no back office staff, whilst processing claims in seconds and reducing fraud, using visual recognition and a bank of algorithms. Traditional insurance companies such as Fukomu in Japan have also started to replace their back office staff with robots. Even lawyers are at risk, check out the ‘World First Robot Lawyer’ DoNotPay that is an automated legal service saving millions of people money in fines and legal fees.

On the growth front, there are the obvious AI innovators, like Uber and Amazon, but there are other organisations, like Zest Finance, that are using AI to disrupt. Zest are a consumer lending company that use Machine Learning techniques to enable retailers to offer credit to non-traditional customers. Opening up new markets, such as US millennials with no credit history and millions of low income people in China.

So, the value of deploying AI, like most technologies, is growth or efficiency, but how do you get started? We use a Design Thinking approach to rapidly create ideas and test them with customers or employees. Design Thinking means putting the user at the centre of the problem and working at speed to test out solutions to problems or opportunities. It’s a great approach for building and testing prototypes using AI technologies. We kick off with a 2 week Innovation Sprint. Week 1 starts with a session to clarify for everyone involved what we’re aiming to do. We try to define it in terms of an objective: reduce the back office costs; Improve the customer experience using a virtual assistant; Increase the value of an average customer basket; etc.

We then carry out some high-speed research into the pain points and needs of customers or employees, market research on similar trends and investigate any data a client has supporting the objective. You don’t need weeks and weeks of research, just enough to see the opportunities for value creation. We end week 1 with an all hands review of what we’ve found out.

On Monday of week 2 we start ideating. You need a diverse set of people to make this work effectively, we typically bring subject matter experts, technologists, designers and data scientists to supplement client teams. Ideas should aim to solve the problems identified on week 1 and create new value. They need to be refined, validated, estimated and prioritised during the rest of week 2.

From there, we work with our clients to build working prototypes that can be tested with users. With a relatively small financial investment, within a few weeks, a working prototype can confirm the value of an idea and clarify what it will take to deliver. What are waiting for? Start innovating now and get yourself some of that $5 trillion! #dontletputinwin

Article written by:

Simon Sear

Chief Innovation Officer – BJSS INNOVATION LABS

Simon has been working in technology for over 20 years. He has held senior leadership positions at some of the World’s largest companies, running teams of hundreds of people. More recently, he has been leading the strategic design teams at BJSS, the UK’s largest independently owned technology consultancy, with US offices in New York City and Houston, Texas. He now works with senior leaders at client companies to identify and deliver value by combining emerging technologies, improved customer experiences and data.

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