Artificial intelligence customer experience design: the frictionless theme park?

Many theme parks offer an additional paid service that provides a virtual queuing bot that gives the paying customer immediate access to a ride during an allocated time slot with minimum fuss. This can deliver a smoother customer experience while enabling the park operator further monetisation opportunities through differentiated ticket prices.

But such services are not perfect. For example, like real queues, virtual ones can still get filled up (so reducing availability of time slots), a customer can’t simply change their mind at the last minute and expect an alternative ride to be available at the same time and many of these systems don’t reflect other dynamic factors that could affect ride enjoyment like poor weather.

So how could Artificial Intelligence (AI) potentially address these challenges? Here are some ideas…

One opportunity is to apply retail thinking to personalise the end to end experience – via mobile, an AI could suggest rides to visit throughout the day based on a customer’s social media updates, current and expected volume/demand for an attraction and forecast weather. In “the background” (i.e. the Cloud), the AI is constantly analysing customer behaviour in the park to drive these suggestions to help manage the people flow through different areas and rides to minimise friction for all. This capability could also enable the operator to offer on the spot additional services (like offering the chance to immediately access any roller coaster ride for a small charge) to further delight and surprise a customer during their visit.

Conversely, such an application of AI may be counter to what an operator wants to offer – after all, exciting theme park experiences come from customers being spontaneous when choosing their next desired ride or attraction. Accepting such unlimited freedom is not possible – this still leaves the risk of friction (like boredom) when a customer is waiting for the next experience to become available. An AI could turn this “dead time” into an experience in itself – using it as an opportunity to send personalised media content and offers to a customer’s mobile or tablet to consume while queuing for a ride. Alternatively, the AI could create social events for people in the park to interact with each other like mobile gaming competitions or dating. Such services could also be linked to third party promotions to generate further revenue for the theme park operator.

These illustrative use case ideas are based on one key assumption – most customers visiting a theme park at the same time will follow the guidance or direction given by an AI consistently, even when it results in a lesser personal experience than intended (but results in all participants gaining mutual benefit). This notion that AI can effectively influence human behaviour at scale in one place (like a theme park) is a major challenge for Artificial Intelligence Customer Experience Design.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your business, please leave a reply below or contact me by email.

AI Empowered retail roles: the new competitive advantage?

A Retailer can potentially use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to empower its people to analyse, transact and crucially sell faster and smarter to customers than its competitors. So, what might these jobs look like? Here are some ideas…

“Fixers” – Retailers are always looking to optimise their supply chain costs while improving the customer experience. A key pain point is last mile logistics – the need to offer increasingly timely, flexible delivery of goods to individual customers while maintaining the right economies of scale on distribution to achieve margin. A Fixer – possibly a third-party platform service provider – bids for and delivers instant solutions to solve these daily challenges. Their unique ability to use AI to continually optimise delivery routes and facilitate the sharing of local stock between Retailers (often competitors) to satisfy customer demand 24/7 places them at the heart of the Retail Sector in 2020.

“Instore Experience Trainers” – AI doesn’t innovate by itself; this advantage comes from people teaching or training it to deliver delightful and compelling customer experiences on any channel. An Instore Experience Trainer is someone who spends their working day testing different AI driven experiences from different Sectors and then uses this emotional insight to teach an Artificial Intelligence capability new ways to better engage customers instore – rapid human innovation scaled to differentiate thousands of individual customer interactions with a specific Retailer.

“AI Scanners” – As Artificial Intelligence grows so too does the opportunity for competitors to use it to analyse a Retailer’s offerings for strengths and weaknesses. An AI Scanner is monitoring daily how customers are engaging a Retailer’s Artificial Intelligence to identify such behaviour and its source to enable a proactive response to protect market competitiveness.

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your retail business, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Why did I choose the Apprentice route?

Did you know what you wanted to do when you left school?

When I was coming to the end of my school journey I had a few ideas, but wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life.

I had many options, but it was difficult to know which direction to go in as I didn’t have any experience in the actual jobs themselves. What I found was that my school tended to push us towards the university and college route and didn’t really mention apprenticeships. It’s something I think puts people who learn like me at a disadvantage, as I learn more from first-hand experience than I do from any textbook. This shows in my performance in my exams, being more successful in the practical subjects such as drama and administration than subjects like maths and English.

In the end it felt right to opt for an apprenticeship and I’m very happy to be a project manager in Sopra Steria’s Business Process Services sector.

I first heard about Sopra Steria through my family as my cousin’s fiancé works in the programming side of things. I didn’t know very much about the company when I first started apart from the fact it is a French-owned IT company. I applied to a company called QA who helps those who want to become apprentices to find a placement in larger companies and, after only a few days with QA, I received a call to do an interview here at Sopra Steria. As the interview went on and I learnt more about the company, I became more drawn to the idea of IT and what the company has to offer in terms of growth and development as it enables you to move to various areas.

I must say I didn’t enjoy exams and with an apprenticeship there is still an exam that I need to revise for. However, I’m feeling more confident about this as with my day-to-day job I’m gaining so much experience, I’m using the terminology first-hand which helps me get a better understanding of it and, on top of that, I am able to learn useful and transferable skills that I don’t believe I would learn from sitting in lectures at university or college.

By doing an apprenticeship I am able to gain experience and try out the job while getting the same qualification I’d get if I just went to college. I think experience is key as it’s what employers tend to look for in a candidate so, by doing an apprenticeship I’m putting myself ahead of those who don’t have any experience.

With an apprenticeship I’m happy knowing that I have a job at the end of it with Sopra Steria. Another bonus is that I also don’t have to worry about taking out a student loan and paying it back in years to come as I am getting paid to learn something new.  For me it is a win, win situation!

In 2016, Sopra Steria recruited 13 apprentices, bringing the total to 42 active apprentices in technical and business roles across public and private sector client projects and in our internal corporate functions. If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming an Apprentice, please contact our Early Careers team for information.

Breathing new life into joined up government

In 2008 the political scientist Donald Kettl introduced the idea of a ‘vending machine’ style of government. Operating in vertical silos, hierarchical and providing standalone services, this structure works well for routine services that don’t require collaboration. But it falters when we need joined up government.

For example, support and advice for the elderly is provided by the NHS, the Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities, private sector providers of residential care and the voluntary and communities sector. How well the organisations work together and co-ordinate their activities has a significant impact on the quality of care provided.

And there are clear benefits from kicking the ‘vending machine’ approach into touch and shifting to joint working, such as:

  • Tackling complex social issues such as drug abuse, rough sleeping, juvenile crime by promoting the design of programmes which are better interconnected and mutually supportive
  • Promoting innovation by bringing people together from different backgrounds and experiences
  • Improving cost effectiveness of public services by removing overlaps and realising economies of scale

The citizen view of joined up public services – our digital barometer

Nowhere would the advantages of joined up government be more visible than in the way government interacts with citizens online. Our recent research with Ipsos, and my previous blog shows that online access to public services is the number one priority. But citizens increasingly want government to use the same systems and share data with one another. And this a consistent message across the UK, France, Norway and Germany.

Chart 1 - text translation at bottom of page
Chart 1: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for government? (Top 3 responses)

This means delivering services through ‘one stop shops’, integrated with websites accessible 24 hours a day, and by citizens only having to provide information on a range of issues once, and to one location. However, the dream of never having to retype your address on another sign-up form is a long way off. We asked citizens if they had ever used a government service that extracted information from other relevant public services. Just thirty-nine per cent said they had, while sixty-one per cent said this had never happened.

Chart 2 - text translation at bottom of page
Chart 2: Have you ever used a government digital service that accessed information about you and your family once and included information previously provided to other parts of government?

Joining up through platforms – are they the answer?

The Government’s Transformation Strategy clearly establishes the need for common capabilities to manage publishing, web hosting, identity verification, notifications, payments and other processes. The goal is a seamless or horizontal government offering to improve performance, illuminate problems and lower costs.

A platform model will punch holes through government silos, improving efficiency and reinforcing transparency. But we also know that digital transformation is as much about organisational culture as it is about technology.

What needs to be in place to promote successful joint working across government? My checklist is:

  • Working towards clearly defined, mutually valued, shared goals and evaluating progress towards their achievement
  • Ensuring that sufficient and appropriate resources are available (typical skills for joint working are project management, marketing, consultation, financial planning as well as IT)
  • Leadership, to direct the team and the initiative towards the goal, with the ability to convince stakeholders of the purpose of the initiative and secure the involvement of a wide range of organisations

Successful parts of government are constantly rethinking how to bring together the right combination of skills to build products and serve customers. That often means creating more fluid and agile structures in which day-to-day work is organised into smaller teams that cut across business lines.

The key digital tool at their disposal is data sharing. Data is your biggest ally when making big changes or attempting to solve complex problems. Numbers provide information and analytics can be used to focus resources. In my mind the objective should be to:

  • Pilot approaches within a specific line of business and at a departmental level and scale up – it’s usually less complex than a government wide effort – as we learnt in our Court Store project
  • Adopt a ‘system of systems’, built around data exchanges, and building a common understanding of how the shared data is defined
  • Ultimately burning down data silos, as the impact is multiplied when data sets across departments are integrated, remixed and processes with analytics
  • And phasing out legacy systems gradually, moving to new systems in phases, and always asking “will this system be useful to other parts of government?” (often through open source platforms and technologies)

Sopra Steria is working with public servants across governments to develop new platforms and processes. If you would like more information, or would just like to raise a question or add information, please feel free to add a comment below or contact me by email.

Text translation of Chart 1

Question: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for government? (Top 3 responses)

  • Online access to public services: UK 83% / France 84% / Norway 91% / Germany 81%
  • The single transmission of data to government: UK 77% / France 85% / Norway 87% / Germany 77%
  • The creation of a portal giving access to multiple services: UK 76% / France 86% / Norway 88% / Germany 75%

Text translation of Chart 2

Question: Have you ever used a government digital service that accessed information about you and your family once and included information previously provided to other parts of government?

  • Yes, once: UK 18% / France 21% / Norway 14% / Germany 19%
  • Yes, several times: UK 21% / France 22% / Norway 32% / Germany 11%
  • No, never: UK 61% / France 57% / Norway 54% / Germany 70%

Artificial Intelligence: The new entertainment experience?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can radically transform how we interact with a range of services, with Amazon’s Alexa being a notable example growing rapidly in popularity. But in what ways could AI disrupt how we use and consume entertainment? Here are some ideas…

Dynamic film narrative

An AI can use Machine Learning to find hidden insights in a data set to identify remedial action. This capability could be used to enable a film viewer to directly interact with a film’s narrative – pausing the action any time to tell the AI (or even the film’s characters themselves?) how they think and feel about the story. Sentiment that an AI can then analyse in the cloud to learn what an audience wants next that’s fed back to the content producer – greater plot exposition, more of their favourite characters or action. AI-driven blockbuster entertainment that never flops!

Game voice user interface

Natural Language Processing (NLP) enables an AI to understand and respond to spoken and written commands. In terms of a console gaming experience, NLP could transform such experiences. Rather than using a controller to direct and interact with non-player characters within a game, the player could talk to them directly, naturally – a new level of gameplay design that creates truly immersive experiences.

Personalised content maker

AI’s ability to analyse massive amounts of data from potentially any source is enabling deeper, richer forms of Personalisation. Could an AI use this capability to create brand new content (stories, images, even films or music) to an individual’s specific tastes and mood? On demand entertainment that always delights, never gets boring or ends – the perfect TV channel you won’t want to switch off!

If you would like more information about how artificial intelligence can benefit your retail business, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Our European digital barometer survey: some key findings

Sopra Steria recently asked the researchers at Ipsos to conduct a survey of 1000 people, from a broad range of social groups and across the United Kingdom, to understand their experience of and expectations for digital government. We wanted a better understanding of the complex and diverse reasons behind adoption of digital government services, where there is an appetite for more or different services and the obstacles that block greater adoption.

The same survey took place in France, Germany and Norway. As a result we have an opportunity to compare how citizens in the UK experience digital with others across Europe and consider alternative approaches.

Governments across Europe are at different stages on the digital journey

Governments across Europe have been looking for decades at how best to use technology to improve public services. Over the last five years, rather than just putting paper forms online, government has put more high volume transactional services online. Citizens seem to appreciate the simpler, well designed digital services – three quarters of citizens described services as advanced in Norway through to just over half in Germany.

To see a text version of this chart, go to the end of this blog
Question: How would you describe the current degree of digital development – i.e. use of the Internet and technology – in the Government (national, local or devolved administrations) and its services?

Citizens in all four countries told us that taxation was the most advanced digital service. 89% of Norwegian citizens told us that digital tax services were advanced and 86% in France. By way of comparison, just 59% of UK citizens said the services of HM Revenue and Customs were advanced. It will be interesting to track how the significant investment made in Personal Tax Accounts might increase citizen perceptions of digital in future surveys.

We also asked citizens to compare government and private sector digital services. It is clear that citizen expectations are increasing – they understand the ‘art of the possible’ from their experience of dealing with the best private sector organisations.

Question: In your opinion, compared to the digital services in the following sectors, are the digital services of Government?

At the same time citizens across Europe told us that health and civil status services – that’s birth, death and marriage records – are priorities for investment. I think we can all sympathize with this. Too often people have to re-tell their story every time they encounter a new service and do not get the support they need because different parts of government do not talk to each other or share information.

What do citizens want? A single citizen portal

As illustrated below, there remains a strong appetite from citizens across Europe for the convenience associated with online access to public services.

To see a text version of this chart, go to the end of this blog
Question: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for the government?

Citizens also told us that they want joined up government – with one portal allowing 24/7 access to multiple public services, across national and local administrations, including the single transmission and sharing of data and information.

In the UK, Tell Us Once was launched in 2012 and has helped nearly two million families through a system that shares data on changes of circumstance with the DWP and other public services including local government and other government departments such as HMRC, DVLA, the Passport Service and pension providers. However the service is still not available in some local authorities or Northern Ireland and the range of services available varies between areas. There is more work to be done.

We have already seen how positive citizens in Norway are about digital government – this might be because they were one of the first countries in Europe to have a single sign-on for government and an ability to notify different parts of government of a change of address in just one transaction. As early as 2000 (a decade before the UK) the Norwegian public sector information portal (Norge.no) was launched to provide a portal which provides a single ‘electronic’ front door to the public sector.

Next steps for digital government

A shift towards citizen centricity has helped to focus governments’ attention on why user take-up of digital services was, at least initially, lagging. But the next phase of digital, clearly articulated in the UK Government’s Transformation Strategy, is to enhance the degree of integration and personalisation of services, collaboration and co-operation between public authorities, through standardisation and interoperability. This means making services easy to use by organising them in a simple and fully integrated way to increase the likelihood of users using them to solve their problems.

We have prepared a summary of the other findings and conclusions of the survey. This is available on the Sopra Steria website. And we will be blogging about some of the key themes, including data security and privacy and the potential benefits of automation for citizens.

In the meantime, please leave your comments and questions below, or contact me by email.

Text version of charts:

Chart 1: How would you describe the current degree of digital development – i.e. use of the Internet and technology – in the Government (national, local or devolved administrations) and its services? (all approx)

  • Norway 70%; France 75%; UK 63%; Germany 62%

Chart 2: In your opinion, compared to the digital services in the following sectors, are the digital services of Government?
% based on ‘Govt more advanced’, ‘The same’, ‘Private sector more advanced’

  • Banks / Insurance 23%, 38%, 39%
  • Telecoms 20%, 40%, 40%
  • Energy 17%, 47%, 36%
  • Sales 16%, 42%, 42%
  • Leisure / Culture 16%, 37%, 47%
  • Transport 15%, 47%, 38%

Chart 3: To what extent should the following actions become priorities for the government?

  • Contacting government offices online: 85%  }
  • Internet access to public services: 84%           } ’24/7 Online Government’
  • Single transmission of data to Government: 82%    }
  • Single portal to access Government services: 81%  } ‘Joined up Government’
  • Transparency of public data: 70% – ‘Open Government’

Doing more with less: digital transformation and social care

In a recent blog, I highlighted the need to shift thinking in government from efficiency to productivity. I used the example of education and highlighted innovations that might increase productivity through digitisation of teaching services and communication. I now want to extend the debate by looking at social care.

Social care services cover a range of home support services provided for the young and the elderly and people with disabilities, to assist people to remain in their own homes and communities. In England, social care is predominantly the responsibility of local authorities. They are facing unprecedented pressure due to rising demand and an increase in customer expectations. Growing numbers of older people often have increasingly complex needs.

At the same time future spending on social care is very uncertain. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, demographic pressures will cause per-capita spending to fall in the absence of additional funding. And local authority revenues are expected to fall by 7.4% between 2015 and 2020.

Social care providers are adopting new models for delivering care

Where is this happening? Connecting Care is a partnership across the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire area. The partnership comprises 17 different organisations (including the three councils, hospital trusts, ambulance trusts, GPs and community health providers) with 14 individual client record systems interacting between them. Client data is gathered from each participating organisation and carefully matched to display an integrated data set for each person.

This is one example of service integration through voluntary cooperation between the public, private and community sectors. Where there is a cultural shift, with services integrated through digitisation, there are substantial benefits for:

  • Administration: Supporting integrated case management systems, with a broader overview of needs and options to inform individualised planning and cross-sector coordination, using tablets for care plans, risk assessments, health assessments, safeguarding and medication (documented on the system in real time).
  • In home care and support: A combination of digital records and web-based access to information for staff and enhanced communication tools for service users and their family and friends, ultimately allowing service users to organise leisure activities and plan their own care and support.
  • Financial support: Increasing digitisation of the payment of financial support, including determining and verifying eligibility, and calculating and making benefits payments, ultimately leading to greater choice between different care options.

The major limitations of the digital social care market are not the shortage of technology

Innovation uptake is slow compared to other parts of the public sector. It is important to recognise that there are a number of complex challenges to successful digital transformation . Most of these challenges relate to the human dimension – the readiness for change amongst citizen’s and service users to an increasingly digital environment, and concerns about the privacy and security of personal data.

The practical reality is that the speed of advancement in technologies undoubtedly exceeds the speed with which the potential benefits can be realised in the delivery of social care. So, what are the practical steps that the public sector can take to speed up the deployment of innovations in social care and protection?

  • Step 1 – Greater transparency of processes and operations and encouraging participation of public, private and community stakeholders in policy making and service design.
  • Step 2 – Promote engagement and co-operation across different levels of government through adequate incentives, quickly moving to the pooling of resources and shared agreements and targets.
  • Step 3 – Develop clear business cases to sustain the funding and focused implementation of digital technologies projects.
  • Step 4 – Build institutional capacities to manage and monitor project implementation, with a significant emphasis on procurement and contracting practices.
  • Step 5 – Integrated data and better usage to measure productivity and efficiency in all parts of the value chain of public service delivery.

These practical steps do not just apply to social protection – they are equally relevant to other public services, including, health, education and other welfare services.

I’ve been really enthused by the examples of productivity enhancing innovations provided by public servants since my last blog. I would like to hear from more public servants about how they are using technology to enhance how they work and deliver services to the public – please get in touch by leaving a message or sending an email.