“AI Neutrality”: A proposed manifesto for artificial intelligence user experience design

What makes a great artificial intelligence (AI) driven user experience? Here are my thoughts…

1. Design AI services end to end – the disruptors that have transformed the travel, holiday and retail sectors over the last twenty years succeeded by focusing aggressively on improving their own single channel online experience. AI user experience design must also adopt this strict one channel approach to service delivery – every user journey should be simple, relevant, no fuss and always getting better because it’s being delivered by an artificial intelligence end to end.

2. Go beyond mobile  The interconnectivity of AI enables any environment or physical object to positively affect all of our five senses (such as connected home technology like heating and lighting devices that responds to a user’s mood). AI design should always be pushing to transcend the user interface constraints of existing service platforms (particularly the visual and audio experience of mobile) to truly reflect and improve how we use our senses to interact with the world around us.

3. Addressable media is a key user journey –  AI has the potential to utilise a complex range of historic and contextual customer data to deliver targeted, personalised advertising – for example, UK broadcasters are adopting programmatic technology to deliver specific adverts at individual households in real time. Yet if designed poorly such disruptive engagement risks coming across like hard selling that overwhelms or irritates a customer (consider the negative reaction of customers to pop up web ads that apply a similar approach). Consequently, it’s vital that AI driven addressable media is treated as a form of user experience that requires research, design and testing to ensure customers are empowered to consume it on their own terms.

4. Hardwire ethics and sustainability –  the positive disruption to our lives from social media has enabled these services to grow rapidly and organically by billions of users worldwide. Yet this has also led to these platforms becoming so big it’s challenging for their service providers to effectively manage and safeguard the user content they share. Drawing from this experience, and combined with public calls for the proactive regulation of AI, it’s essential artificial intelligence products and services have the right ethics and sustainability values in their core design as they are likely to grow even faster and bigger than social media.

5. Champion “AI Neutrality” – artificial intelligence has the power to transform all our lives like the internet before it. A fundamental principle driving the success of the web has been “net neutrality” – that internet data services should be supplied as a form of utility (like electricity, gas, water) in a non-discriminatory way to all customers. Access to simple AI services should be similarly “neutral” – a basic human right that is complemented by differentiated, chargeable products and services from over-the-top producers.

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

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.

Personalisation of the retail returns experience: a new form of competitive advantage?

UK retailers are losing billions of pounds a year from managing reverse logistics costs for returned items across their physical and digital channels. Because of the multiple touch points involved margin can often deteriorate to a point where writing off the item as a loss is a better outcome than resell.

A key area of risk is online women’s fashion retail where customers may order multiple sizes or variations of the same item and then return those that don’t meet requirements. It’s estimated on average a returned clothing item costs a retailer an additional £15 to process back through its supply chain regardless of channel – extra cost that significantly reduces margin at full price (and much worse when further price discounting is applied).

But could personalisation (the application of big data analytics to pro-actively meet an individual customer’s changing needs) deliver a better outcome for both customer and retailer? Could such an approach incentivise a customer to self-manage the reverse logistics process or even be persuaded to keep the unwanted item (so reducing, or even eliminating, the additional £15 cost)?

For example, rather than a customer filling out a paper form using a nondescript reason code for a return, he or she could use a loyalty card smartphone app that captures their reasons as spoken voice text. Not only would this be more convenient (and user friendly) than form filling, it also provides the retailer with richer data about a customer’s preferences to enable better targeted personalised offerings in the future.

Secondly, the app could lever cloud big data analytics to make an on the spot personalised counter offer to the customer alongside the standard return. This could draw from the customer’s buying history and social media behaviour. The counter offer could ask the customer to give the item to charity in exchange for a future discount (so eliminating the return cost and refund while driving future sales and positive brand reputation). Alternatively it may make a third party offer for a ‘no return’ outcome (so driving cross- or up-sell opportunities with little cost impact).

Fundamentally, the counter offer approach is primarily driven by the need to preserve and, ideally, grow a retailer’s margin – the economic case. In addition, by gathering better data about an individual enables greater personalisation to build and retain their loyalty and reduce the volume of unwanted items (for example, future purchasing of clothing items online may include specific recommendations for an individual customer about size and colour based on this gathered insight). The app could also utilise a retailer’s existing core systems (e.g. databases) and new digital technology (such as cloud analytics or machine learning) together successfully – the opportunity to use the best of both worlds to create disruptive competitive advantage.

If you would like more information about how Sopra Steria can help your organisation benefit from cloud analytics please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Supporting transformation: my thoughts from Scrum Day London 2016

As an advocate for the use of Scrum and in need of some Scrum Juice, I went with Sopra Steria colleagues Steve Forbes and John McNeill to the Scrum Day London 2016 – an event held by Scrum.Org where Ken Schwaber, co-creator of Scrum, was giving the keynote speech, and the day’s theme was “Business Agility through Professional Scrum.”

The story of the day for me was that while Scrum is popular, seen as necessary and is adopted by many, Scrum success as represented by teams delivering working software into Production every Sprint or Iteration (i.e. every one to four weeks) continues to be a challenge. Very few teams are able to report success against this measure – in fact, I was the only person in the room with a raised hand when Ken asked the question “How many of you release software every Sprint?”

The fact is, technology exists for teams to be able to release into Live every 5 minutes (or even less).

The issue appears to be that Scrum and Agile require a change in organisational thinking and support that is hard for many to implement, and in a way that allows the innovations a Scrum Team offers to be realised.

We heard first from Gunther Verheyen, co-developer of the Scaled Professional Scrum Framework, who laid out the map of the journey from a ‘waterfall’ type structure (and mind set) to one that supports Scrum. Gunther has a vision:

‘Management’ is not a collection of people exerting hierarchical powers. It is an emergent, networked structure of co-managers. Removing Impediments. Optimising a product’s value. Updating the organisation’s OS.

… and you can  view his presentation online.

Karen Bowes, Head of HR & Sustainability at Capital One gave an impressive and honest insight into how Capital One was adopting Scrum not just in software delivery, but throughout its management structure. We were reminded by Ken Schwaber that Scrum requires courage, and courage was used by Capital One to great effect: they realised that there is always ‘noise’ and conflict when new practices and change are introduced and accepted this as a fundamental part of deep transformation. The focus of their management and strategising was consciously shifted from detailed micro-planning and control to providing support for Scrum teams and the removal of impediments to Scrum team success. Not an easy journey, but one that has already reaped rich rewards for Capital One.

Ken Schwaber’s new initiative is to propose a ‘Scrum Studio’ approach, which effectively places a Scrum team (or group of teams) in a special location within an organisation, with all the support structures it needs, and allow it to get on with its job. In this way, the hope is that the impediments to successful Scrum uptake are removed and organisations can then further adopt Scrum practice at a pace they can manage if and when they see a benefit in doing so.

Whatever the future for Scrum and Agile, it is going to take motivated, influential and courageous individuals to lead and support the kind of transformations that business is being challenged to undergo.

It was a privilege to meet some of them at Scrum Day London. Do let me know your thoughts – leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

Power your competitive advantage using digital thinking

Digital Thinking – the ability to disrupt markets using cloud-enabled big data and analytics capabilities – can positively transform how an organisation differentiates itself from competitors and optimise costs.

So how can an organisation maximise the benefits of Digital Thinking? Here are some ideas…

The Mirror Technique

A digital disruptor turns a sector on its head by making it a lot harder for incumbent players to strategically identify, assess and respond to the threats they pose. For example, Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit don’t buy or supply the services in the sectors they compete in – they are not direct competitors in a traditional sense. Rather they are convenient intermediaries that offer both customers and suppliers faster, smarter ways to transact with each other using their own monetised cloud services.

Arguably for many organisations (large and small) Digital Thinking like these outlier disruptors can be challenging, particularly where barriers of entry to their sector are considered to be high. To help validate any threats or opportunities from such market innovation, an organisation can apply “The Mirror Technique” – no matter how impossible or unfeasible it looks, what would be the exact reverse of its current approach to market or operating model? What would be the impact on the organisation and its customers if a direct competitor or new entrant implemented this approach first? And critically, how fast could available cloud capabilities realise these potential disruptive forms of competitive advantage?

This application of scenario analysis can help an organisation identify and assess the risks and opportunities it faces from previously unforeseen cloud-powered Digital Thinking – could it be standing on a burning platform or an untapped goldmine?

Big Data Learning

Gathering large volumes of unique data about customers and operating model performance is emerging as a key source of competitive advantage for many organisations. For example, UK high street retailers are capturing data about customer buying behaviours across their physical/in-store and online channels to better personalise their offerings against the experience delivered by Digital Disruptors like Amazon.

A key challenge is learning how to yield these disjointed, complex data sets into something coherent that delivers effective moments of delight for an individual customer using an efficient value chain. Furthermore, by an organisation treating its big data capability as a barrier of entry for competitors, there is a risk of delaying the time to market of any resulting initiatives because it’s having to learn by itself, in isolation, how best to use this form of Digital Thinking.

One way to potentially accelerate and de-risk this learning process is to for an organisation to collaborate with its partners or suppliers in the gathering and application of big data using a cloud platform. In addition, it may even want to consider coopetition with its competitors where participants share their experiences and capabilities together for mutual benefit – “Big Data Learning” enables greater competitive advantage for all the more its shared.

The face to face test

Digital disruptors exploit analytics to inform the design of new forms of personalised engagement including customer centricity, social media and media content. Combined with their ability to offer competing services with lower (or even zero) switching costs for customers; such Digital Thinking risks rendering an organisation’s established market offerings obsolete.

Another outlier disruptor vividly illustrates the competitive advantage of such a move – FaceBook’s $16 billion acquisition of cross-platform mobile messaging service WhatsApp. Not only has WhatsApp decimated Telcos’ revenues from text messaging services, these incumbent players will have no direct access to this huge Social Media channel (estimated 900 million global user base) and the customer insights it generates – Facebook is using Digital Thinking to create an unbeatable barrier of entry as well using this unique analytical capability as a platform for future growth.

However, unlike many traditional organisations, disruptors arguably have no experience of physically serving customers directly to inform these capabilities. This weakness can be exploited by using “The Face To Face Test”, where an organisation applies its own tacit, historic experience of customer engagement to develop a new disruptive market approach using analytics. This test asks questions about how one of their own real life customers would react if a digital service was delivered to them physically by an employee. Example questions include: what information should your employee intuitively, instinctively know about this individual customer before they start serving them? What things shouldn’t they know or ask about? How can your employee genuinely surprise and delight this long standing customer every time?

By applying analytics as a representation of a physical employee drawing from real world experience, an organisation can arguably personalise their customer engagement approach in ways beyond the reach of digital disruptors.

If you would like more information about how cloud-enabled big data and analytics can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Liquid Big Data: the next digital disruption?

Liquid Big Data is when competitors use Cloud technology and ways of working to openly share and analyse large volumes of data together for their mutual benefit. Yet an organisation engaging in this form of co-opetition risks losing competitive advantage over its peers and increases the threat of new entrants stealing market share. But could the strategic value of such a move outweigh these risks? Here are some ideas…

The customer comes first

Using Liquid Big Data to join up the customer experience across not just an individual organisation’s sales channels but complementary and even competitor offerings would demonstrate its commitment to personalisation. Customers themselves are already using digital services (such as price comparison websites) to disrupt the silo experience of individual brands to personalise their customer experience – how can organisations gain shared competitive advantage by working together to supercharge this form of empowerment? This approach could help address falling demand in physical stores being experienced by the UK Retail sector for example.

Agile supply chain performance management

Liquid Big Data can drive greater collaboration between organisations and their large (and small) suppliers to help reduce the risk of producing unwanted stock or inventory and deliver better resolutions to other supply chain issues. For example, by sharing real-time sales and operating performance data enables them potentially to work closer together to deliver more accurate, timely forecasting of demand that improves their management of Lean or Agile-like approaches such as just-in-time manufacturing. In addition, it creates opportunities for both partners to adopt new ways of working to further strengthen the agility of their own supply chains.

Data as currency

Given the rise of digital currencies for business to customer transactions using the Cryptocurrency approach, could there be an opportunity to extend this model to enable the trading of Liquid Big Data between organisations instead of cash payments? These business to business transactions could be occurring at different speeds – for example, the instantaneous sharing of insights between organisations wanting to sell tailored complementary services to the same customer or one-off trading of large volume, complex service performance data between suppliers to help them build collaborative services for the same client.

Increased resilience against cybercrime

Every day, many organisations face the risk of hackers trying to disrupt their digital services or steal their large volumes of customer personal data. To mitigate such risks, organisations could collaborate to build and jointly manage secure Cloud services to protect these critical Big Data assets together. Although this approach does not mean these competitors are sharing data with each other, potentially it could enable the creation of a secure Liquid Big Data platform that could be sold as a service to other organisations for their mutual benefit.

Component full life view

Some organisations are trialling the use of IoT sensors in their goods or products to track their performance through the supply chain and customer experience. This approach could also be used to gather data on “long life components” used in consumer electronics, cars or aircraft. Such Liquid Big Data could then be shared with competitors to help validate sector-wide benchmarks for component longevity or be combined with other information (such as environmental factors) to identify other issues that affect their performance.

If you would like more information about how Digital Transformation can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

SMEs are the engine room of the UK economy but they need large firms to succeed

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are a crucial engine of economic growth. There are 1.2 million SME employers in the UK who are responsible for fourteen million jobs. And, over the past twelve months, half of these SMEs have launched a new or innovative product or service. The UK compares particularly well internationally in its percentage of small high-growth technology firms.

But too many viable businesses fail or do not reach their full potential

Typical obstacles include inadequate finance and managerial shortcomings. The Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, recently called for ideas on how Government can support entrepreneurial activity and promote digital innovation. In our response we highlighted the Government’s role in creating an open and supportive framework for SMEs to grow and providing specific support to those with the most growth potential.

This framework includes recognising that SMEs do not grow in isolation but in partnership with larger companies. For example, SMEs rely on larger firms at the top of supply chains for new opportunities and for the commercialisation of their ideas. In return larger firms benefit from new types of breakthrough innovation developed by SMEs that can deliver superior outcomes for customers, and even shift a market.

How can SMEs and large firms work together?

Like other large firms, Sopra Steria maintains a diverse supplier base including SMEs. During the first half of 2015 we spent over £18 million with over 500 SME suppliers across the UK. We work hard to foster long-term relationships with smaller businesses that bring creativity and add value to our own skills and capability.

But large firms also need to understand that late payment is a frequent bugbear of SMEs. We are proud of our reputation as a responsible business partner and our responsible business practices. That is why we signed, and comply with, the strict standards of the Prompt Payment Code. This means that we give clear guidance to suppliers and pay suppliers on time.

Large firms are already working with Local Enterprise Partnerships, universities and other partners to put in place local solutions to help SMEs to grow. This includes business support through Growth Hubs, loan schemes to finance expansion activities and advice on export markets through UKTI. Devolution through City Deals and Growth Deals will encourage more growth and innovation.

Large firms can support this growth through events that highlight opportunities to work with them and their partners. In Cleveland (where we have a strategic partnership with the police) we run supplier open days, including bidding advice surgeries, and we attend meet-the-buyer events. This can make a tangible difference to an SME; a good example is a local firm that received coaching and went on to win a contract with the police to provide specialist uniforms.

Please get in touch by email to share your thoughts on SMEs and large firms working together, particularly if you have ideas or experience of the obstacles or enablers of partnership working. Or visit the Sopra Steria website for further details about how we conduct business with SMEs and other suppliers .