Top AI Developments and Priorities in 2018

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2017 is coming to an end. That makes this the perfect time to do two things.

To say a big thank you to you, my readers. I am grateful that you find my articles interesting enough to read them – and to thoughtfully comment on them.

THANK YOU!

The second thing is to have an inquisitive look into what the next years will bring – and what this does mean for (customer and user) experience, vendors, and of course their customers.

So, here we go:

  • AI will more and more be seen as a means, not an end; the focus will shift away from AI as a technology to AI as an enabler and with that to intelligent business applications and AI augmented applications.
  • The coming years will be all about platform and data; as a part of this, AI and IoT will converge, with the latter providing the data and executing ‘decisions’ taken by the former. We already start seeing this. Just look at the big 4, but there are also some smaller players. And of course there are Google, Amazon, Alibaba, etc.
  • Chatbots, or rather conversational platforms, will become mainstream, conversational UIs will more and more get used to expose functionalities of business applications.
  • AR and VR will enable new ways of interacting with data. This then will go hand in hand with AI and conversational platforms to provide a multi sensory experience. Immersive experiences that support analytics and decision making are already a reality; so are face recognition technologies that can detect emotions.
  • The need for data will lead to an intensified gold rush targeting firms that can deliver third party data and intelligence based on it (essentially making the data first party data in the course of it). LinkedIn is off the market, Twitter proved to be too expensive in 2016, SAP grabbed Gigya, but there are still a lot of interesting companies out there. How about InsideSales? And no, I do not want to spread a rumour here.
  • Consolidation will start, though still plenty of niche players/specialists. Anyone recently had a look at the martech landscape? This will go hand in hand with the gold rush that is driven by the need for data.
  • As a part of the continuing platform economics we will see an emergence of AI as a Service AiaaS, not only on the algorithm level but also on business service level, look at IBM Watson, Salesforce Einstein Prediction Builder, or Google’s AlphaGo Zero.
  • Countermanding the rush for the customers’ data there is an increased legislative shift into protecting said data. The best known regulation coming into effect next year being the European GDPR.

What does it mean for Customer (and User) Experience?

All in all experience will become multi-sensory and the limits between the physical and digital worlds will increasingly blur. Regulations will hopefully keep the corporate data hunger in check.

CRM and CEM are already now becoming more and more about the effective and efficient use of data to offer prospects and customers one consistent face, regardless of the communications channel. The technologies themselves will make further steps to becoming channel agnostic on the platform level. These developments bring with them the exciting prospect of offering customers one single conversation that stretches across communication channels, devices, contact points (contact points, because the term touch points seems to have become too attached to marketing) and even senses. This also means that messaging platforms will become significantly more important. Apple and Facebook, for example are already looking at establishing their respective platforms as services that enable exactly this. Google and Microsoft have the corresponding technologies, too; so have Amazon and Alibaba. 

The same holds true for corporate teams. All big vendors have technologies to support this merge in place. Think of SAP Jam, MS Teams, Salesforce Quip, and numerous specialist vendors, with Slack being the most commonly known one.

What does it mean for vendors?

What this means is that hyped technologies like AI, chatbots, machine learning, and others will be commoditised – or democratised, if you prefer this horrible term – at a fast pace. 

In my eyes this is also necessary. Just look at the bloated MarTech landscape that in May 2017 consisted of more than 5000 vendors, and counting. This vendor landscape has become far too complicated for customers. Similar words can be said about the SFA and service segments, or the productivity tool market.

With AI becoming a platform service the current gold rush market will turn into an oligopoly that is dominated by a few big vendors that have the development capacity and skills as well as access to an abundance of first-, second-, and third party data. This naturally benefits bigger vendors; and the big 4 are already working hard to stake out and secure their claims. In the past two years we have already seen acquisitions happen at prices that seemed absurdly high (LinkedIn) or fail because of said high price tag (Twitter).

Having said that, the big 4 will continue to struggle to get traction in the SMB market, especially where companies are more small than medium sized. These vendors have grown out of the SMB shoes and are now clawing their way back because SMB still is an under-served market, at least in the wider CRM space. Consequently it is important for them to get hold in smaller companies with strong growth prospects before a new breed of nimble vendors gets entrenched too deeply. Some examples of these new breed vendors include Zoho or Freshworks. 

And for their customers?

End customers/end users are demanding an increased ease of dealing with companies. Being effective (as per the simplified Maslov Pyramid of expectations that I regularly use) is no more enough. Needs being taken care of efficiently – and joyfully – for the customer will increasingly become important. Customers want to be able to have a conversation that stretches across communication channels and that stays in context. This cannot be achieved by businesses without more automation and smart technology. The combination of technologies that are emerging, enable businesses to deliver this.

The parallel demand for data protection does suggest thinking in platforms instead of simply adding systems.

As a result of this, an improved visibility on the customer is a very likely outcome, which further improves the business’s ability to communicate relevantly and in context.

So, what to do?

For businesses trading in Europe the implementation of GDPR is not an option. The first and most important step to be taken is ensuring that the organization, its systems and processes are compliant. With penalties of 20 million Euros or 4 percent of the annual global revenue, whichever is greater, this step is crucial.

Make no mistake, for many companies this still is a big step!

In order to reap the benefits that the upcoming technologies promise, first a strategy needs to be formulated based on a Think Big – Act Small approach that supports the vision for the next years and bases on balancing short term improvement needs and the longer term priorities.

As a part of this strategy a platform choice needs to be taken. The platform needs to facilitate both, the implementation of a customer centric strategy, as well as adherence to data protection regulations. Take this choice wisely and under consideration of

  • How viable the platform is
  • How far it already now supports the business needs
  • How extensible it is
  • And where you want to be in five years from now.

The decision for a platform is one of the most important, if not the single most important, decisions to take. It will have a considerable impact on future decisions as it provides a guiding ‘sector’ for them.

In parallel to this, data sources need to get consolidated and made accessible to ML solutions. This way, it becomes possible to deploy intelligent conversational solutions, as well as AI based decision support systems that help customers (and employees) doing the right things, and their way. The right thing in particular includes taking chores away from people, and let them focus on what people excel in.

Based on this, fix the most pressing needs. This may be a bot-based solution that helps customers getting and agents providing better customer service, improves sales persons time on the job (sales) or provides better information to customers inquiring about a product or service.

Repeat and rinse – but stay in the (regularly revised) boundaries that your strategy gives you.

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