So here comes the fun part… for some. How do you take your business to the next level with Artificial Intelligence ?—? how do you build the next multi-billion business? While all this sounds exciting, not all enjoy this part, especially the successful multinationals that have evolved over time. They have developed mechanisms to optimize and keep the status-quo. In our work with these enterprises, we have found that there is an initial interest in Artificial Intelligence, but then there is a tendency to push it out into the future, or to find ways in arguing that this will never be really relevant, or will not work with their customers. This happens once the initial interest wears out. To overcome this natural defense of change, we have developed a simple method to help overcome the fears, doubts, and uncertainties.
We have found that in order to play to the full potential of artificial intelligence it is important to go beyond the limitations that artificial intelligence has today. It is those limitations where most people’s doubts fester and the uncertainty of costs and quality limit the execution power. In addition, it is the fear of jobs, the power of robots, the social impact that limits the drive towards leveraging AI. Our method for overcoming this is to envision ourselves ten years into the future. Let’s try this exercise now. Imagine yourself ten years in the future. What do you picture? AI will have obviously improved significantly and its combination with advancements in other areas such as robotics and taken alone will give you capabilities unthinkable of today. We chose ten years because it is just far enough to be tangible without some apocalyptic scenarios. In doing this, it offers significant chance and takes you of your current limitations. Take yourself out of your current position and time and look at the big picture. It took just ten years for the iPhone to radically change the way people interact with digital services.
We call this moment, the time of “perfect AI”. This is because regardless of how far AI will be in ten years and what other factors or technologies will play a role, it is far out enough of people’s mindset to dive head first into a space that is so fundamentally different that it forces new thinking to open up. Experts accept that perfect AI could be a reality. It is important not to be bogged down by today’s limitations and lack of imagination.
So we pose the following question:
“If there is perfect AI in ten years, what is the role of your company and what will your business model look like?”
We intentionally pose the question in two parts. We start with an opening scene. There is likely to be powerful and intelligent software and totally new interactions. Data and processing power will be ubiquitous, machines will have found a perfect way to interact with humans. Humans will have started to trust machines for some critical things in their lives. Now we will describe one of our experiences exploring this question with a firm via a workshop on the “picture of the future”. The picture of the future can contain several likely scenes that are scribbled by the team. Obviously, the quality of the scribbles does not matter. Then we enhance the picture with Post-It notes in several colors representing where AI is used (which is often hidden). This helps the team express interesting areas and gives you a visual aid where innovation is possible.
Based on this picture of the future, we worked on possible scenarios describing the role of the firm in this picture of the future. This is a vital step in understanding the scope of the change. Will you be the sole supplier, will you deliver an integrated use case, or rather just some core components? What will your relationship with other players be and how will you interact with your customers and who will those customers be? As a whole, what will the total ecosystem look like? What will be your role in the game? Again, you should focus on your strengths and potential differentiating factors.
The final step is to consider business models that monetize the value you propose. Here you can visit the areas where AI will play in the picture of the future ?—? don’t forget you are in the ultimate all perfect AI scenario, so don’t worry about any shortcomings you see today. What are the resources needed? How big is the customer value? What are potential alternative solutions and players delivering that service? We usually spend extensive time discussing these elements with companies to help them better understand their role, as well as new potential business models and threats. Do you sell the car? Are you an investment vehicle for people who buy the car to rent it out so that it will make money by delivering services for others? Are you provider of data, predicting where people will be and what services they want? Are you monetizing on the data or services? These are just some examples to illustrate how future business models based on AI might be very different.
Before you rip up your whole business model remember that this is just an exercise and you don’t have to change your vision, mission and entire organization just yet. The real intention here is to help you think far enough and to understand possible scenarios, before identifying the first step. So based on your favorite scenario, you break down the vision and think of what is the first, most logical step in making it happen. This is where you should start. Identify and describe the first step in detail. Often this first step is not too far out, and is both conceivable and achievable. It is easy to understand, discuss and test with users to ensure you are on right path.
This is best illustrated with an example. Let’s say you are an automobile manufacturer (OEM) and you are designing and producing cars. How can artificial intelligence disrupt your business? Obviously your business is influenced by three major trends in 2017. Firstly, the sharing economy where people are less inclined to purchase cars vs. renting on demand. The second impact is the move to e-mobility. The car’s system changes fundamentally from motor and transmission-based approaches to much simpler battery-powered e-motors. In addition, the move to autonomous vehicles require you to build completely new components and software into your vehicles. And here is where we see the era of artificial intelligence coming into play. Again we ask the question: “So if there were perfect AI in 10 years, what would your business model look like and what is the role of your company?”.
You can find inspiration all around you. Science fiction movies are often a good source. In a perfect world of artificial intelligence, cars might become cheaper to build. Robots might build the robots that will build cars in smart factories. Smart materials might be more flexible with built-in sensors. Smart mobility grids will allow the users and vehicles to plug-into a network of services and mobility options. Vehicles might be living spaces allowing you to play, conduct meetings and even take meals during transportation times. You might be able to seamlessly switch from one mode of transportation to another to reach your destination. For customers the biggest choice might be whether to take a self-flying drone or a ground-based vehicle. Drones might be cheaper due to simpler technology. Flying in the air can pose less complex situations than cars driving on the roads with so many distractions and obstacles. Drones might be a lot quicker, as they can take direct paths. This is an example of how to develop a picture of the future. Of course your experts, together with some external inspiration will produce a vast array of innovative scenarios to base your thinking on.
As a next step you will define the role you wish to play in this scenario. The role you will play in the future will be based on your history, what you are good at, and your area of differentiation. You might still manufacture and supply cars, if this is your key area of competence. Or will you just supply parts or designs to other players? Will you build autonomous drones? Do you offer sharing services? Will you program the network that the cars run on? Will you provide services or build an ecosystem of 3rd party service providers? It makes sense to list and discuss each of the options. Then you can discuss your business model.
Where AI will make a decisive different to you will become clear based on the discussion accumulated from these various areas. From this, you can start your engagement and experiments with artificial intelligence. You will learn to work with the technology, to build awareness and knowledge in your organization, and you will explore a journey with a bigger goal in mind.