Why every business should move to an ‘AI-first’ strategy

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Artificial intelligence should drive your company’s transformation, says Prof Steven Van Belleghem

Until very recently, most companies were working with a digital-first mindset. Facebook’s recent history has shown the world that this is no longer enough.

When Facebook launched on the stock market in 2012, its shares were hammered because the company had no mobile strategy. At the moment of the launch, Facebook had no form of income from mobile advertising. The stock market gurus even predicted that this might mean the end for Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg was forced to make a drastic choice – and he decided that the company had to switch to a mobile-first mindset. All improvements and innovations had to be developed from that perspective. New tools that only worked in a desktop environment were immediately vetoed by the CEO.

Within three years, more than half of Facebook’s turnover came from mobile advertising. In 2017, no less than 84 per cent of its revenue came from this source. During the same period, the share price increased from $18 to $150.

This remarkable comeback inspired many other companies to also adopt a mobile-first mindset. Other technology companies followed the Facebook example, and many financial organisations followed suit. Most banks quickly realised that the number of mobile customer transactions was far higher than the number on their online banking modules. And, as far as the customers were concerned, the perception of banks was largely based on the quality of their mobile banking solutions.

In the meantime, Facebook has switched its mobile-first mindset to an AI-first approach. Other major technology companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Tencent and Baidu are doing the same. The top management at Google can only see a future for their company if they can lead the way in AI.

Aside from the tech-giants, today there are thousands of small start-ups trying to grab their share of the AI market. This means that all the world’s top AI talent is currently either working for one of the giants, or have their own company, or are carrying out fundamental AI research in the world of academia. This is perhaps the greatest challenge facing all other companies. The scarcest resource in the AI world is AI talent. As a result, the companies without the expertise will often collaborate with the various players in the AI world, rather than trying to do everything themselves in-house – especially since most things connected with AI are still fairly expensive. In the future, however, there will be a lot more “off the shelf” technology available, so that even smaller companies can quickly jump on board the AI train. The technology will become cheaper and more accessible for everyone.

This combination of fast adoption, high impact on customer experience and the focus of technology companies on AI means that other companies have no choice but to adopt the same focus.

The shift from mobile-first to AI-first is the next big step in the never-ending challenge of meeting customer expectations. The majority of top managers already understand this.

According to a recent survey by the consulting company PWC, 72 per cent of CEOs regard AI competencies as the most important asset of a company. But a worldwide study by McKinsey revealed that just 20 per cent of large companies are currently investing in AI. What’s more, these investments are not equally distributed in geographical terms. The United States leads the way with 66 per cent of all AI investment, followed by China. At this stage, Europe is still some way behind.

Professor Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in the digital world. He’s is an award-winning author, and his book Customers The Day After Tomorrow is out now.