Financial Services

Digital Transformation – How to Differentiate and Create Competitive Advantage in the Digital Era

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Over 60 years, Information Technology (IT) industry has and continues to transform organisations through digitising and automating tasks and processes. Starting with simple mathematical operations, IT has now evolved to highly complex algorithms that, for example, can compute and predict national demand for utility consumption every few minutes. A by-product of automation is data – captured and stored in our systems. What we do with this data will be the story of tech-enabled business in the future.

The internet and its adoption has also changed the world in a way that was not obvious twenty years ago. It now seems natural and acceptable that your fridge can automatically place orders to replenish the exact groceries you like and that a drone can deliver it to your front door or that your running shoes can generate data and gamify exercise by competing with a friend who may be 5,000 miles away.

In addition to networking, data is fueling innovation and new industries too. In today’s digital economy, a developer with a new idea can build a functional prototype within days – the infrastructure, tools and any data needed to realise the idea are readily available on the Cloud. Differentiation often comes from how varied data-sets are combined to create value for the consumer. These value-driven experiences are changing customer expectations and their interactions with brands. The most recent best experience from one brand soon becomes the lowest expectation from another brand that may be in a different sector altogether.

To meet these ever-increasing customer demands, corporations are embarking on ‘digital’ journeys. Regardless of the specific project, the purpose is to use digital technologies to provide richer, smoother user experience by moving meaningful data around quickly, reducing inefficiencies and participating in value-driven ecosystems. We see these in digital platforms such as Uber and Airbnb that bring together the consumers and providers of services.

Whilst any two organisations may look the same in their digital capabilities, the real differentiation is in their execution. An organisation with a culture of innovation, collaboration and true customer focus will be able to maintain differentiation and identity in the digital world as they do in the physical world. The winners will use their digital capabilities to draw intelligence from data in real-time and use it to drive behavior change or, convenience. To do this effectively, organisations need to be able to handle large volume and variety of structured and unstructured data – a perfect recipe for applied AI.

AI is a collective term used for capabilities such as natural language processing, deep-learning, neural networks, vision and more. These capabilities support ingestion of structured and unstructured data. A system with these capabilities can learn the meaning of data and add to a constantly evolving corpus of knowledge. It can generate hypotheses and points-of-views. These insights will help organisations truly understand and even predict their customers’ needs and personalise services.

Unlike digital systems that are programmed, cognitive systems are taught. They learn, develop a neural network of knowledge and ultimately become experts in a field. Imagine the world’s best oncologist teaching a cognitive system how to detect cancer, identify treatment options and have an emotionally intelligent conversation. Cognitive systems have unlimited capacity to learn, remember and recall information and ‘join the dots’ to draw conclusions.

It may appear science-fiction but cognitive capabilities such as the one just described are already becoming an integral part of our lives and the wider society. We are using personal assistants embedded in our smartphones and chatbots to find information quickly and to perform tasks. Users no longer need to remember commands – they can simply speak to or chat with the system in natural language and the system can understand the intent and take appropriate action. The next phase of this era will be when these systems can automatically act on behalf of the customer and in their interest – for example, move money out of unused accounts to avoid paying overdraft in another account where a future-dated payment due could cause an account to be overdrawn. But to achieve simple use cases like these, these systems will need to do a lot of heavy lifting and processing of data at scale and in an event-based architecture.

To summarise, organisations can no longer look to their competitors to decide what to do next. Innovation and reinvention is key to existence in this rapidly changing world. Delivering customers’ needs with agility and pace is vital. Organisations should start on their journey by exploring how data and AI together can uncover the value hidden in their data and then deliver features with simplicity.

Digital is a prerequisite and a journey, it is not the destination. Creating magical experiences that consumers will pay for is the end game.

CTO, Banking and Financial Markets

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