Summing Up Web Summit 2018

2018-11-26, 09:24 Posted by: Elisa Patronen

Web Summit 2018 is now over and we're back to business. So, what's left to keep in mind?

As an event with over 70 000 visitors and 24 tracks each with slightly different target audience it is literally a little bit of everything for everyone. There were many inspiring presentations and when surfing from one track to another, some themes seemed to pop into the surface time after time. In this blog I'd like to highlight a few key insights I got from the three busy days in the event - namely what's going on with AI, what's hot with data, the rise of sustainability and the importance of measuring.

Crowded opening night at the Web Summit.

What's up with AI?

As one could already expect from the given schedule, AI was widely discussed. With regards of how it was showcased, I would sum it up to two main approaches:

  • AI's ability to enhance the way we provide products and services.
  • AI as advanced data analytics and smart strategic solutions to support business.

AI - Enhancing the Way We Provide Products And Services

The first approach covered the solutions that are directly in contact with a customer. For example, Microsoft showed how to use their tools in creating a chatbot that could rather be described as your smart online shop assistant, how to simultaneously translate speech to text or how natural a digital voice can be. Also, BMW presented their vision of a car that is your perfect butler, adjusting itself to your moods and anticipating your wishes. Here the added value of AI depends highly on the design and potential to enhance the value of the solution: it might end up as gimmick, but it can also just push your product or service portfolio in a whole new direction.

Advanced Data Analytics and Smart Strategic Solutions with the Help of AI

The second approach was about the internal tools to add business intelligence and enhance business development. This showed in the presentations of Ian Wilson from Heineken and Elaine Rodrigo from Danone, for example. Wilson presented their new pursuit around smart mobile first marketing that leveraged people data and insights of their audience segments to focus right kind of ad to the right (and more precise than ever) kind of audience at the right time. Danone, then, presented how enhanced visual analytics robot EVA finds and compiles trends in food and brings customer segment, or tribe as they referred to it, intelligence to the company using posts on Instagram as a database.

AI and data as a tool for customer insight and targeted marketing: on the left a showcase of how Danone's EVA compiles trends from posted pictures about food, on right the elements of mobile first smart marketing of Heineken.

I was left missing something that was left out from all the examples: the messy chicken-egg chase of how the companies got there, trying to figure out on one hand what one can (or rather should) do with AI and on the other hand what kind of solutions AI and data can provide. It is important to keep in mind that there always is at least a handful of trial and errors behind them.

Making it happen with data

Regarding the data, Markus Löffler, the CTO of the German insurance and asset management company Allianz, pointed out that their current challenges are in systematic building of data strategy, mixing internal and external data as well as regulatory boundaries. Löffler summed up well the two natures of challenges that I saw in many speeches and would like to highlight in general:

  • Data is an asset that needs strategic approach to learning how to be smart with what to do with the data, what data to use and where to get it.
  • Data is often sensitive by nature, posing a potential problem especially when it is people generated, and one must learn what is appropriate and how to deal with it.

It is important to understand that learning to use data to your advantage takes investments.

Even AI and building intelligent solutions comes back to data both as the asset in training your intelligent system and as the source of added value. Thus, it is important to understand that learning to use data to your advantage takes investments. It takes investments in the business side in the form of the chicken-egg problem mentioned before, but it also takes investments internally in terms of data quality and capability to use the gathered data effectively.

On left: Susie Wee, CTO of Cisco Systems and Markus Löffler, CTO of Allianz SE discussing about the changing role of the CTO. On right: investments Heineken thinks they must do in order to make the targeted mobile first marketing to happen.

When it comes to the sensitive nature of data, it became clear that even the giants are still just learning, with GDPR speeding up the process. Elaine Rodrigo from Danone dealt with the subject by making an ethics announcement to cut wings from imagination too wild, before telling about EVA but did not really reveal much about the company's data gathering otherwise. Tamar Yehoshua from Google made a specific topic from transparency in her presentation of gaining user trust.

All in all, the direction seemed to be education of the individual, at least among big companies that are well known to use data. For example, Yehoshua told about the efforts Google has had in enhancing usability and simplicity and making user decision making easier to empower the individual in understanding and deciding what data to share.

Tamar Yehoshua from Google about earning customer trust.

With data and sensitiveness, it is not only about the GDPR, though. As Luc Julia, the CTO of Samsung's innovation team, put it: Who says they have a secure system, is lying. We have as secure system as possible. Through digitalization, e.g. AI and IoT, we will be dealing with increasingly interconnected world and taking security into account already in planning phase is also increasingly important.

At the Edge of the Age of Sustainability

Sustainability is truly bursting out and the various industries are trying to get the hold of it. The topic came up in many forms: ethics and transparency were emphasized in many speeches surrounding data and AI, whereas circular economy and resource effectiveness was celebrated by e.g. Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives from Apple. Democracy was pointed out especially within digital content creation but also as a notice that digitalization has enabled power and money streams to focus in the hands of few.

Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer from Microsoft, stressed out two interesting points:

  • First, he gave advice that in my opinion is worth giving time to think through:
    “Ask what it is for your company that is special to your market, core competences, and put sustainability in the center of that. Put it central to the business.”
    This notion was an embodiment of a shift that also Cybercom has been on its journey towards. Whereas traditional corporate responsibility has involved activities that are not really in the core of where the business comes, e.g. giving money to charity or optimizing processes to improve in CO2 emissions, Joppa challenged us to look at it from another angle, the core competence, assets and business, and how you can enforce sustainability from there.

  • Second, he pointed out that no company can solve the issues alone, but we need to work together. I comprehended that as a possible collaboration with any stakeholder: be it you client, government, not-for-profit organization, partners in your ecosystem or even competitors. The first thing to do is to identify what one wants to achieve, acknowledge that one might not be able to do it alone and look for strategic partnerships and collaboration to make it happen.

Another interesting issue to think of was pointed out by Pia Heidenmark Cook from Ikea. She referred to a survey conducted by Ikea and concluded that whereas their clients are interested in making the change, they are not willing to do it with increasing inconvenience, price or difficulty. In other words, one could say change will happen on individual level when products and services are provided simply better.

There, in my opinion, is a golden spot for companies and the public sector to come up with net-positive smart solutions that push us into the right direction and with that compel to customers in a completely new level. And, there digitalization helps through digitally enabled business models and new technologies. That is also what we in Cybercom have focused on by developing an offering and the SPRING method for our clients to discover the potential of sustainability as a driver for the business.

Lucas Joppa and Pia Heidenmark Cook discussing is tech doing enough to save the planet. Joppa spoke also in a separate discussion titled “The tech is there, society needs to step up”.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Last but not least, the message throughout different discussions was: remember to measure. The theme went through a wide variety of different scopes from different business models and startup phase scaling to smart usage of data and AI.

So why is highlighting measuring that important? Because it is something that everyone knows but few actually do. Moreover, it is difficult to do right. Also, as business transforms to digital and continues to do so, it is extremely important to learn to measure not only the business as usual but the trials and new pursuits to reach agility in decision making and pivot if necessary. It may be that greater value of your pursuit is revealed somewhere else in the end of the day, but also that will be revealed when you properly follow progress. As a summary I gathered a few points to think about in terms of measuring:

  • Always make it clear what's expected from the pursuit. Even in the case of trying new, where the overall game might still be a bit in a flux. The goals set the direction for everyone and help you evaluate progress. In case of Heineken, they are expecting 30% savings and 50% uplift in sales from smartly focused marketing.

  • The goals set the stage for measuring, but make sure you are measuring the right things and that you understand what the measurements tell you. Is it hard money or growth in customers you need to measure or other values like satisfaction to services or loyalty to your offering? Depending on the impact you wish to achieve, the measurements should be designed accordingly. In the case of subscription-based business, the amount of subscriptions may just be a good indicator for growth in the starting phase but not be the right thing to measure when you are looking for long-term recurring revenue. It may rather be the customer activity within a subscription that predicts better whether your customers are about to stay or leave.

  • Finally, tied to measuring, be ready to pivot when you realize that the trial is not giving results you expected. Only by measuring you can see if you are heading to the right direction but one must also be brave enough to plug off. And, when measuring, you can actually say whether to do that or not.

About measuring in various sessions: Examples of presentations about SaaS business models, Heineken´s expectations from smart marketing and lessons learned in building growth.

So, there was a small recap of what caught my eye during the event in the bigger scale. There were many other things that I would like to deal with, too, like digital enabled business models including SaaS, subscription and business models in API economy, a clear trend in pressure for breaking up corporate silos as well as nice tips to make sure your strategy gets implemented. But, that's just some food for thought for the future blogs to come!

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