The Fourth Industrial Revolution is seeing artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies fueling innovation, digital transformation, and disruption across every single industry.

The stakes are high and the imperative is clear: organisations that succeed in harnessing these new technologies to reimagine the customer experience will reap the unprecedented rewards.

The scale and velocity of this change is real, with the global AI market alone set to grow to US$15.7 trillion by 2030.

IDC predicts global business revenues will boost to US$1.1 trillion in the next five years alone as a result of AI associated with CRM.

Successful executives and trailblazers have already begun this transformational journey and are reaping rewards across the value chain through:

  • increased customer advocacy with greater personalisation and predictive service

  • greater operational efficiency with automation and intelligent processes, and

  • reduced risk and exposure with data driven compliance and predictive forensics.

However, the stark reality for the majority of executives we speak with, is that they lack the knowledge, experience and expertise to deliver on the promise.

In a recent executive study, an eye-opening 77% of executives reported that business adoption of Big Data/AI initiatives is a major challenge. Only 7% of executives cited technology as the challenge, while 93% identified people and process issues as the obstacle.

This begs the question: how can executives begin the journey with AI and emerging technologies to drive adoption and scale? 

To find the answer, let's look at how our successful customers and their executives are using Salesforce to deliver on the promise.

 

1. A courageous mindset for growth and change

 

First and foremost, successful executives and trailblazers are fronting up with a mindset that is open to possibilities and courageous in the face of ambiguity, and which challenges the status quo and the business model that has made them successful to date.

Backwards-looking statements like 'this is how we have always done it' or 'we are an X company not a technology company' are no longer accepted. They are being replaced with forwards-looking statements such as 'what could our future digital business and customer base look like?' and ‘What is our roadmap and plan to deliver?'.

It sounds simple enough but it is the single biggest barrier to realising the dream.

It often isn’t enough for one or two individuals to be trailblazing this growth mindset in isolation. It needs to be a collective executive leadership mindset that’s cascaded through each of their teams to drive changes in the operating models, culture and ways of working.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, agile is no longer just a project methodology, it’s a crucial corporate capability.

For example, much like the executive mindset, at the heart of AI and data science is a hypothesis – a beginner's mindset question or experiment – that puts data against gut feel with the goal of revealing why something is occurring or what may occur. Initial findings lead to further questions and experimentation to strengthen knowledge and decision-making accuracy that will invoke action for positive change and groundbreaking results.

But in traditional funding approval processes, these initiatives often get blocked at the first gate as the cost and benefit can be very hard to accurately quantify.

Successful executives and organisations won’t have blind faith in the AI cause. But with the right growth mindset they will create agility and flexibility in operations to adapt and learn how to unlock future upside potential.

 

 

2. Enable your customer strategy through technology and partnerships

 

Successful executives apply this growth mindset to reimagine what the future customer experience (CX) is for their organisation. Even more than that, they can also articulate a clear strategy and a sequenced roadmap to executing this vision, which includes new capabilities, processes and technology.

However, we often see organisations with the best intentions make the mistake of thinking technology is the answer to digital transformation. In reality, strategy and customer-centricity are the horse, technology the cart.

For example, take the recent hype of Big Data and the Internet of things (IoT): businesses spend millions of dollars generating masses of data and teams of data architects and scientists, all to channel data into a massive data lake and mine it for insights. Yet Gartner says that 85% of big data projects fail.

The intent is right – data is the new gold – but the key failing here is that business strategy and a clearly linked use case were not defined. So, information gets piped into a data lake only to sit there and grow algae.

This problem can be addressed with a customer-led strategy.

Take the energy industry as a guide. Successful executives are proactively servicing their customers by using real time information streamed from smart devices to:

  • Proactively respond and resolve maintenance issues to minimise disruption and complaints.

  • Gain greater insight into customer usage patterns for more personalised offers.

  • Optimise the supply chain through predictive forecasts that better match resources to demand.

By having these use cases defined, IoT data is piped in through the architecture and linked directly to customer outcomes that monetise the initiative.

In this example, technology is the enabler of the strategy – it’s not the strategy itself.

In the same way that customer strategy is enabled by technology, the execution of the strategy needs to be business led and enabled by partnerships, both internal IT and external partners.

As stated earlier, 93% of adoption issues for AI is due to people and process. Ensuring that the business leads these initiatives will increase the chance of success because:

  • Business front line employees interact with the customers everyday and can best represent what features of the solution will work and what won’t from a customer lens.

  • Front line employees are often the end users of AI and emerging technologies and it’s crucial to understand the employee experience (EX) and embed the new technology seamlessly into the daily processes to enhance their experience and make their work lives better.

  • Engaging business throughout the ideation and implementation drives buy-in and support for the change which leads to higher adoption of the new technology.

 

However, we often hear from executives that they simply don't have the skills and capabilities in-house to design and implement AI and emerging technologies. They need external expertise from us and our partners to achieve success and enable internal teams for longer term capability growth.

For example, a telecommunications company recently engaged our Salesforce Services team to develop a personalised mobile app to drive greater employee engagement for their frontline retail staff. We did this by consolidating a number of backend systems to drive an intelligent experience for employees to better service customers in-store.

The initiative leveraged internal business and IT SMEs, and was supplemented by external support for specialist skills in human-centered design and mobile app development. 

The age-old jostle between business and IT is still prevalent in the companies we engage with today. However, the evolved organisations are using the customer as their higher purpose to find a common goal, assemble the right capabilities, both internal and external, to accelerate the use of AI and emerging technologies for a faster time to value.

 

3. Think big, start small and iterate

 

Most executives now understand the imperative of using AI and emerging technology but  feel out of their depth and simply don't know where or how to start.

Imagine for a moment that you had a personal bucket list goal of jumping out of an airplane.

Would you hire a plane yourself, pack your own parachute and take a solo leap of faith? I doubt it.

The same applies to businesses undertaking digital transformation and innovating with emerging technology. You need a customer-focused strategy (the bucket list), to partner with the experts (skydive instructors) and a safe place to experiment (practice landing) to alleviate fear and build confidence in your ability to execute.

It’s the same in the corporate world. The most practical approach is to think big with a customer-led strategy, driven by the business and enabled by new technology with enterprise architecture in mind.

But start small.

Choose a particular problem or subset of the solution that can be experimented with, include business and technology experts, and iterate and collaborate to develop and refine an initial prototype.

The beauty of this approach is that it’s a relatively small investment, it gains buy-in and input from leadership and business on the solution, and it is a tangible way of bringing the solution to life with your data, which is incredibly powerful.

This then opens up possibilities to expand the footprint of the initiative to unlock greater gains.

In summary, fortune will favour the bold in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Executives that can successfully leverage AI and emerging technology will deliver on the strategic promise and realise unprecedented gains.