Services have come a long way in the last two decades: From human enabled, personal and intelligent to what we know as services today: self-serviced, cloud hosted and technology powered services. The question I want to raise here is: With the penetration of AI, will those services become bot enabled, personal and intelligent?
The only difference from the past to future in that case will be, the lack of human at the front-end. Let us explore this concept more.
Automation of Tasks is Not A New Phenomenon
We have been in that continuum since the Industrial revolution that started a few centuries ago and we continue to automate more and more mundane tasks as we speak. Currently and in the near future, those tasks would be automated to the extent of being unmonitored and system-initiated. No prizes for guessing, this will essentially be powered by advancements in Artificial Intelligence. Whether it will impact jobs in the near or long term and how much will be the impact is a different topic altogether. My focus here is to bring to forefront, the opportunities around this technology and how to capture them?
Let’s start with the basics: What is Artificial Intelligence? AI can be defined in many different ways, but this is what I find most cogent: AI is the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior. It means that those machines would be able to process information like humans do, reason with the information, generalize, learn from experience and make decisions. As humans move up the value chain of performing tasks, AI can rise to the occasion and take up tasks that those humans find mundane and not worth their time.
From the Current to Future State
Let’s for instance take an example of a service we commonly understand today: e-Commerce. In a typical e-Commerce application, the central idea is that the user is intelligent enough to browse the catalog, choose products of his/her choice, make payment and take delivery… in short, e-Commerce is a self-service concept where the front end sales person is entirely eliminated because the user has an idea of how to go about his journey.
In a world of AI services, a bot would be able to read the users’ pattern of browsing, understand the user through his profile and behavior and make appropriate recommendations … going all the way until making a decision to purchase for the user. As dangerous as it may seem, the brighter side is that it saves a ton of users’ time that is otherwise spent in browsing product choices, reading reviews, comparing prices, making decisions, initiating payment, checking status and taking delivery. When AI is allowed to penetrate multiples systems, it is very much possible that the ‘intelligent agent’ is able to save all the users’ time and purchase things of his/ her choice without the user needing to spend time on this entire process. In effect, what we are going to experience through AI would be a personalized, intelligent and system controlled service that is nearly the same that we experienced few decades back, but with a technology twist!
Whether this would happen exactly the way I narrated and if it happens in retail space or not is a matter of time, but the idea of getting there opens up huge opportunities and of course, threatens existing market leaders. As we moved from brick and mortar retail to digital retail, what we learnt is that the leaders of those brick and mortar businesses are not the ones that are leading digital businesses… We could potentially be seeing the same phenomenon in AI powered businesses as well. If AI is considered a medium, and for all reasons I would, getting a hang of this medium, understanding the possibilities of it and executing it takes a different set of competencies, skills and leadership. We will be looking at non-intelligent digital business as traditional businesses compared to those powered by Intelligence and before we know it, we will be seeing new leaders emerge, new opportunities open up and we will be in a new world that could by all means be better than before!
A Paradigm Shift
Adjusting to this medium (AI) and being a leader in this needs a paradigm shift in the way we think and operate and the sooner we adapt to it, the better. At the moment, I have three critical recommendations for those who want to explore this further:
1. Design for Lateral Journeys:
With the absence of on screen, guided or self-serviced interactions, AI powered journeys are going to be very different from what we’ve been seeing; and it takes some amount of getting used to, to be able to visualize non-linear journeys and design for them. For instance, a user booking an airline ticket in the current ticketing system will possibly start and finish his/ her booking journey in a specified, predictable manner whereas once AI penetrates these systems, the user journey is going to be very different. For example, my agent will be able to understand when I need to travel, understand my preference of seat, budget range, preferred carrier and many such parameters, co-relate with my meeting schedules and make a booking pending my approval. The real user journey in this case will be about reviewing and approving a transaction.
2. Bot Is Your New User:
Once bots are allowed to represent humans and behave like them, we will be needing to consider bot as a user. This calls for a shift in they way user experiences are designed since, we are now talking about both the actual users(humans)and representative users (bots).
3. Re-imagine Experiences:
What would constitute a good experience and what doesn’t is going to be a very different subject. Universities will be teaching how systems need to be intuitive to Intelligent agents and how those agents’ communication with humans can be made friction free and delightful. We need to find newer language between agents and humans that can help in accomplishing ‘Intelligent goals’. We need to re-imagine these experiences because most of the current ways of visualizing and designing for experiences will not hold good in the future context.