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Achieving Business Impact through AI-Based Trend Detection

Dr. Christian Mühlroth
Wednesday, Jun 3, 2020

Way too often large corporations with teams of strategists fail to spot emerging trends and act upon them. Despite the abundance of resources and employees with full-stack competencies, they neglect the change on the horizon. Why is that?

Sure, most executives can describe the main trends of today. But only few manage to spot the less vivid yet key developments leading to tomorrow. The latter, though, is ever so important for devising how the company can influence their future customers’ behaviors and preferences. The retrospective question of why did not we see it coming is common, but unhelpful on its own. Without a systematic reflection and adjustment, companies are bound to repeat their mistakes and miss even more opportunities. How can this problem be solved then? Let’s try to answer this question by looking at how Intel’s global early warning system for emerging trends works. In his talk at Global Foresight Summit, John Miranda, the Director of Market Insights at Intel Corporation tells how the global early market and technology sensing function informs executives and strategic planning teams about early signals and trends.

A corporate early warning system is a systematic approach that anticipates the upcoming disruption and actively seeks weak signals and emerging trends.

Intel Corporation is successfully leveraging an early warning system for emerging trends. The company is using AI strategies, focusing on AI-enabled signal detection and trend evaluation to influence investment decisions and meet the future expectations of its customers. The company employs a three-tier framework: Sensing, Interpreting and Acting to contextualize AI.  

Sensing: How to Spot the Most Relevant Trends?

Intel has a global early market and technology sensing function that informs the decisions of its executives and corporate strategy office. This function focuses chiefly on the Sensing phase to run Intel’s AI-powered program called Trendscape. Trendscape is used for automated signal and trend detection. With a custom-designed synergy of AI-enabled algorithms, Community, and Software, all aimed in unison at solving the needs of Intel’s clients, Trendscape pushes the company towards a more data-driven decision making.

AI-enabled algorithms: AI-enabled algorithms generate automated queries and monitor high volume time-series input such as news reports, academic research, investment trends. Thus, Trendscape monitors approximately 30-50 key signals at a time. Company’s community then discovers the identified unknowns and amplifies the sensitivity to them by analyzing billions of source materials.

Community: Intel taps into employees across different departments globally and partners with domain expertise, including product developers, Intel Labs, sales, and marketing employees to unearth insights and evaluate key trends impacting Intel's future growth. This enables the company to engage key groups of motivated and capable individuals to filter out potential business opportunities and threats.

Software: Intel developed a market and technology foresight system powered by ITONICS Trend Radar to collect, communicate, and connect the dots. By enabling one-click addition of signals and ability to assign them to trends, the software helps Intel keep signals organized and, thus, provide a holistic overview of what is happening.

Interpreting: What Do the Spotted Signals Mean?

Going beyond Sensing, companies need to interpret the AI-assisted signal discoveries. At this stage Intel faces a key limitation of AI tools — they cannot do the thinking on their own.

Challenge: Intel’s team identified rising complexity around data privacy and sovereignty, including important global trends such as China’s Social Credit System or concerns over the ethics of AI. Although AI helps Intel amplify and sense signals, it won’t do the thinking required to connect these complex dots.

Solution: After sharing the trends with Intel’s Data Center Group, which resonates with the signals, the team conducts an in-depth market scan by engaging the strategic architects from relevant business units. The final benefit is the integration of new features designed to shape the product roadmap.

Impact: An early warning system of emerging trends can influence the future of Intel’s products. AI plays a part in it, but it is just a tool to drive real business impact.

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Another way to tackle the limitation of AI-produced insights is generation of plausible future scenarios. When creating these, Intel is looking for ways of filling the gap between the available technologies and the drivers of markets, societies, or governments. By understanding the job-to-be done or the market need to be fulfilled, Intel is then capable of connecting the technology used with the acute societal need or governmental requirement.


Acting: How to Get People to Act Upon the Derived Insights?

None of the above matters, if the executives you are reporting to are not listening. Given that they are by default subject to numerous pleas of action, especially with regard to the latest trends and opportunities, there is a lot of noise associated with decision-making. Sensing (by AI) and Interpreting (by the community) are one part of the story. Acting - convincing people to commit to do something is the other (even harder) part. Think of it as the 10:20:70 rule of AI: 10% is sensing; 20% is interpreting; 70% is convincing, talking and getting people to act.

The end goal in the corporate setting is to drive action with the leadership and accomplish an investment decision. To get there, Intel evaluates where it stands in regards to the key stakeholders who need to be onboard. One of the tools that helps Intel in stakeholder management is the Driving Action with Leadership model allowing for self-assessment of the degree of involvement one has with relevant stakeholders.

There are 5 major stages of relationship with business partners starting with ''Irrelevant'' and ending with ''Full Partner'' status. Whatever size your organization is, there are some stakeholders who don’t even know about you. In case you need their support, a good starting point is reflecting on where you are currently situated in this range of involvement and move towards the desired status.

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In a nutshell, aiming to predict what is the next big thing, where to invest, how to meet the future expectations of Intel’s clients and how to expand Intel’s competitive edge, the company follows a three-step approach to contextualize AI; Sensing, Interpreting and Acting. Intel leverages AI tools to find emerging trends, interpret them with internal, and crowd-sourced expertise and act upon implications to drive tangible business impact.


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