How is Vodafone using AI and Big Data to gain a competitive advantage

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There are nearly five billion mobile phones in the world generating data every time they are used. Unsurprisingly, telecoms companies like Vodafone are making big investments to create value from this vast amount of data. At Imperial Business in the City: Innovating through Big Data and AI, Pedro Rente Lourenço, a data scientist at Vodafone Group, explained how Big Data and AI are transforming Vodafone’s business and shared his thoughts on how organisations can create value from investments in analytics and associated technologies like AI and machine learning.

Pedro spoke alongside Professors Bart Clarysse and Christopher Tucci from Imperial College Business School, who outlined the challenges of business model transformation in large corporations and the opportunities for business arising from analytics and associated technologies.

Here are three key themes from the discussions.

1. Create a strategy which supports current business priorities, but also look for novel use cases

Pedro shared how Vodafone’s research strategy is ‘double-geared’ to power both quick wins and novel longer-term, potentially high-reward, projects.

The strategy has three internal-facing pillars: using data to deliver an enhanced experience for Vodafone customers; using data to improve the efficiency of the Vodafone business; and using data to create new AI-enabled products and services.

Alongside these goals the 125-strong team of data scientists work on projects without an immediate commercial driver such as research projects leading to patents and academic publications, social good projects and collaborative projects with other companies and public sector bodies.  Pedro shared with us how these projects often take him beyond Vodafone’s core business into the realm of public health, financial inclusion, urban studies and smart cities and help to create novel use cases for mobile network data.

2. Put security, privacy and consent at the heart of your digital transformation plans

Pedro shared how Vodafone places a major emphasis on ethics, data privacy and customer consent. He felt that this emphasis is absolutely essential both for legal compliance and to ensure customer acceptance of digital innovations. In his experience, customers who trust a company will share their data to benefit from more personalised products and services.

3. Digital transformation isn’t just about technology, humans need to change too

Drawing on his research, Professor Tucci set out three stages of digital transformation. Firstly, organisations build digital infrastructure and bandwidth, putting in place the systems and people needed to make digital transformation possible. Then they automate existing processes to deliver operational efficiencies. Only in the final stage do organisations start to use digital technologies to deliver business model innovation through new products and services.

This framework was supported by Pedro’s experiences at Vodafone. He explained that Vodafone devoted significant resource and time to implement the systems and infrastructure needed to facilitate data science projects. Data sets had to be cleaned and formatted and governance structures put in place before analytics projects could be launched.

Pedro also spoke about the challenge of gaining the buy-in of colleagues and raising awareness across Vodafone of the benefits of data science. Embedding a new function such as data science into a large company such as Vodafone meant changing ways of working and promoting cross-functional collaboration.

However, for organisations who overcome these challenges, there are benefits to be realised. Pedro noted that 63% of Vodafone’s marketing communications globally were now powered by Big Data, enabling greater customer personalisation. Big Data powered campaigns had redemption rates 25 per cent higher than campaigns where Big Data was not employed.

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