Brands are constantly shifting and evolving trying to catch up with today’s increasingly digital world that demands new strategies and techniques to stay relevant in the game. On top of brands embracing the digital era is IBM with a robust approach towards digital transformation. The Berries interviewed Asma Shabab, Portfolio Marketing Leader for Watson Internet of Things at IBM Middle East, to get her insights on how should brands tackle the opportunities and challenges of digital transformation.

BB: Digital transformation has become a necessity as brands across the world face digital disruption. Can you shed some light on how you would define the term?

AS: Digital disruption has probably been the cause of a thousandfold increase in the sleepless nights of executives. The flag-bearer of digital disruption has always been data – or rather the possibilities that data brings. Companies have been collating data through their own processes for years, then they were exposed to the troves of unstructured data that came from sources such as Facebook, videos, online comments. And now with the Internet of Things, which in simple terms means connected devices that create and transmit data through a network, companies are overwhelmed by the data they have access to. They are still asking the same question: what can I do with this data to create more value not just for me, but also for my customers?

At its core, digital transformation for me means creating value for you and your stakeholders from data coming from all sources. It can come in the form of enabling deeper customer relationships by understanding how people use products or to streamline the customer experience across platforms – take for example a connected car, it is now possible to understand behavior patterns of drivers and offer them a more personalized experience while they drive, but companies can also use that data to offer cross-sell and upsell offers thus creating opportunities to increase revenues. Digital transformation can also mean digitizing operations – companies can now use all the data from connected devices such as fleets, inventory, and machines to reach new levels of operational efficiency and lower costs.

BB: Brands are embracing the digital revolution, rethinking what customers value most. How can brands with a concrete digital transformation strategy redefine their industries and reshape customer value proposition ?

AS: Automobile manufacturers are increasingly positioning themselves as mobility service providers, home appliance companies are exploring the concept of providing the utility of an appliance ‘as a service’ in lieu of a one-time purchase. Insurance companies are increasingly looking at ways to offer individualized insurance contracts based on say the number of days you use a car. We now have the technology to re-envision a broader more sustainable mission that will enable companies to influence the way the world is changing.

Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things provide industries with the ability to look at the data and identify ways to monetize it. This comes with an inherent ability to reshape customer value proposition – imagine being able to redesign your product because you now know that three of the buttons on your microwave are hardly used and only end up confusing the customer or saving your customers time by understanding their buying patterns and prompting a notification to the grocery store to buy a carton of milk when it is finished? The value prop has evolved from delighting the customer to delivering a peace of mind that comes with increased convenience.

BB: IBM has a robust, deep and fast-growing approach towards digital transformation. Can you shed some light on IBM’s approach to digital transformation ?

AS: There are two things that sets IBM apart in our ability to help our clients determine how their businesses will shape the world for years to come.

First Technology – IBM’s Cloud and Watson Platform is built for business, designed for data and secure to the core. We infuse it with the artificial intelligence of Watson which is capable of processing vast amounts of unstructured and structured data. Watson’s scalability, and its ability to learn and reason by finding patterns and recommending new courses of action is a key strength. We have made Watson accessible by bringing it to the API level, so if you want to incorproate chatbots or natural language processing in your customer experience, you can easily do so.

The second is expertise – not just of technology but also of industry. IBM has worked with leading companies across various industries and our consultants have the ability to understand how technology applies to your particular business problem, company and industry. In addition to industry expertise, they specialize in IoT use cases like next-generation supply chain, or building and asset optimization.

BB: The most important flagship project of IBM’s digital transformation is the ‘Watson’. Can you elaborate on how Watson was able to undergo a complete transformation for the IBM brand ?

AS: Artificial Intelligence is the hot topic right now and that is why Watson is at the forefront of all conversations, but let us not forget that IBM gave us System Z – featured in the movie Hidden Figures – the barcode among others and is pioneering the enterprise conversation around Blockchain and Quantum Computing technology.

Coming back to Watson, we are working on “augmented intelligence” versus “artificial intelligence.” This is the critical difference between systems that enhance and scale human expertise (augmented intelligence) and those that attempt to replicate human intelligence (artificial intelligence).

AI cannot be successful unless there is a certain level of supervised learning attached to it that allows the system to create a foundation for continued learning and recognizing patterns. IBM’s subject-matter expertise and industry experience coupled with our clients’ knowledge is what is spearheading the success of Watson. With Watson, we have made AI available for everyone through the open cloud platform allowing developers and companies to build cognition into anything digital. There is one core differentiator that makes IBM stand out from the rest – the promise to our clients that when they work with IBM and Watson, their data, and the insights it yields, will remain theirs, and theirs alone.

BB: While brands are able to reach consumers throughout many moments in their lives, competition for their attention is becoming stiffer. How can digital transformation help brands stay competitive ?

AS: Extended relationships between brands and consumers are getting increasingly difficult because of competition. Consumers are looking for personalization and the convenience it brings. If you can get people engaging with your products everyday, you can learn more about them and deliver value to them.

We will also see an integration in consumer access points. People are tired of accessing 20 different apps for the day-to-day needs and the in future, we may witness an integration of services in one platform. We already see this happening in various home-based platforms or connected vehicles that employ natural language processing and integrate third-party apps to create a one-face platform for people.

BB: The world has entered a new era, oceans of data are flowing from every device. Brands are required to tap into this wealth of data to derive insights that can help in getting a better understanding and better engagement with customers. Please comment.

AS: I spoke about Internet of Things and connected devices earlier – cars, home appliances, connected toys. This is the first time in a long time that marketers have real-time information of how, when and where customers are using their products – acting like a real-time feedback loop that not only allows marketers to understand how to better market their products, but what changes in design and features are needed.

But engagement is not just learning and recording customer data. Today we have cameras that recognize our faces, or automated call centers that recognize our voices but the future of engagement is anticipating the needs and wants of our customers and making it happen. AI helps us build models of people, places and environment over time to continuously learn and customize the experience at an individual level. Imagine a system that understands that you buy a litre of milk every three days with a dark chocolate bar. Then imagine getting real-time notification on your way home reminding you that its time to buy some milk and maybe 20% off on a chocolate bar.

BB: One of the main impact facets of digital transformation on brands is reshaping their experiences. Can you explain how companies can leverage digital transformation to create a customer-centric digital experience ?

AS: IoT and AI is becoming pervasive in our lives and soon, it would be hard to imagine life without it. It all starts with creating a single view of the customer and engaging with them in new ways such as voice, text, messaging systems. There are three key areas that companies need to focus on to deliver essential experiences: Utilize deep insights to make each experience personal . We have already spoken at length on this. Second is to proactively anticipate customer needs and offer recommendations. This will come over time when you start using the artificial intelligence to recognize patterns of behavior and third Deliver a seemless experience across the ecosystem. This one will take time and implies that future customer-experiences will be partnerships between different brands. Imagine being in your car which has been uploaded with your favorite music list, or being able to order a coffee from your car. Being able to bring together the different brands that your customers use will be a differentiator for many companies. Companies are now leading with technological leadership and have conditioned their customers to expect experience leadership. We have only scratched the surface of experience.