Singapore Institute of Management
Published on 25/10/2019

Businesses, be warned: do not embark on artificial intelligence (AI) for technology’s sake. Instead you should focus on making your customers’ lives simpler and better. Use AI to achieve that goal: deploy AI to analyse customer data to find the right customer problem to solve, and in so doing, you will be better positioned to innovate and transform your business to meet your customers’ needs.

This key message was delivered by SIM Chief Learning Officer Dr Kevyn Yong at the Future Economy Conference & Exhibition (FECE) 2019 on 16 October at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. Themed ‘People, Digitalisation & The Future of Jobs’, the conference explored how technology is changing the way businesses are conducted and its effect on jobs.

Speaking at a breakout track ‘Industry 4.0 and Job Redesign’ and a panel discussion that followed, Dr Yong touched on how enterprises can leverage AI to generate and build disruptive innovations that deliver valued and widely accessible products and services. He emphasised that AI is not here to replace people, but tasks. Citing the example of the introduction of the automated teller machine (ATM) in 1967, bank tellers thought they would be out of a job. On the contrary, with ATMs, more bank branches had to be built, leading to the employment of more staff. With AI automating simple banking tasks, bank workers ended up focusing on more customer-centric services. The winner? Everyone – the banks, banking staff and customers.

“When you create new products and solutions for your customers, you help them make better use of their time. You help them make progress with their lives,” he told the participants.

Demystifying AI, Dr Yong went on to illustrate that anyone can leverage AI to innovate. To begin this process, he referenced Clayton Christensen’s milkshake story and “jobs to be done” theory that innovation is about helping the customer get a job done. Understanding the job that our products and services are trying to do and identifying the problems that prevent them from doing it is the important first step to innovation. To find the right customer problem to solve, we should use AI to automate the data processing step to surface non-obvious but interesting patterns of customer behaviour.

Peppering his talk with case studies, Dr Yong also cautioned that no matter how good an innovation is, there will be always be an opportunity for someone else to better it. For instance, iTunes was once considered revolutionary in making music consumption so much more personalised and convenient than compact discs, but it is now overtaken by Spotify. Spotify went one step further: leveraging AI to anticipate and push out playlists according to customers’ preferences.

Dr Yong (3rd from right) addressing a question about getting employees to adopt digitalisation. Instead of changing people, he opined that companies should focus their efforts in changing the situation first before engaging employees to own and manage the changing situation.


First organised in 2017, the FECE supports the Singapore Business Federation’s role as the apex business chamber to encourage businesses to transform, and is complementary to the work of the Committee on the Future Economy and the Future Economy Council. SIM is proud to be a silver sponsor of the 2019 conference which saw a turnout of over 500 business owners and decision makers. Other strategic partners included the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Infocomm Media Development Authority, FUTR Group, Workforce Singapore and Enterprise Singapore.

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