SSA & Company Notebook | Summer 2019

A Note From Our CEO

Every leader must stay ahead of emerging technologies and new business approaches to remain competitive. AI, voice, and other technologies are no longer something of the future. Late summer is a great time to catch up. In this issue, we explore companies who successfully adopt these technologies and integrate them into their operating models.

— David Niles, CEO of SSA & Company and President of G100 Companies

Ideas That Made Us Think

Walmart Uses AI to Stay Fresh in The Age of Amazon

Walmart continues to play digital offense by driving sales in physical stores through AI. The company launched an Intelligent Research Lab inside a Long Island neighborhood store featuring thousands of cameras and sensors to monitor everything from product restocking, to customer path to purchase, to managing long checkout lines. Walmart doesn’t view these technologies as replacements for in-store employees but rather as additional support to ensure that customer needs are met efficiently. Through in-store signage, Walmart communicates the functionality and cost benefits that these features offer customers—a key component when data privacy is top of mind. This is a great example of not trying to out-Amazon your competition, but rather leveraging digital technology within an existing competitive advantage (in Walmart’s case, its store footprint, product availability, pricing leadership, and operational excellence) to improve consumer experience.

How Legal & General Aims to Become ‘The Uber’ of Insurance

Legal & General is incorporating tech into the highly-regulated insurance sector through the appointment of CIO Maarten Ectors, a former IoT executive. Through digital innovation, the firm has successfully streamlined operations and established new revenue streams. For example, it developed its own blockchain for customers in the institutional space to expedite data reconciliation and agreement validation. It also uses AI to analyze claims, resulting in quicker transactions, increased customer satisfaction, and productivity gains. Its “digital innovation factories” help conceptualize and validate projects quickly, with small teams and budgets to limit costs and risks. Legacy companies must learn from disruptive technologies to stay competitive. The insurance industry is still in the early stages of adoption for emerging technologies like IoT, Blockchain, and RPA. Leading carriers who focus on improving the customer journey will better anticipate market demand.

An Unlikely Pair: Designing Cars and Pharmaceuticals with VR

Companies like McLaren and C4X Discovery Holdings are using virtual reality technology to design cars and discover new drugs with increased ease and accuracy. Graphics processing units originally used in video games now power AI systems. Designers at McLaren have replaced time-consuming methods using modeling clay or sketches with VR headsets that digitally design and fine-tune 3D car models. These new processes expedite and streamline operations, dramatically reducing costs and process times from months, to days or hours. C4X Discovery Holdings uses AI engines to discover new molecules to help combat diseases like Alzheimer’s. VR headsets allow chemists to better visualize molecules and make improvements faster. This eliminates the uncertainty associated with the molecule development process, allowing the company to deliver better drugs to market. As technologies continue to emerge and advance, leaders must be aware of cross-industry innovations and potential applications within their own operations.

From Smart Home to Smart Work: Voice Systems in Supply Chain

With growth of ecommerce, savvy companies are using voice systems in their warehouses to expedite picking, packing, and shipping goals. Advances in voice recognition technology promote efficiency and accuracy in supply chain. Workers can operate hands-free and stay attentive, eliminating the need to reference instructions for guidance. Set up only takes a few weeks and employee training is easy and efficient. Some companies have increased productivity in supply chain operations by 30-45% through voice system implementation. Companies like ShippingEasy use Amazon’s Alexa in their warehouses—enabling workers to buy postage, print labels and more—through voice commands. In addition to productivity benefits, familiar technologies like voice recognition have the potential to retain and captivate a millennial workforce.

AI Can “Predict” Workplace Accidents Before They Happen

Big construction companies like Suffolk are testing AI technology that could save lives and money by detecting  dangerous conditions that lead to accidents. The company partnered with computer vision company SmartVid to develop a system using deep-learning algorithms—trained on construction site images and past accident records—to monitor new sites and flag unsafe situations. Suffolk and SmartVid have formed the Predictive Analytics Strategic Council for industry leaders to collectively contribute data that will be necessary to improve the system’s performance. Suffolk Chief Data Officer, Jit Kee Chin, explains that competitor collaboration is essential because the more data the AI gathers, the more accurately it will perform. As the trend of using AI to optimize workplace operations continues to grow, companies will likely need to partner with their competitors to improve systems for everyone.

Speaking it Into Existence: Investment Managers Use Voice Technology

Global leaders in investment management—including BlackRock, Invesco, State Street, T. Rowe Price, and JPMorgan—are using new voice technology. These features will be launched on platforms like Amazon’s Alexa and Siri to help clients perform searches relating to account balances or market questions. BlackRock released voice powered ‘skills’ on Amazon’s Alexa to report weekly market briefings. It plans future launches on both Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana for institutional and retail investors. Asset managers from these companies are focusing on search capabilities that can be addressed using voice-related technologies. Voice technology has the potential to deliver a more compelling, digitally-enabled client experience through streamlining middle and back office operations, lowering costs, and providing access to a richer client data set.

Quick Hits

  1. How do you stack up? 20% of financial services firms report having AI in full production.
  2. Our team at SSA & Company is continuing to expand to meet growing demand.
  3. Retail is racing forward. Check out our latest issue of #Run2Digital on the top trends in retail for 2019.
  4. Why didn’t the digital dashboard save Christmas? Read the latest from Managing Partner Matt Katz.
  5. Google’s voice technology is being trained to better serve the speech impaired.
  6. AI has your back—how its cross-industry use is preventing fraud.
  7. Riding Solo? Uber partners with Volvo to roll out new driverless cars.
  8. Drone technology is taking flight in the medical device delivery market.

Exclusive Content on CEO Activism from The Miles Group

Stephen Miles, CEO of our sister firm The Miles Group (TMG), teamed up with David Larcker and Brian Tayan at Stanford University to offer a thought-provoking piece on CEO activism. It has become commonplace for a company to voice its opinion on social and political issues in today’s market. This creates a fine line between advancing a corporation and offending customers. The piece looks at recent instances of CEO activism, how it is received by the public, and the positive and negative effects it can have on purchasing decisions.

TMG develops talent strategies for organizations, teams, and individuals—focusing on high-performance, world-class leadership.

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