Design Thinking, AI and Starting with What Users Need

By: Jose de Francisco & Santeri Jussila

Any organization that wants to deliver targeted, personalized services and experiences needs to understand its customers inside and out: their wants, wishes, behaviors and attitudes. These days, the data to develop that understanding is abundantly available. The challenge is to extract meaningful customer insights from it and convert those insights into actions.

By combining the principles of design thinking with the power of artificial intelligence (AI), CIOs have the tools to solve that problem and deliver powerful business results for their organizations. That's definitely true for the CIOs of the service providers we work with at Nokia — telcos, mobile virtual network operators and the like.

With design thinking and AI, CIOs can build a 360° real-time view of customers to determine their needs and tailor services effectively. For service provider organizations poised to seize the massive opportunities of 5G network slicing — dedicating end-to-end segments of the network for specific uses or users — this kind of insight-driven targeting is going to be essential.

Design Thinking for Telecoms

Design thinking is about putting end users, consumer or companies, at the center of the innovation process, creating products and services based directly on their needs and expectations. It's been used by companies in a wide range of sectors since the 1960s.

At Nokia, we've established a design thinking approach specific to the service provider context, analyzing end users (companies or consumers) in terms of four qualities: attitude, behavior, circumstance and experience. Within those categories, it's possible to track and measure more than 300 different "insights" (age, location, app and service usage, satisfaction, churn potential and more) building a comprehensive picture that can be translated into decisions for marketing, customer care, operations and monetization.

We developed this approach out of our own experience with human factor engineering and user-centric design, and by co-developing and testing a library of more than 200 distinct use cases together with our telco customers. Our customers are now using it in their initiatives, with AI and machine learning helping profile and cluster customers into ever-finer microsegments and even "segments of one." That enables a kind of hyper-personalization that can be used for experience-centric operations and care, customized services, targeted marketing and more.

While in some ways this marks a radical shift for the service provider industry, it's going to become status quo with the mass rollout of full-fledged 5G.

Bringing Design Thinking to 5G

What makes 5G different is that it virtualizes the network, making it highly fluid, flexible and configurable. That opens up the opportunity for 5G networks to be service platforms — not only for operators but also for innovative third-party enterprises, so they can build the capabilities of the network right into their own offerings. The value of the network will not be mere connectivity, as it is today, but rather the potential to meet an almost unlimited variety of end-user needs and support an innovation ecosystem.

This means 5G services will be inherently intent-driven: purpose-built to answer specific business requirements. Different slices of the network can be assigned to fulfill different intents. For example, a gaming studio may personalize a low-latency slice based on their games' requirements and their gamers' needs, while a robotics company will configure one with ultra-high throughput and reliability to support a factory automation solution. ABI Research estimates the value of the slicing opportunity at about US$66 billion.¹

Design thinking will help determine what each network slice needs to do: the latency and throughput required to fulfill a specific business intent, the assurance and management needed to uphold service level agreements. With AI and machine learning used to collect and analyze end-user requirements and identify patterns in them, service providers will be able to create more market-driven, pre-configured slice "templates" to meet the needs of vertical markets or specific types of services.

Slice templates will be easy to replicate and tweak. Machine learning tools will assess new customers, services, and recommend appropriate templates and configurations for their needs. This will bring convenience for service providers as well as an opportunity to add more value, because the provider can analyze their profile, and suggest the most appropriate slice template which the enterprises are able to tweak to meet their exact needs.

Breaking Down the Silos

One of the challenges service provider CIOs face — and likely in other industries, too — is that the underlying data to inform design thinking isn't just enormous in volume but also locked up in organizational silos. Nearly 60% of service providers surveyed cite inconsistent or fragmented data as a key challenge to AI implementation, and 77% say they struggle with data storage, consolidation and management.

To truly harness the power of design thinking, a new approach is needed so those silos can be dismantled and information can flow freely. This will get the whole organization acting in unison, and more business-driven, in accordance with design thinking principles.

With design thinking and AI, service providers will be equipped to seize the 5G opportunity and tap the innovation power of enterprise partners. They can leverage their deep customer knowledge to ensure slices are fully based on market and customer needs — mindful of the full, end-to-end customer experience.