The future reimagined

The Tactics for Finding Business Problems That Matter

Future of Growth

Written by Riku Tapper

Imagine a future where delivery routes are automatically planned and optimized daily to fit the specific delivery points. Imagine a future where the process of each parcel is individually monitored in real-time and any possible faults in the process are rectified before they escalate resulting in quality issues. These and many more similar visions are futures toward which we are driving towards at Posti ICT.

Starting in the beginning of 2019 we have been building capabilities in Posti ICT to support all different Posti businesses in their ambitions to utilize data with ever more varied methods – and to a greater effect than ever before. In our team, we have experts with varied backgrounds in optimization, human-computer interaction, social and economic data analysis, and biomedical engineering, of whom all have a specialization in machine learning and advanced analytics.

But no matter how many data scientists we recruit, we cannot be of much value unless we can use these resources to solve business problems that matter. To recognize problems that can be solved with data and AI, we cooperate with all different Posti businesses. To get to the most “valuable” problems, we have utilized three distinct tactics which I have dubbed active elicitation, passive elicitation, and active exploration.

Finding the best cases through workshops

The main method for finding the best cases for us to solve is by working together with business representatives in workshops. This is what I call active elicitation. We have found it useful to target workshops around a relatively specific spearhead. In absence of a sufficiently specific starting point around which the ideas begin to crystallize, there is a risk of the discussion spiraling out of control and end up trying to solve all the world’s problems at once – which is an exercise in futility.

We have noticed that a useful method for setting the starting point for idea crystallization is by targeting the workshop towards an intersection of two already relatively specific topics. A good example is a recent workshop we held, which sought to answer the question “How can we improve parcel receiver experience by using data around the SmartPost parcel lockers?” – thus targeting the discussion towards the intersection of SmartPost parcel lockers and customer experience.

Letting imagination bloom

The second approach we’ve spent time exploring is setting up means for people all around Posti to nominate their ideas on problems they believe could be solved using data and AI, and at the same time providing them with the needed knowledge and mindset to identify the best use cases. This, in turn, is what I call passive elicitation. Compared to the previously described active approach which needs a good starting point for ideation, in this passive approach we simply open channels and let people’s imagination bloom.

To encourage and facilitate idea creation throughout Posti we have started with multiple different initiatives aiming at amplifying discussions related to data & AI and spreading knowledge on what is possible with AI and other emerging technologies (also on the contrary, what is not possible). These initiatives include the Introduction to Transformation Digital Technologies online course available to all Posti employees on Spark until the end of 2019, the AI-café sessions (the latest of which attracted over 100 participants!), and the Posti AI in Business-program running for the first time during autumn 2019.

Meeting up with the problem face to face

Finally, I believe that the best way of getting an understanding of problems in need of solutions is by going and experiencing these problems ourselves. This approach takes inspiration from the Toyota Way principle “Genchi Genbutsu” which roughly translates to “real location, real thing”, and is what I dubbed earlier as active exploration. In practice, this means process walk-throughs and days on-the-job. I can announce that we even have plans to pilot a concept combining a day on-the-job and a hackathon-type super-fast development sprint.

Building on trust

At the core of all three approaches for discovering the best AI use cases is trust. We need to be able to establish a relationship of trust between ourselves and the different Posti businesses for us to do our job well. Trust in us being able to provide the necessary solutions for the workshops to be a worthwhile usage of business’s time. Trust in us handling all ideas responsibly and with confidentiality where necessary – no idea should ever fall victim to self-criticism. Trust in us for you to be able to give us a non-biased view on what really happens in your day-to-day jobs.

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