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AI in 2024: turning potential into progress

By Aisha Mendez, Associate Partner for AI & Automation at Infosys Consulting UK

Dictionaries’ “words of the year” can offer a headline insight into the worldwide events, emotions, and ideas that dominated the previous twelve months. And in 2023, there was only one contender.

Collins Dictionary was the most direct, simply selecting “AI” as its defining 2023 word. Meanwhile, Cambridge Dictionary picked “hallucinate” and Merriam-Webster chose “authentic”— not for their traditional definitions, but for their new connections to generative AI and its intermittent production of both genuine and false information.

Simply, AI dominated business and public discussions last year. But some sceptics continue to dismiss it as hype, while less technologically literate users remain unsure or unwilling to embrace it. I can say with confidence that AI is not only here to stay, but that it’s perhaps the most revolutionary technology of our lifetimes to date. So, this year businesses must prioritise AI to stay ahead of competitors, unlock unprecedented productivity gains, and embrace the cutting-edge of technological development.

Aisha Mendez

Taking AI to the next level in 2024

An exciting and unique element of generative AI is that it can be used by almost anyone – you don’t need to be a traditional coder or even an expert in AI at all. This massively widens the possibilities for its application within a business, as well as by consumers.

Generative AI can do so much more than provide conversational responses to written questions. From automating code generation to synthesising pharmaceutical molecules, the technology is a multi-tool of digital transformation. It can be harnessed for personalised marketing at scale, predictive analytics, and even creating digital art. In the realm of cybersecurity, generative models can simulate network behaviour to identify vulnerabilities before they’re exploited. In my personal working life, I rely on a suite of ‘helpers’, from ChatGPT to MidJourney and Gamma (the latter is especially useful, because who actually enjoys pulling PowerPoints together?).” 

Generative AI is poised to be a transformative force across industries, reshaping how we solve complex problems, generate content, and even make decisions. Its applications are only limited by our imagination. Ignoring this technology doesn’t just mean missing out on incremental improvements, but risks making a company obsolete as competitors leverage AI to revolutionize workflows and customer experiences. It’s not just a game-changer; it’s table stakes for future relevance. So, how can you successfully harness it in 2024 and beyond?

My top tips for integrating AI into your business

First things first: stop overthinking it. Generative AI isn’t some esoteric riddle wrapped in an enigma; it’s a tool. A fantastic, gloriously complex tool, but a tool, nonetheless. Start by looking at your business processes and asking, “Where am I tired of saying, ‘There must be a better way!’?” That’s your sweet spot for generative AI. As for who should be around the table, you need your decision-makers, of course—the CEO and CTOs—but please don’t ignore your front-line workers. They know the processes better than anyone. Add a few sceptics in for good measure; you need people who’ll ask the hard questions.

In the journey to implement generative AI technologies, a multidisciplinary approach is not just beneficial—it’s essential. Naturally, IT and Operations are cornerstone departments, responsible for the technical implementation and ongoing support of these solutions. They function as the backbone of any AI initiative. However, the ecosystem that sustains and governs generative AI is complex and touches upon various areas of an organisation. For instance, Legal and Compliance teams; they help navigate the regulatory landscape and ethical considerations around AI use, ensuring that the organisation’s policies reflect the highest standards of responsible conduct.

Also, as job roles evolve, HR becomes central to the change management process, ensuring a smooth transition for staff and maintaining organisational health. Business changes around generative AI that impact employees must be announced in a manner that helps ensure it’s used/seen in a positive way. Leaders often communicate change as if they’re announcing a weather report: factual and devoid of emotion. But change is emotional! Especially when it’s about something as life-altering as AI. Lead with empathy, not just facts.

Be sure to introduce a Generative AI Use Policy, but please make it understandable. Legal jargon is as appealing as soggy chips. A well-crafted policy will educate your team on the potential pitfalls, from accuracy to copyright issues. Remember, a policy isn’t there to cover your back; it’s there to empower your people. Speaking of rules and regulations, let’s look at the wider evolutions happening across the AI industry.

How lawmakers and tech companies can safely foster future innovation

At the UK AI Summit in November, 28 countries agreed to work together to combat the risks posed by AI development under the ‘Bletchley Declaration’, while the UK and the US also announced the creation of collaborative AI Safety Institutes for the research and testing of emerging AI.

I was thrilled to see participating nations unite to address common challenges and formulate a cohesive approach to responsible AI development. But while regulations are necessary as we move into 2024, we should also prioritise the nurturing of innovation. Supporting start-ups and smaller AI firms with incentives, funding, and access to data is key to fostering continued progress in AI development.

Similarly, we need to acknowledge the underrepresentation of female-led AI start-ups in funding. We must foster a more inclusive environment within the AI industry, and this should extend to funding channels, so female-founded AI companies have equal access to the investment opportunities required for responsible AI development. This issue of diversity is not just about fairness — it’s utterly crucial for mitigating biases and discrimination within AI systems. AI learns from the humans building and using it, so ensuring it isn’t skewed or stunted because only a select few are involved in it is important.

Progress this year will likely involve encouraging venture capital firms to adopt more inclusive policies, fostering an environment where all founders are subjected to fair scrutiny, and actively promoting diversity in the AI ecosystem. A diverse development team translates to more comprehensive and effective solutions. The future of work isn’t human vs. machine; it’s human and machine—co-creating value in ways we’ve just started to realise.

Channelling AI’s potential for good

If 2023 was the year of AI discovery and experimentation, 2024 is the time to get serious about using it for tangible progress. Here, getting your employees on board is crucial.

Minimising fears, whilst maximising excitement around generative AI, transparency and vision-setting, are paramount. Employees should be part of the conversation from the get-go, and continually involved in AI’s role within the organization. Open dialogues create a space for staff to voice concerns and for leadership to address them head-on, setting the record straight that AI is a tool to augment, not replace, human capabilities. Moreover, re-skilling and upskilling programs are non-negotiables. This year, many businesses will likely invest in a training ecosystem that demystifies AI and empowers employees to leverage it in their roles. When people see first-hand how these tools make their work more impactful, concerns often give way to enthusiasm.

Lastly, celebrate the wins, big and small, achieved through human-AI collaboration. Showcase these as case studies to the entire organization. This not only fosters a positive narrative around AI but also instils a culture of innovation. By making the workforce part of the AI journey, you replace fear with ownership and future-proof your human capital. AI is here to stay—but it’s still no match for your people’s wisdom, empathy, and creativity.

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Business

Enhancing sustainable commitments in retail banking

Source: Finance Derivative

Mikko Kähkönen, Head of Payment Cards Portfolio at Giesecke+Devrient

Today, more consumers are keeping environmental pledges from banks at the forefront of their financial decisions, and those banks that fall behind their competitors on sustainable action are risking the loss of customers, particularly among the younger generation. This shift highlights a growing expectation from consumers for their banks to make and uphold sustainable commitments, signalling a change in consumer priorities where environmental responsibility is increasingly seen as essential, not just an optional extra. Giesecke+Devrient research shows that as many as 64% of Gen Z consumers would be happy to switch banks if their current provider didn’t meet their expectations.

However, sustainable commitments must be authentic to avoid any accusations of greenwashing. Unfortunately for the banking sector, consumer trust is being strained as greenwashing incidents have risen by 70% around the world. Banks can’t simply make claims that can’t be backed up; pledges must be supported by evidence. There’s a number of practical steps they can take to prove their credentials.

Banking on the evolution of cards

The bank card has increasingly become a physical symbol of the relationship between consumer and bank. As such, banks have taken steps to ensure that it is designed with sustainability in mind. Many are now created with recycled PVC material, commonly up to 100%, with a lower carbon footprint.

Some banks are elevating their sustainable credentials by utilising cards that are made from plastic collected in oceans and coastal regions, helping to clear up the world’s beaches. Alongside this, others are issuing cards made of polylactic acid sourced from (inedible) corn starch. This is a fully renewable biomass that could be industrially composted.

Sustainable cards can then encourage further sustainable initiatives. We’re more often seeing issuers now actively taking part in local conservation, community development and educational projects around the world to help benefit the planet. Communicating these efforts to customers can help reinforce sustainable credentials and leave tangible evidence that proactive action is taking place.

Contributing to the circular economy

Powering the sustainable credentials of issued cards is one aspect, but it’s also vital that banks encourage their customers to do the right thing with them once they expire and they need to be discarded of. We’re already seeing prominent banks making progress in this area. UK retail bank, Santander, has launched a pilot scheme in branches and ATMs that encourages customers to return their outdated credit and debit cards for recycling, for example.

The collected cards are then turned into plastic pellets to be used elsewhere, for instance to make outdoor furniture, sponsored by Santander, for local communities. As more banks opt for card recycling, consumers will be empowered to dispose of their old or expired cards in a green way and help to reduce ecological footprint.

Into the digital world

Outside of card innovations, retail banks can add to their credible green claims with digital solutions. As an example, the card issuance process has typically involved paper letters, with additional PIN letter, that are posted out to customers to activate their payment cards. Instead, an ePIN service can enable customers to instantly access their PIN via their choice of a mobile app or SMS message, reducing paper waste and waiting times.

There are also innovations taking place in terms of QR codes and augmented reality (AR) solutions to enable digital marketing offerings. This means that printed collateral doesn’t need to physically sent out in the post. The more that these types of communications are sent out digitally, the more that consumers see a tangible commitment to sustainable practices.

Banks can even take an additional step by deploying third-party partners to track the CO2 footprint involved with every purchase or payment. By opting for organisations that have a solid track record in green practices, such as supporting product certifications and information on eco-products and their claims, they can make steps to compensate for each transaction carbon footprint.

Contributing to the green story

To ensure they don’t come under any criticism regarding their environmental claims, banks and financial institutions have the opportunity to adopt sustainable practices that align with their customers’ expectations for eco-friendly commitments in both their physical and digital services. They can introduce banking cards made from recycled or entirely compostable materials, eliminating plastic waste.

Digitally, banks can minimise unnecessary paper use by employing online applications to simplify the process of delivering PINs. By innovating in these domains, they can fulfil their environmental responsibilities and establish that essential trust with consumers, contributing positively to the planet’s wellbeing.

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Business

Successfully dealing with the unintended consequences of change

by Daniel Norman, Change Management Consultant at Symatrix

Most people dislike change. We are drawn to stability and established routines and feel unsettled when anything happens to disrupt the ‘status quo’. It’s bad enough when the local supermarket moves the bread section – but when the company we work for introduces a new digital system that completely changes how we work, it feels like ‘the sky is falling in’.

When change happens within businesses, there may initially be some resistance from employees: whether it be in the form of avoiding new systems, skipping training, clinging to old methods, or even quitting altogether. Change in business is a constant, however, and it is usually driven by a desire for improvement, and typically over time, becomes the new normal.

Good change management is all about smoothing this process of transition and that means engaging with people and helping them to seamlessly switch to a new model or ways of working.  Change management is not just concerned with implementing new systems or processes; it is just as much about listening intently to colleagues, customers, and stakeholders.

It’s working with people to get things right, building a deep understanding of the challenges we and our colleagues face, and shaping the vision for a future that resonates with people. Change is most successful when everyone feels they have a part to play in moving things forward. And that’s true of all change initiatives, large and small.

Finding a way forward

When it comes to managing change, it’s important to recognise that everyone will have their own journey; they’ll work through things at their own pace, and that’s more sustainable than pretending we’ll all arrive at the same point at the same time.

 It’s also important to focus on creating a supportive environment, or the right conditions for people to adapt, with as little friction as possible. The goal is to establish conditions that minimise friction and foster a collective sense of purpose. This philosophy is crucial in creating a environment conducive to individual and organisational growth.

Getting the planning process right

When planning for change, it’s essential to consider both the intended and unintended consequences. Just as technological advancements like social media have transformed communication but also introduced challenges such as misinformation and mental health concerns, organisational changes can have extensive, unforeseen impacts. A thorough exploration of current operational practices, beyond process maps or managerial assertions, is therefore, always a vital feature of any effective change management approach.

For that reason, it can often be a mistake to pull out those process maps the team updated 12 months ago or rely on the word of line managers that will tell you ‘this is how we operate’ without taking into consideration the work-arounds or simplifications that employees have developed over time.

Teams will naturally evolve, and patterns of work; ways of doing things that aren’t written down, will always be there. A good change manager must always be cognisant of that. Even small changes, like when a key person in the team changes roles, can have a big impact.

To manage change well, it’s important to talk to the people who will be most affected by it. This helps change managers to plan and effectively execute the change journey. By ignoring these key considerations, organisations risk their change strategy stalling from the outset and the opportunity for operational efficiencies may therefore never be fully realised.

Throughout the process, it is crucial to continuously monitor and measure the impact of change on all key stakeholders. One effective way of doing that is by embracing the principle of change curves: a popular model organisations can use to understand the different stages people and the organisation go through when a change occurs.

An effective strategy involves mapping stakeholders against this curve, whether as individuals or groups, during project check-ins. This approach can help project leaders gauge the current position of every team member on the curve, the impact of the project’s upcoming phase on them, or their colleagues, and additional support measures that could be implemented. Such an assessment facilitates a more tailored and effective change management strategy, ensuring stakeholders are adequately supported throughout the transition.

Not everything will run like clockwork, of course, no matter the change management approach that is put in place. Challenges, setbacks, and opportunities for improvement are inherent to any process, but proactive anticipation and planning for potential worst-case scenarios and unintended consequences significantly enhance our ability to support our colleagues and teams effectively. This strategic foresight is crucial in managing transitions smoothly and realising the intended benefits of initiatives.

A positive route ahead

Change, especially in business, are inevitable and often aimed at fostering improvement and growth. However, the journey through change is deeply personal and varies from one individual to another. By acknowledging this, creating a supportive environment, and engaging with all stakeholders, organisations can navigate the complexities of change with minimal resistance and maximum efficiency.

Effective change management, therefore, is not just about the technical implementation of new systems but about genuinely listening to and working with people to adapt and thrive in new circumstances. It’s about understanding the nuanced ways teams operate, the unofficial shortcuts and workarounds they’ve developed, and considering the broader implications of change beyond immediate operational efficiencies. Through a thoughtful approach that anticipates challenges and values stakeholder input, organisations can not only manage change but turn it into a catalyst for positive transformation and growth.

It is clear then that while people may inherently dislike change, with the right conditions, support, and leadership, the transition can become a journey of collective progress and innovation. Change, managed well, can transform the initial discomfort into an opportunity for development, making the once feared ‘sky falling in’ scenario a launchpad for reaching new heights.

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Embedded finance: What consulting firms need to know

By Michael Pierce, VP of Sales at Toqio

Consulting firms are the architects of change in the business world, offering insights and solutions that guide companies toward growth and success. They navigate the intricate landscape of markets and industries, providing invaluable advice to their clients. In this evolving milieu, an opportunity is arising as embedded finance enters the scene, creating a unique and prospectively vital synergy between consultants and platform providers.

Embedded finance, especially within the scope of B2B enterprises, is a hot topic right now among consultancies and the outlook seems to be quite positive.

To date, much of the initial traction in embedded finance has been in the consumer sector, with products such as no- or low-interest financing, buy-now-pay-later (BNP), and others. On the B2B side, there is an increasing amount of mobilization. In recent months we’ve seen incumbent banks either entering the banking-as-a-service (BaaS) market or enabling their services through open banking partnerships, while strategy firms are busy advising corporate entities on the potential routes they can take. Early adopters have already made embedded finance a cornerstone of their digital or financial transformation programs: MVPs and proofs of concept have been on the rise.

As we all peer forward, the market is starting to look for scalable use cases to take advantage of these massive, predicted opportunities. Companies are searching for solutions that go beyond the hype.

For consulting firms, the messaging remains positive. The fundamentals of embedded finance drive strong service revenue. Even more importantly, the business cases for their clients stack up as well. Numerous opportunities are on the table when consultants incorporate embedded finance platforms into their projects, including increased revenue, improved retention rates, access to a wider range of data for better decision-making, and many more.

Adaptability delivers excellent results

Embedded finance helps to break down barriers faced by many companies when trying to access affordable financial services. By integrating financial services directly into the supply chain, companies can enjoy many benefits, such as liquidity management, credit accessibility, risk mitigation, and many others. That’s one of the reasons why embedded finance platforms are proving to be the latest addition to the consultant’s toolkit. They offer a wide array of solutions that enable businesses to integrate financial services into their products and services. What makes embedded finance platforms especially appealing to consultants is their adaptability and scalability.

Consulting firms understand the need for versatile solutions capable of addressing various business requirements. Versatility and adaptability are key, giving consultants the flexible tools they need to deliver on time and within budget.

Embedded finance platforms are a natural extension of consulting firms’ capabilities as they offer a comprehensive range of financial solutions that integrate perfectly into existing business processes. This alignment provides consulting firms with several advantages, such as  enhanced client services, data-driven insights, streamlined processes, scalability, and versatility.

A match made in finance

The compatibility between consulting firms and embedded finance platforms is readily apparent. Consultants excel at diagnosing business issues and embedded finance platforms provide a precise prescription for financial enhancements.

There is an extensive list of benefits that consulting firms can get from platforms like this. Diversifying their business is just one of them as embedded finance platforms augment the services that consultants offer. They allow consultants to present clients with solutions for intricate business ecosystem operations, such as payment processing, receivables management, and liquidity optimization.

Partnering with an embedded finance platform can also open up new revenue streams as well as being able to scale the solutions built with more agility. Consultants can use them to address the unique needs of projects of any size, whether working with an SME or a multinational enterprise.

The relationship between consulting firms and embedded finance platforms isn’t just about expanding services, it’s about offering integrated financial solutions that improve efficiency, profitability, and competitiveness. This partnership drives results. In a world where businesses seek comprehensive solutions, embedded finance platforms empower consulting firms to address complex financial challenges effectively.

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