Harnessing empowerment to innovate from the core

Interview with Miles Lynam-Smith

Where does innovation comes from? Is it a state or a state of mind? Deutsche Telekom employee Miles Lynam-Smith knows the answer, and he knows how to take an agile approach to achieving it. The international marketing specialist is currently democratising artificial intelligence as part of the eLIZA project.

What is your job within the eLIZA-Project?

My role is about ensuring that the team are empowered to focus on delivering innovative products. More than anything else, my job is about people – both the team itself and maintaining our focus on the customer. As long as we are delivering on our objectives, the programme takes care of itself.

Things were rather different last year. In preparation for the launch of Deutsche Telekom’s first AI product, my role was to lead negotiations and evaluate propositions before choosing a best-in-class NL/ML provider. I considered a variety of candidates, before finally deciding on iamplus.

What is a provider? Could you please explain the provider concept?

AI is still pretty new and there is a Europe-wide shortage of skills in this area. To compensate for this, we undertook a detailed analysis of the AI market. Our objective was to find a provider of machine learning capabilities who could meet our specific requirements.

iamplus focuses on natural language and conversational dialogues. It is best suited to both our business needs and to what we are trying to achieve. iamplus understands our consumer focus, and has the required competence and capabilities – as well as the necessary subject-matter expertise – to deliver projects on time.

How do you think artificial intelligence will make a difference to Deutsche Telekom customers, as well as to the company internally?

The potential is massive. We are focused initially on using AI within customer service. Our aim is to make the lives of our customers easier through more efficient, accurate and precise dialogues with our agents. At the same time, we also want to initiate a wider change management programme within Deutsche Telekom, based on how cognitive AI can be harnessed to create value for the business – such as in sales.

The objective is to use AI to improve our customers’ Deutsche Telekom experience, as well as to enable our agents to increase their focus on more important tasks, such as creating value for Deutsche Telekom, rather than on repetitive everyday duties that can be automated.

Deutsche Telekom wouldn't be the first company that springs to mind in relation to this subject. Why do you think your company is right for AI?

(Laughs) That is a good question! Should innovation remain on the periphery of a company or should it be at its very core from the outset?

What we are trying to do is implement AI on a live system, where we have the most interaction with our customers. It is challenging; however, we are trying to demonstrate that an innovation like ML can have a positive impact on customer care – and on other areas of the business.

On the subject of innovation, this not only applies to the project or the product, but also the structure of your company. For example, you are leading an agile team. Does it differ from leading the old-fashioned way?

Our focus is very much on an agile state of mind. It's an attitude, and a way of working that helps us to make better decisions. It gives us a direct line to our customers and encourages innovation within the team. Furthermore, we hope it increases employee empowerment, and ensures that they enjoy their work each day.

Striking the right balance between time and money, and creativity in large organisations has always been a challenge. The agile approach helps to deliver this. The more we empower employees, the more they can make positive decisions that improve our product. I believe this is the fundamental idea behind the attitude that we want to encourage.

How is the team spirit within the eLIZA team? It seems very international to me.

We are rather an international team – with a virtual structure. The team is located across Germany, Austria and the UK, and we have colleagues from about five different European countries. We have good contacts within the start-up scenes in London and Tel Aviv, as well as within Silicon Valley. The feedback we receive is comprehensive, international and encouraging.

What is the role of TalentHub? Could you tell me a little bit about it?

We are looking to recruit AI experts for Deutsche Telekom, to improve our technology, as well as to gain a better understanding of machine learning and of artificial intelligence. TalentHub is being set up to create a talent pool of AI experts. It comprises two key focus areas: firstly the performance objectives of our programme, and secondly dialogue management – something of a holy grail within ML – so that Deutsche Telekom can become the market leader.


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