a day at dtac ChiefOpE:D

How machine learning can help connect us to what matters most

Does your mobile carrier matter to you? Does the telecoms industry matter at all? There are two views on this. The first is that your mobile carrier is a utilities company providing a commodity, like electricity and water. Mostly, we don’t interact with such companies or even want to. We only notice them when it’s time to pay the bill—or when things don’t work.

But there’s a second possible scenario where good mobile carriers can become increasingly relevant to your life. Advances powered by artificial intelligence, big data and the internet of things are actually revitalizing what the telecommunications industry can deliver. By making their offers more relevant to you, by simplifying their products, and by creating tools that empower you to do more with your smartphone, telcos can vastly improve the mobile internet experience.

Before I get to dtac, I want to give you an outside example of how artificial intelligence can turn a commodity into a service we can all love. Music streaming is, in many ways, a mere pipeline. You subscribe to it, and you get songs. Spotify, Apple Music or Pandora don’t make the songs—and what songs you can get are largely the same across all services. So why is one of those services, Spotify, crushing its US competitor, Pandora? It all comes down to how intelligently Spotify delivers those songs to you.

In 2015, Spotify launched Discover Weekly, a selection of songs picked based on your listening habits. By 2016, people were starting to go crazy about it, writing hyperbolic tweets about Spotify knowing them better than the soulmate of their dreams. Its machine learning has now improved to a point where about 90 percent of what Spotify suggests matches my tastes. It’s totally changed the way I listen to music. Instead of hunting for mixes and songs that match my taste, I just listen to what Spotify delivers—and I love it.

What makes Spotify’s recommendations so good is the combination of artificial intelligence and big data. In other words, lots of data points, plus some very smart data scientists and AI experts. And Spotify isn’t the only one to have tapped into this. Amazon can be equally uncanny in the accuracy of its suggestions. Why can’t a telecoms company like dtac also use its customer data to better serve you? Why can’t it show you the things you might love before you even knew they existed? With over 20 million customers dtac has a colossal amount of network and usage data. What can all that information do?

To begin with, it can help customers choose the right offers. There are over 6,000 price plans for mobile operators in the Thai market. The right one for you depends on your lifestyle. Do you travel a lot? Do you spend more time streaming video or chatting on social media apps? Do you still call a lot or are you a Gen-Z who finds the very idea of a phone call creepy? Or do you just want unlimited data for anything and everything? There’s a plan out there that’s perfect for you and finding it should be faster and easier.

Just like Spotify can group users according to similar listening patterns and infer which songs you’re likely to love based on those similarities, dtac is creating complex profiles of our customers and testing out hundreds of alternatives to build a better understanding of what each cluster of similarly-minded customers wants. You should never have to see an offer for four hours of calling time ever again if you’re the kind of person who makes about two calls a months. And at this point, I should add that all this data is completely anonymized. The scientists working on it never get to see your individual records.

The technology is currently still in its infancy, but the combination of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data and massive connectivity has huge potential for Thailand. dtac accelerate alumni, Ricult, is using predictive models to grant micro-loans to farmers most likely to make good on their installments. It also applies machine learning algorithms to map crop and soil conditions and suggest the optimal amounts of fertilizer and water. In parallel, dtac has both a Smart Farmer app that allows farmers to consult market prices in real time and 30 pilot farms using connected devices for precision farming. Working together, dtac and Ricult plan to harness these new technologies to empower an industry that employees 40 percent of the workforce yet represents only 10 percent of GDP.

Machine learning and big data can transform music streaming services, farms, brick-and-mortar retail chains and telcos alike. When a business connects data points intelligently to give you less clutter and more of the things that really matter to you, there is tremendous value unlocked at both ends of the transaction. That’s why, in 2018, dtac’s purpose will be focused on using our data, and our data experts, to both connect you to what matters most and to empower society.


Andrew Kvalseth is Chief Marketing Officer at dtac.

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