Things were a little different than usual at this year’s DMEXCO, Europe’s paramount conference for digital marketing and technology. While there’s definitely something to be said for marching through the effervescent Koelnmesse halls in search of the best booth espresso, DMEXCO @home provided a more serene and refined conference experience.
There were dozens of talks we enjoyed this year, from Nina Stassner (SAP) & Maxine Williams’ (Facebook) talk on evolving diversity & inclusion, to Sophia Velastegui’s (Microsoft) talk on Responsible AI. Yet these are the three that really stood out:
Innovation is Dead and Transformation is Pointless
Debbie Vavangas - IBM Garage Global Lead, VP - Global Business Services, IBM
Moving past the artfully deceptive title, Debbie Vavangas’ talk on the need for more collaboration to fuel successful innovation was refreshing. Current data points, like the fact that 75% of innovation programs are failing to deliver a material impact on the bottom line, tell us that ideation is easy, implementation is not.
Her talk stressed the importance of actually introducing new ways of working, new processes, new tools, even new organisational charts for companies invested in innovation. Sure, an innovation arm can be set up for a corporation, but there are still individual fears and desires that shape how those departments operate. Going from good idea to business outcome is a stumbling block, regardless of the starting point. Why? Vavangas proposes it’s one of three things - The idea wasn’t good enough, the realisation of value is not clear or measured, or individuals just don't possess the right transformational mindset and resources.
At the beating heart of successful innovation is collaboration. Vavangas rather eloquently articulated that the development of Homosapiens, and the success of humankind, is due to our collaborative nature. We are stronger when working together, stronger when we focus on T teams, as opposed to A teams. Ultimately, the more interdisciplinary we are, the more successful we become. Innovation is dead without collaboration. We should be building multidisciplinary partnerships of deep, varying areas of expertise in order to fuel innovation. How should we approach this? In Vavangas’ own words - “We must transform from within, start small, and scale with purpose and speed. Let’s be Homosapiens”.
Digital Transformation - The New Normal
Thomas Jarzombek, Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy, Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy
One of the more captivating DMEXCO talks this year came, surprisingly, from Thomas Jarzombek, Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy at the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. He was forthcoming about the fact that digitalization in parliament was never truly a top priority, and explained how Covid has changed that. While a main focus of the German government at the moment is helping traditional businesses get online, Jarzombek says not every legacy can step into the digital world, and we should also focus our attention on new companies, companies focused on AI for example, to fill that arena.
The government is heavily investing in Germany’s startup ecosystem with the aim to put more European players among the ranks of global market leaders. In order to aid innovation and VC investments in the next big thing(s) be it quantum computing, artificial intelligence, or rocket developers, the government will support a €10billion Future Fund, together with KfW, to assist strong startups in potentially becoming global players.
It’s not just cash injections that are needed, says Jarzombek. Smaller companies need access to data, and crucially require the infrastructure to scale here in Germany, as opposed to heading to California, with a more enticing regulation and funding landscape. In a nutshell, Thomas Jarzombek’s talk on Digital Transformation was an inspiring call, in line with DMEXCO’s motto of “attitude matters”, for governments to adopt a more enabling attitude towards AI-focused businesses, to be willing to experience trial and error, and ultimately, to push innovation.
Artificial Intelligence - The Beauty of Data
Anastasia Leng, Creative X. Philipp Karmires, Linde plc. Michael Scharff, Evolv Technology Solutions Inc
This group discussion was an engaging mix of both philosophical and practical insights on the creative use of data in AI business. With so many brands relying solely on measurements and data analysis for business analytics, are we underestimating the creative power of data? The speakers looked at the role that human intelligence plays when it comes to data - that of architect; for example, creating data stems that are devoid of bias. Synthesiser; how do we synthesize data into something that resembles a strategy? And Translator; how do we translate data into a story?
Such rapid development in AI capabilities makes it difficult to predict how things will evolve, but data creativity could become one of the next trends in AI business. As some marketers opt for AI over people to create advertising, Anastasia Leng states that artificial intelligence could never be better at storytelling than humans, that it would always be up to us to take creative insights and turn those into meaningful stories.
Most current AI systems are still operating on rather limited information. We are at a point where we should focus our attention on ethics, on building systems that do not perpetuate human bias. We are in an early enough stage to avoid potential pitfalls, and to prove that we can build and develop AI systems free from engrained human bias. At the end of the talk, we had the feeling that while AI is paramount in making us better at decision making, creatively, humans remain the ultimate software.
This year’s DMEXCO @home took a deep, broad dive into the motto of “Attitude Matters”. The general consensus was that companies, even governments, need to continually open up dialogues to discuss where we are headed and how to get there, together, in a secure manner that fosters a culture of successful innovation.
“Actions and decision-making in the digital economy have a growing impact on our entire society. And that is precisely why it is time to ask: What do we stand for? What attitude do we have? These questions don’t have just one answer, of course. And because the leading experts convene here with us, we want to join with them in discussing how we define ‘attitude’ as an industry.’ - Dr. Dominik Matyka, Chief Advisor of DMEXCO.