How Sappi is looking at opportunities to harvest the benefits of AI

Investment in cutting-edge AI research is set to pay dividends for sales and customer service at Sappi

Benefits of AI

Last year, Sappi partnered with the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the US to fund a Digital Innovation Lab as well as a PhD research student. The Lab’s research focuses on how to leverage data to gain a better understanding of customers, with the partnership aiming to design an interactive machine learning system (IML) for Sappi’s sales organisation.

The collaboration has already yielded promising results, which were outlined in a paper entitled ‘Four Challenges for IML Designers’ presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – the premier international conference about human-computer interaction – in Hamburg in the spring.

Using AI to enable better customer insights

The paper outlines how a machine-learning algorithm might segment customers based on three variables: recency, frequency and monetary value of purchases. This information could then be used by salespeople to deliver better customer service and optimise resource allocation.

One of the paper’s co-authors is Dr. Javed Khan, head of UX at Sappi Europe’s Digital Transformation Team. He envisions a number of practical applications that could help salespeople in the field. While previously they might have looked at their customer base from a subjective, personal perspective, now they can augment their current practice with a data-driven approach to customer segmentation.

The AI can also help salespeople engage in meaningful discussions with senior management, armed with the data to back up their recommendations. Another benefit is the ability to make more informed decisions about where to invest resources – by quickly identifying strategic customers.

Feedback from key salespeople will also allow the algorithm to improve as it is used more and more.

Making the most of company data

If the real-life applications of the research are fascinating, it’s also noteworthy that Sappi, a global renewable resource company, will invest in digital technology if aligned to its Digital Roadmap and when the use case demonstrates clear business benefit.

“I think this is very telling of how important data and AI is for all companies – how much data companies generate, and how it can produce valuable insights. But those insights can only be valuable with the right user experience of such AI applications.”

Dr. Javed Khan, head of UX at Sappi Europe’s Digital Transformation Team
Javed Khan

The RIT Lab plans to continue its research into developing IML applications for sales, but in the future Khan would like to expand the scope. “The focus for now is around sales,” he says. "But it could extend to other areas, such as supporting Sappi’s sustainability team.”

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