In a bold move, Vodafone is delving deep into the world of Generative Artificial Intelligence (genAI), leveraging Microsoft technology to enhance various aspects of its operations. While this cutting-edge technology holds immense promise, it raises questions about the potential risks and rewards for the telecom giant.
A glimpse into vodafone’s experiments
In a recent presentation to industry analysts, Vodafone unveiled its ambitious foray into the realm of generative artificial intelligence, hinting at a future where genAI plays a pivotal role in their operations. While the telecom industry is no stranger to buzzwords, Vodafone’s engagement with genAI demonstrates a substantial commitment, going beyond mere experimentation.
GenAI in customer interaction
Vodafone’s exploration of genAI encompasses a wide range of applications, with a particular focus on enhancing customer experience. The company is currently involved in as many as ten proofs of concept and trials centered around chatbots. These genAI-driven chatbots, including the customer-facing TOBi and the employee-focused ASKHR, are being empowered with domain-specific knowledge, potentially enabling them to provide insightful responses to natural-language queries. Moreover, genAI is being deployed in supply-chain management and other critical areas.
Content generation across vodafone divisions
Vodafone’s genAI journey extends beyond chatbots. With seven additional proofs of concept and trials targeting content generation across various divisions, the company is keen on harnessing genAI’s capabilities to generate meaningful content. This includes Vodafone Business product and solutions (VBPS), network operations, commercial operations, and even the Learning Portal—a Vodafone training resource. Notably, Vodafone’s Internet of Things team leveraged ChatGPT, one of genAI’s most renowned offspring, to craft bid responses based on past successful submissions.
Boosting developer productivity with gitHub copilot
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Vodafone’s genAI endeavor is its commitment to improving developer productivity. In this regard, Vodafone has exposed its CyberHub team to GitHub Copilot, a code-writing version of ChatGPT developed by Microsoft and OpenAI. GitHub Copilot can generate code in response to natural language instructions, translate between programming languages, and solve programming problems. During trials involving around 250 developers, Vodafone claims to have achieved productivity gains ranging from 30% to 45%. Interestingly, these gains are more pronounced among senior developers, highlighting the potential to reduce the burden of writing code commentary and freeing up valuable time.
Addressing concerns and guarding confidential data
While the promise of genAI is evident, it brings with it certain concerns. Vodafone is aware of the risks associated with relying heavily on big public clouds like Microsoft’s for genAI. There are concerns about exposing company secrets to competitors, which could potentially compromise Vodafone’s competitive edge. To address this, Vodafone is taking measures to protect confidential data, including sealing it in private containers within Microsoft’s data centers where GitHub Copilot is trained. A similar approach is being adopted with Google’s Vertex AI, a machine-learning platform.
The impact on the workforce
One of the concerns surrounding genAI’s rise is its potential impact on the workforce. While Vodafone dismisses the idea that genAI will replace jobs, the reality is that telcos often downplay the workforce implications of new technologies. Automation has already led to job cuts in the industry, particularly in network operations centers (NOCs). Vodafone’s Chief Technology Officer, Scott Petty, previously acknowledged that NOC jobs would continue to be automated. However, substituting genAI for skilled human coders or customer service assistants would be a risky endeavor, akin to replacing a human player with a robot in a World Cup final.
The road ahead
As Vodafone takes bold steps into the world of GenAI, the telecom industry is poised for transformation. GenAI is the buzzword of 2023, and while it holds great promise, history suggests that the industry will eventually pivot towards newer technologies. In the meantime, telecom companies worldwide are likely to embrace GenAI as they strive to enhance customer experience, boost productivity, and maintain their competitive edge. The path forward involves a careful balance between automation and expertise, ensuring that GenAI complements, rather than replaces, human capabilities in this ever-evolving industry.