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2023 will be year of ‘hope and focus’ for AI, says PepsiCo transformation leader

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When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the past year has been ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful, says Athina Kanioura, who was named PepsiCo’s first Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer in September 2020. But she is optimistic about 2023.

“Think about how we started with the other way around and using AI it suddenly fell apart,” she told VentureBeat. “In AI, we tend to see what doesn’t work the first time, and then we lose hope – but I think 2023 should be a year of hope and focus for AI.”

So is PepsiCo, said Kanioura, which after 12 years with professional services firm Accenture, joined the third-largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) company, with well-known global brands such as Pepsi, Lay’s, Cheetos, Quaker and Gatorade. There, she most recently served as the company’s Chief Analytics Officer and Global Head of Applied Intelligence, helping customers take advantage of AI at scale.

PepsiCo, she explained, is “extremely passionate” about AI and, when she joined, she put statistical information, digital data and AI under one umbrella to grow the company “exponentially” and become “another PepsiCo in the future.” encourage”.

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That appears to be coming from above: Just a month ago, in comments to the company’s third-quarter 2022 financial results, PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta and chief financial officer, Hugh Johnston, said the company gets focused “automating and digitizing our supply chain to support our innovation pipeline to market with greater flexibility and speed.”

Athina Kanioura, chief strategy and transformation officer, PepsiCo

Three major segments

AI at PepsiCo – from cognitive science and machine learning (ML) capabilities to data lakes and clouds – is organized within what Kanioura calls a “human framework” and divided into three main segments.

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One is using AI to enhance the human experience and facilitate what happens on the ground. For example, PepsiCo uses AI monitoring for predictive asset maintenance, employee quality and safety in factories, warehouses and distribution centers.

“There are control towers, sensors in their devices, their machines, to prevent safety risks for our employees, for quality control and to prevent damage to the parts,” she explains. “Through these AI systems, we are protecting employee well-being, and second, we are giving them insight into how to do their jobs more efficiently – so there is tremendous interest to us from a supply chain and operational perspective.”

PepsiCo is also using AI to accelerate the company’s growth by identifying “white space” when thinking about new product categories, including analyzing consumer sentiment.

“With this kind of data, we’ve made Off The Eaten Path seaweed snacks in less than a year, which is actually going well,” she said.

AI insights also showed that consumers were interested in immunity, leading six months later to Propel, with immunity-boosting ingredients.

“This is how you can use AI to drive the next generation of products and growth,” she added.

In addition, AI is used to increase sustainability.

“AI is an integral part of the company’s future mission, which is a positive outcome, a better planet, for our employees, for our children, for our communities,” she said.

For example, as one of the largest potato producers in the world (for brands like Frito-Lay), PepsiCo uses AI to provide farmers in North America, Latin America and Europe with more than a million key data points about the potatoes they plant and provide insights about crops, such as how deep to plant seeds based on weather conditions, how much to water, how to protect the crop and how to optimize yields.

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“That has led to much more sustainable practices,” she said.

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Digital hubs drive PepsiCo’s success

A year ago, PepsiCo established the company’s first two digital hubs in Barcelona, ​​Spain and Dallas, Texas, and is expected to create more than 500 data and digital jobs in the coming years, to “have a major impact on how the organization plan, make, move, sell reinvents”. and delivering products.”

At the time, PepsiCo said the hubs would help the company move toward a customer vision of the future by giving professionals real-time access to sales and inventory data, consistent product availability in the right place, and employees could also use predictive decision-making tools.

But regardless of where AI is used in PepsiCo, Kanioura said all employees work under the same responsible AI framework.

“We have one responsible AI framework that everyone adheres to, from how we design the systems, to how we input the data, process the models, check the models as they run, and finally to post-processing,” she said. “The Principles apply to everyone on my team, and we have a committee that makes sure this process is done in a consistent way across the organization.”

The future of AI at PepsiCo and beyond

Kanioura and other AI leaders at PepsiCo are active in providing industry perspective and recommendations to regulatory bodies, including the Congressional AI Caucus, NIST, she added.

“What ethical AI framework should be applied, what are the processes and conditions required for a viable framework for an organization, what is the role of the industry versus the technology provider versus the government,” she said. “I believe if you have several parties … sitting together, it will be an advantage in putting together a regulatory framework.”

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For PepsiCo, Kanioura emphasized that AI’s mission is to drive next-generation growth for the company, but within the context of human experience.

“I think 2023 will be a year where I expect further consolidation, with much more concentrated investment in key areas of AI where it will benefit the masses and across industries, rather than futuristic possibilities,” she said. “I think the industry has realized that we need to do things that benefit everyone – you hear that in the discussion from a lot of the tech companies saying, let’s focus on the core of AI.”

In addition, she said the future of AI at PepsiCo revolves around scalability and industrialization.

“For years we did a lot of experiments, a lot of proof of concepts, because some areas of AI weren’t mature enough,” she said. “Now when we think about AI for integrated business planning, we are doing it at scale. R&D will use it extensively.”

It is important, she concluded, to take stock of what has been a challenging year overall and to rethink some AI strategies.

“In 2023, there is great hope for what AI can do for society,” she said. “We must remember how during COVID-19 AI was used for precision medicine, and there’s tremendous hope for AI in precision farming, we’re using it — it’s an amazing unlock of what AI can do.”

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