Wayfair Tech Blog

Championing Generative AI within Your Business

VentureBeat Transform - Wilko

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at Transform 2023 in San Francisco, an event dedicated solely to an innovation that has taken the industry by storm, Generative AI. It was a great event that attracted speakers from a variety of iconic brands, including Google, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Fidelity Investments, eBay, FedEx Dataworks, McDonald's Corp, Intel, and the list goes on.

For my session, I was joined by Venture Beat Executive Advisor Ben Searcy to discuss championing Generative AI for your enterprise, including the steps teams need to take to create a Gen AI plan.

This is a topic I’m quite familiar with, as Wayfair has been applying cutting-edge AI and ML methods to our toughest problems for more than a decade. This includes recent advances in Generative AI (GenAI). We believe that general-purpose large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT can be applied immediately to processes where a Wayfair employee stands between the LLM output and a customer or supplier. In fact, we have completed pilots and are prioritizing these decision-support workflow-type use cases in the summer cycle and winter cycle.

If we look at the long-term picture, Wayfair’s North Star for AI and ML solutions is scalable and fully automated software, and GenAI is no different. As we move along the path, there are a handful of thorny questions which we are working through. These include determining which GenAI-powered experiences will resonate with our customers, customizing GenAI models to Wayfair contexts and data, and preserving a high-quality bar on anything that we show to a customer or a supplier. We have a 12-18 month learning agenda to address these questions and determine where to pursue automation.

Many attendees at the event shared my excitement about this journey and exhibited an equal level of eagerness to begin their own. That’s what my session was all about, providing guidance on how to identify potential Gen AI use cases and then championing them within a business.

Like many innovation journeys, the process begins with a plan which includes a deep assessment of the organization’s readiness, identifying specific use cases, and pinpointing the proposed tools and technologies to support them. At Wayfair, our assessments focus on how we can apply Generative AI to existing customer and business problems in novel ways. While all businesses are different, a great place to start is with your sales and services teams, where it can give them “superpowers” that help elevate the customer experience.

I recommend inviting the business units into this process and leveraging places where you’re generating a lot of copy. One great option is to channel employee enthusiasm through something as simple as Slack. Conducting hackathons is another option that will let you harness the energy of engaged folks and surface new use cases and potential issues. I also recommend creating two groups:

  • A central group that can ask and answer questions such as whether we need an enterprise license for this technology, given our current run rate of utilization. 
  • A second group that monitors trends, copyrights, T&Cs, and more to ensure that you are staying on top of issues

Once the list of potential options is complete, it’s time to pick your favorite bet. As you assess the choices, take time to step back and look at startups and public companies with offerings that purportedly solve this particular problem. Following this evaluation, you must determine if you’re better off buying or building. At Wayfair, we are doing more build versus buy assessments now than in the last several years. For ideas that are not selected, put them aside for now and reassess each at a later date.
For the winners, act quickly by determining how you are going to go about it. The nitty-gritty details can be flushed out over time. What you need at this point is a well-thought-out, high-level plan that will help you to secure buy-in from up top. Once complete, the next step is communicating the benefits it will bring the business. Remember, the goal is to obtain board and stakeholder buy-in, so the messages, use cases, and benefits must be crystal clear.

For those who get the green light, it’s crucial to successfully manage the change and achieve business success with generative AI initiatives. When done correctly, you will put the business in the best position to leverage all of the benefits that come with it.