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Alberto Rey VillaverdeHead of Data ScienceeasyJet
A wealth of data can be powerful, as long as that data delivers actionable insights. UK-based airline easyJet implemented artificial intelligence (AI) technology to make sense of its data and streamline areas of its business, such as stocking airplanes with the right amount of food. Alberto Rey Villaverde, easyJet’s head of data science, spoke to eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about why the airline turned to AI and the different ways the information AI provides is being used.
eMarketer: How has easyJet been using artificial intelligence?
Alberto Rey Villaverde: We’ve been using artificial intelligence for a few years. For the last year, we’ve been exploring new areas where these technologies could give us a boost. For example, we’ve been trying to be less wasteful with the food in our planes. The demand for a baked baguette depends on multiple parameters, such as weather, time of year and the types of customers that are flying. We wanted to know the optimal amount of product required to meet demand without waste, so we are using machine learning to optimize how we load planes.
eMarketer: Are there other ways that you’re experimenting with artificial intelligence?
Villaverde: We’re also using a recognition tool that looks at a passport, reads all the numbers from the document and fills out customer information at the airport without the customer having to type anything.
eMarketer: What made you start implementing artificial intelligence in your business?
Villaverde: Everything works around data. easyJet has a big set of operations, and we have been seeing that data grow for years. Eventually we needed to construct a body [of meaning] from that data in smarter ways, using cutting-edge technology. These days, that means machine learning and artificial intelligence.
eMarketer: What are some of the specific skill requirements for anyone working with AI?
Villaverde: People need to be creative and passionate about working with numbers. We have scientists—PhDs—working on AI, but we also have non-PhDs that have had experience with AI and developed very valuable skill sets. People need to understand the mathematics behind it, but also be able to bridge the divide between the business needs and the mathematics. The goal is to be able to understand both and bring them together.
eMarketer: What are some of your short-term and long-term expectations for how AI’s role in your organization is going to evolve?
Villaverde: In the short term, I am cautious because there’s hype around AI. We are participating too, and in the moment we see lots of opportunity. It’s very difficult to predict how AI will be in a few years. It might become a commodity and there will be no need for specific teams to handle it, because everybody will be able to interact with it in a much easier way.
eMarketer: What advice would you give to other companies that are just starting out with AI?
Villaverde: The best advice is to give brands freedom to experiment. If a company already has advanced analytics capabilities, which is where AI comes from, AI will come together naturally. Without experimentation, nobody understands within organizations how AI should work or what to expect from AI. There’s no clear format that will work for all different situations.
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