NTT is a global technology and business solutions provider, with more than $110 billion in revenue, sales teams in 70 countries and more than 100,000 enterprise customers in every vertical. At VentureBeat’s Transform 2023, Vab Goel, founding partner, NTTVC and board member, NTT DATA, spoke with Takashi Hiroi, chief financial officer, senior EVP & board member at NTT Corporation, about how the company is approaching generative AI to support consumers and enterprise customers, the challenges of gen AI adoption, and the importance of partnership and collaboration to stay competitive.
NTT is in the early stages of exploring the potential of generative AI, Hiroi said, but has been providing AI-powered marketing data services, developed COTOHA, an automated service for translation, text translation and summarization, and developed a ChatGPT solution for a Spanish pharmaceutical company that helps medical personnel parse large medical documents quickly and accurately.
Crucial considerations around gen AI adoption
Generative AI is a shiny new technology, but it requires a customer-centric approach — Hiroi stressed the importance of helping customers identify and understand their problems or areas for improvement before integrating AI solutions. It’s an approach that aligns with NTT’s conventional systems integration practices.
The cost of AI services is also crucial to consider before launching into a new AI project; Hiroi noted that establishing competitive pricing models for AI will remain complex.
“Pricing of AI, that’s going to be very complicated,” he said. “I don’t right now have a clear vision to formulate the price of AI, but gradually the price of AI will be determined by how much value that AI brings in.”
Goel pointed out that the high compute and energy requirements of AI deployment will be an important consideration, and every AI initiative will require a balance between that value and what a company will need to spend up front. It also means organizations need to address power consumption and explore renewable energy solutions — a new and urgent consideration for CTOs.
“Twenty years ago, when [technology vendors] said, ‘We’re going to save you power,’ as an engineer I didn’t care if they were going to save me power,” Goel said. “The last few years, NTT financials were impacted by power pricing. Power consumption is an important KPI now.”
Why collaboration is so important
NTT’s collaborative approach with venture capital companies and early-stage startups is an essential part of its strategy, because it will be the key to success in the AI landscape.
“For large corporations, global companies, it’s very easy to just partner with who we may perceive as the leaders today,” Goel said. “My advice is to broaden the scope and really look at some very early-stage companies. Partner with them early and shape their vision. Then you’ll have a competitive advantage.”
It’s also about turning the cost of AI into a profit, he added.
“Meeting a lot of startup companies and taking some risks is going to be critical,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that it’s going to be a partnership of large companies and small companies that will be the winning formula.”
And while it’s relatively easy for a gen AI startup to raise funds amidst all the excitement, the last wave of companies in analytics and SaaS should remain an object lesson — they also raised huge amounts of money, but many are struggling right now, as the market cycle changes.
“Go-to-market partnerships are critical,” he said. “Startup companies should find large partners, who can introduce them to potential customers and build services. For example, Open AI is partnering with Microsoft. NTT is very diverse and has strong track record of working with very early-stage companies, taking risks, and going to market with startups.”