AI & Machine Learning

AI Booster: how Vodafone is supercharging AI & ML at scale

#ai

One of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, Vodafone is at the forefront of building next-generation connectivity and a sustainable digital future.  

Creating this digital future requires going beyond what’s possible today and unlocking significant investment in new technology and change. For Vodafone, a key driver is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), enabling predictive capabilities in enhancing the customer experience, improving network performance, accelerating advances in research, and much more. 

Following 18 months of hard work, Vodafone has made a huge leap forward in advancing its AI capabilities at scale with the launch of its “AI Booster” AI / ML platform. Led by the Global Big Data & AI organization under Vodafone Commercial, the platform will use the latest Google technology to enable the next generation of AI use cases, such as optimizing customer experiences, customer loyalty, and product recommendations. 

Vodafone’s Commercial team has long focused on advancing its AI and ML capabilities to drive business results. Yet as demand grows, it is easier said than done to embed AI and ML into the fabric of the organization and rapidly build and deploy ML use cases at scale in a highly regulated industry. Accomplishing this task means not only having the right platform infrastructure, but also developing new skills, ways of working, and processes. 

Having made meaningful strides in extracting value from data by moving it into a single source of truth on Google Cloud, Vodafone had already significantly increased efficiency, reduced data costs, and improved data quality. This enabled a plethora of use cases that generate business value using analytics and data science. The next step was building industrial scale ML capability, capable of handling thousands of ML models a day across 8+ countries, while streamlining data science processes and keeping up with technological growth. 

Knowing they had to do something drastically different to scale successfully, along came the idea for AI Booster. 

“To maximize business value at pace and scale, our vision was to enable fast creation and horizontal / vertical scaling of use cases in an automated, standardized manner. To do this, 18 months ago we set out to build a next-generation AI / ML platform based on new Google technology, some of which hadn’t even been announced yet. 

“We knew it wouldn’t be easy. People said, ‘Shoot for the stars and you might get off the ground…’ Today, we’re really proud that AI Booster is truly taking off, and went live in almost double the markets we had originally planned. Together, we’ve used the best possible ML Ops tools and created Vodafone’s “AI Booster Platform” to make data scientists’ lives easier, maximise value and take co-creation and scaling of use cases globally to another level,” says Cornelia Schaurecker, Global Group Director for Big Data & AI at Vodafone. 

AI Booster: a scalable, unified ML platform built entirely on Google Cloud

Google’s Vertex AI lets customers build, deploy, and scale ML models faster, with pre-trained and custom tooling within a unified platform. Built upon Vertex AI, Vodafone’s AI Booster is a fully managed cloud-native platform that integrates seamlessly with Vodafone’s Neuron platform, a data ocean built on Google Cloud. 

“As a technology platform, we’re incredibly proud of building a cutting-edge MLOps platform based on best-in-class Google Cloud architecture with in-built automation, scalability and security. The result is we’re delivering more value from data science, while embedding reliability engineering principles throughout,” comments Ashish Vijayvargia, Analytics Product Lead at Vodafone

Indeed, while Vertex AI is at the core of the platform, it’s much more than that. With tools like Cloud Build and Artifact Registry for CI/CD, and Cloud Functions for automatically triggering Vertex Pipelines, automation is at the heart of driving efficiency and reducing operational overhead and deployment times. Today, users simply complete an online form, and then, within minutes, receive a fully functional AI Booster environment with all the right guardrails, controls, and approvals. 

Not long ago it could take months to move a model from a proof of concept (PoC) to launching live in production. By focusing on ML operations (MLOps), the entire ML journey is now more cost-effective, faster, and flexible, all without compromising security. PoC-to-production can now be as little as four weeks, an 80% reduction.

Diving a bit deeper, Vodafone’s AI Booster Product Manager, Sebastian Mathalikunnel, summarizes key features of the platform: “Our overarching vision was a single ML platform-as-a-service that scales horizontally (business use cases across markets) and vertically (from PoC to Production). For this, we needed innovative solutions to make it both technically and commercially feasible. Selecting a few highlights, we: 

  1. completely automated ML lifecycle compliance activities (drift / skew detection, explainability, auditability, etc.) via reusable pipelines, containers, and managed services; 

  2. embedded security by design into the heart of the platform;

  3. capitalized on Google-native ML tooling using BQML, AutoML, Vertex AI and others;

  4. accelerated adoption through standardized and embedded ML templates.”

For the last point, Datatonic, a Google Cloud data and AI partner, was instrumental in building reusable MLOps Turbo Templates, a reference implementation of Vertex Pipelines, to accelerate building a production-ready MLOps solution on Google Cloud.  

“Our team is devoted to solving complex challenges with data and AI, in a scalable way. From the start, we knew the extent of change Vodafone was embarking on with AI Booster. Through this open-source codebase, we’ve created a common standard for deploying ML models at scale on Google Cloud. The benefit to one data scientist alone is significant, so scaling this across hundreds of data scientists can really change the business,” says Jamie Curtis, Datatonic’s Practice Lead for MLOps.  

Reimagining the data scientist & machine learning engineer experience 

With the new technology platform in place, driving adoption across geographies and markets is the next challenge. The technology and process changes have a considerable impact on people’s roles, learning, and ways of working. For data scientists, non-core work now is supported by machines in the background—literally at the click of a button. They can spend time doing what they do best and discovering new tools to help them do the job. 

With AI Booster, data scientists and ML engineers have already started to drive greater value and collaborate on innovative solutions. Supported by instructor-led and on-demand learning paths with Google Cloud, AI Booster is also shaping a culture of experimentation and learning. 

Together We Can 

Eighteen months in the making, AI Booster would not have happened without the dedication of teams across Vodafone, Datatonic, and Google Cloud. Googlers from across the globe were engaged in supporting Vodafone’s journey and continue to help build the next evolution of the platform. 

Cornelia highlights that “all of this was only possible due to the incredible technology and teams at Vodafone and Google Cloud, who were flexible in listening to our requirements and even tweaking their products as a result. Alongside our ‘Spirit of Vodafone,’ which encourages experimenting and adapting fast, we’re able to optimize value for our customers and business. A huge thank you also to Datatonic, who were a critical partner throughout this journey and to Intel for their valuable funding contribution.” 

The Google & Vodafone partnership continues to go from strength to strength, and together, we are accelerating the digital future and finding new ways to keep people connected. 

“Vodafone’s flourishing relationship with Google Cloud is a vital aspect of our evolution toward becoming a world-leading tech communications company. It accelerates our ability to create faster, more scalable solutions to business challenges like improving customer loyalty and enhancing customer experience, whilst keeping Vodafone at the forefront of AI and data science,” says Cengiz Ucbenli, Global Head of Big Data and AI, Innovation, Governance at Vodafone. 

Find out more about the work Google Cloud is doing to help Vodafone here, and to learn more about how Vertex AI capabilities continue to evolve, read about our recent Applied ML Summit.