Name: Akeel Attar
Title: Founder & CEO of XpertRule
Location: Manchester, England
To hear more of Akeel’s thoughts on AI and IA, listen to the latest episode of Executive Insights: The Next Big Innovation Ahead for AI.
J.D. Miller: Tell us about the evolution of your organization, which was formed 40 years ago.
Akeel Attar: We started back in the early 80s, when AI was just emerging. For 15 years, we went around the world solving very complex business problems. We were never motivated by AI for the sake of AI; we were always seeking out other things to solve problems.
Then around 2000, we decided to go vertical, and address two vertical sectors. One was complex customer interactions, the other was the manufacturing of the process sector. We used the power of AI to improve efficiency, to improve energy usage, to reduce equipment downtime, etc.
Around 2010, we decided to develop what I call the ultimate AI platform. We consolidated our 20 years of experience in developing algorithms, solving complex problems and vertical software solutions to develop a state-of-the-art software stack platform for AI. It combines the pillars of AI (machine learning, decision automation, and conversational AI). We released it early in 2021 and we call it Viabl.ai. It’s our local platform for solving various Intelligent Automation applications.
Now, we’re looking to scale and grow and to that end we’ve recruited some big hitters in the Intelligent Automation space to help take us to market in a big way. So we’re moving from being a very high technical unit, problem solvers, into an organization that wishes to sell its intelligent automation platform worldwide.
When it comes to AI, how has the pandemic shifted tech leaders’ focus?
The first one: there’s obviously been a shift in the work and patterns of employees. That actually brought to focus the need to empower remotely working employees to do their jobs as efficiently as they were at the office supervised by experts. I think AI has a big role to play because AI can empower remote workers to do work, work skilled work by the computer actually guiding the worker into how to conduct that.
And the biggest area is actually customer-facing staff. So people that used to work in a contact center or a support help desk, and they had supervisors line managers with them to call upon all of a sudden they find themselves on their own, working remotely. And I think AI has enabled that to happen by empowering these people and also taking some of their workload, through Customer Self Service.
The second area is this massive disruption to the manufacturers supply chain and activity that brought to the focus the need for two things. First of all, we need to better improve our manufacturing process to ensure that we minimize downtime through preventative maintenance so we’re not leaving the critical components in place, and that’s an area for AI.
Secondly, to actually shift to what I call intelligent configurable manufacturing. So instead of a shop floor making one item. Let’s make it intelligent and configurable so it can make more components that we need and we can remove our emphasis on supply chain suppliers thousands of miles away.
What industry sectors are you hearing that are most embracing AI and why?
I would say the contact center industry, which spans financial services, telco, local government.
The contact center industry has realized the benefit of being able to empower call center agents to work remotely to provide the best customer experience, but also to be able to shift some of that workload to self service.
In sectors like health, the ability to use AI for image recognition, document scanning, and policy, that’s a big area. Manufacturing process in general, improve efficiency, reduce energy uses, reduce downtime, all these issues, supply chain, optimizing the supply chain, reducing or optimizing scheduling and resource utilization, and finally one we’ve seen all of us, that shop with Amazon or whichever passive retailers, and that is the impact of AI on the retail and e-commerce. We are able to understand and predict customer behavior, real time in a minute way to shift our, what we offer our pricing, our discount, or a promotion to attract them.
What are you hearing are the biggest inhibitors to adoption and implementation of AI and machine learning today?
The first inhibitor is the fact that organizations are looking for applications for AI, because if you do that you will never find an application for AI. What you should do is look for an application to transform your business process using Intelligent Automation. If you shift that mindset that way, you will find lots of applications for AI that underpins Intelligent Automation.
So the first thing, don’t go and look at AI tools, and think “What can I do with them?” Say “How can I transform my business with Intelligent Automation, so a mind shift. The second one, actually, and I think the industry, the analyst, and the vested interests are very guilty of: there’s been a hype created that AI means big data, and deep learning. Actually, AI is beyond that. AI is whatever makes intelligent automation possible. Yes, it does mean machine learning, but it also means the automation of human expertise and decisions. These two factors really are the biggest inhibitors in my experience.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length.