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IPsoft is, in many ways, an unusual entrant into the crowded, but burgeoning, artificial intelligence industry. First of all, it is not a startup, but a 20-year-old company and its leader isn’t some millennial savant, but a fashionable former NYU professor named Chetan Dube. It bills its cognitive agent, Amelia, as the “world’s most human AI.”
It got its start building and selling autonomic IT solutions and its years of experience providing business solutions give it a leg up on many of its competitors. It can offer not only technological solutions, but the insights it has gained helping businesses to streamline operations with automation.
Ever since IBM’s Watson defeated human champions on the game show Jeopardy!, the initial excitement has led to inflated expectations and often given way to disappointment. So I recently met with a number of top executives at IPsoft to get a better understanding of how leaders can successfully implement AI solutions. Here are four things you should keep in mind:
1. Match The Technology With The Problem You Need To Solve
AI is not a single technology, but encompasses a variety of different methods. In The Master Algorithm veteran AI researcher Pedro Domingos explains that there are five basic approaches to machine learning, from neural nets that mimic the brain, to support vector machines that classify different types of information to graphical models that use a more statistical approach.
“The first question to ask is what problem you are trying to solve.” Chetan Dube, CEO of IPsoft told me. “Is it analytical, process automation, data retrieval or serving customers? Choosing the right a technology is supremely important.” For example, with Watson, IBM has focused on highly analytical tasks, like helping doctors to diagnose a rare case of cancer.
With Amelia, IPsoft has chosen to target customer service, which is extraordinarily difficult. Humans tend not to think linearly. They might call about a lost credit card and then immediately realize that they wanted to ask about paperless billing or how to close an account. Sometimes the shift can happen mid-sentence, which can be maddening even for trained professionals.
So IPsoft relies on a method called spreading activation, which helps Amelia to engage or disengage different parts of the system. For example, when a bank customer asks how much money she has in her account, it is a simple data retrieval task. However, if a customer asks how she can earn more interest on her savings, logical and analytical functions come into play.
2. Train Your AI As You Would A New Employee
Most people by now have become used to using consumer facing cognitive agents like Google voice search or Apple’s Siri. These work well for some tasks, such as locating the address for your next meeting or telling you how many points the Eagles beat Vikings by in the 2018 NFC Championship (exactly 31, if you’re interested).
However, for enterprise level applications, simple data retrieval will not suffice, because systems need domain specific knowledge, which often has to be related to other information. For example, if a customer asks which credit card is right for her, that requires not only deep understanding of what’s offered, but also some knowledge about the customer’s spending habits, average balance and so on.
One of the problems that many companies run into with cognitive applications is that they expect them to work much like installing an email system — you just plug it in and it works. But you would never do that with a human agent. You would expect them to need training, to make mistakes and to learn as they gained experience.
“Train your algorithms as you would your employees” says Ergun Ekici, a Principal and Vice President at IPsoft. “Don’t try to get AI to do things your organization doesn’t understand. You have to be able to teach and evaluate performance. Start with the employee manual and ask the system questions.” From there you can see what it is doing well, what it’s doing poorly and adapt your training strategy accordingly.
3. Apply Intelligent Governance
No one calls a customer service line and asks a human to talk to a machine. However, we often prefer to use automated systems for convenience. For example, when most people go to their local bank branch they just use the ATM machine outside without giving a thought to the fact that there are real humans inside ready to give them personalized service.
Nevertheless, there are far more bank tellers today than there were in before ATMs, ironically due to the fact that each branch needs far fewer tellers. Because ATMs drastically reduced the costs to open and run branches, banks began opening up more of them and still needed tellers to do higher level tasks, like opening accounts, giving advice and solving problems.
Yet because cognitive agents tend to be so much cheaper than human ones, many firms do everything they can to discourage a customer talking to a human. To stretch the bank teller analogy a little further, that’s almost like walking into a branch with a problem and being told to go back outside and wrestle with the ATM some more. Customers find it incredibly frustrating.
So IPsoft stresses to its enterprise customers that it’s essential that humans stay involved with the process and make it easy to disengage Amelia when a customer should be rerouted to a human agent. It also uses sentiment analysis to track how the system is doing. Once it becomes clear that the customer’s mood is deteriorating, a real person can step in.
Training a cognitive agent for enterprise applications is far different than, say, Google training an algorithm to play Go. When Google’s AI makes a mistake, it only loses a game, but when an enterprise application screws up, you can lose a customer.
4. Prepare Your Culture For AI As You Would For Any Major Shift
There are certain things robots will never do. They will never strike out in a little league game. They will never have their heart broken or get married and raise a family. That means that they will never be able to relate to humans as humans do. So you can’t simply inject AI into your organizational culture and expect a successful integration.
“Integration with organizational culture as well as appetite for change and mindset are major factors in how successful an AI program will be. The drive has to come from the top and permeate through the ranks,” says Edwin Van Bommel, Chief Cognitive Officer at IPsoft.
In many ways, the shift to cognitive is much like a merger or acquisition — which are notoriously prone to failure. What may look good on paper rarely pans out when humans get involved, because we have all sorts of biases and preferences that don’t fit into neat little strategic boxes.
The one constant in the history of technology is that the future is always more human. So if you expect to cognitive applications simply to reduce labor, you will likely be disappointed. However, if you want to leverage and empower the capabilities of your organization, then the cognitive future may be very bright for you.
There are many business degrees and classes you can take as an aspiring entrepreneur. However, not all of these courses will be able to teach you valuable lessons only an experienced business owner would know.
Owning a business isn’t easy. It takes a lot of different skills and experience to lead an entire team, meet deadlines and complete several day-to-day tasks.
Whether you’ve recently launched a business or are in the process of opening your own company, there are important lessons you need to know. It can take years, even decades to grasp an idea or strategy that can help you and your business grow.
Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. Family comes first.
The first lesson is the importance of family. Yes, your business is your baby, but you have to prioritize the people you love.
When you’re at home, focus on relaxing with your family and spending quality time with them. Time can fly by when you have a million things going on at work.
Use your time with family to rest and make the most of every minute. Family time is precious because at the end of the day, they’ll always be there for you during the good and bad times.
2. The lows are rock-bottom lows.
Many entrepreneurs will go through rock bottom lows. Whether it’s losing your biggest client or struggling to put food on the table, your lows will force you out of your comfort zone and push you to your limits.
You may experience “make or break” moments. You must power through, no matter how difficult it is.
Over 20 years ago I failed miserably on the first business that I opened. I had clients and cash coming in, but I had to close the business. I didn’t understand cash flow, operating expense, budgeting, or any of the other numbers.
Understanding the language of business–including financial statements–is essential.
The great thing about these rock bottom lows is you can use these tough lessons to embrace the suck and become a wiser person. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
3. The highs are extremely rewarding.
Just like you may experience rock bottom lows, you may also experience extreme highs. Winning a client, expanding your business or being able to afford your own jet are just a few of the many successes you may experience as a business owner.
I’ve been fortunate with my success. My business has expanded to include speaking, online training products, books, webinars, and conducting mastermind groups, all as a way to serve more clients and keep up with demand.
Celebrate the wins and take note of what got you to that point. Learning from your best experiences are just as important as learning from your worst.
4. Little victories can turn into major victories.
Have a new customer? Made a new friend at the networking event? Hired a sales coach? If so, that’s fantastic.
Small victories can go a very long way. You never know when new customers will tell all their friends and bring you a lot more business. The new friend you made at the convention may bring you more prospects than you ever dreamed of.
I’ll say it again: Celebrate the little victories. You don’t know what new opportunities they may bring.
5. Mentors are necessary.
Whether it’s an executive coach or a former boss, mentors are necessary for ultimate success. To reach your full potential you’ll need someone there to guide you on your path.
Owning a business isn’t easy. Having someone always available to give you advice and keep you accountable will give you the support you need to achieve your vision.
6. There’s no “9 to 5.”
Your office hours may be 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but that won’t always be the case for entrepreneurs. You can certainly devote yourself to work strictly during these office hours but you can’t expect to not work outside that time.
Some clients may expect you to be available or be able to answer urgent questions at any given time. A crisis may erupt at 6:00 a.m. and you may have to jump on it. It’s important to balance your work and home life but as a business owner, you must understand the term “office hours” may not apply in some situations.
These are just a few of the many lessons I’ve learned throughout the years. Unfortunately, some lessons are best learned with experience but hopefully I’ve saved you some trouble while you work your way towards success.
Never give up if something becomes tough, just power through it, surround yourself with support and you’ll always end up learning and becoming a smarter business owner. Best of luck!
Identity as a service (IDaaS), also known as identity and access management as a service, uses a cloud infrastructure for securely managing user identities and access enforcement. At its most basic level, IDaaS enables single sign-on (SSO) for systems in the cloud or on-premises, but it goes well beyond that to include access provisioning and deprovisioning, governance and analytics.
Computerworld Cloud Computing
We already knew Samsung’s final Gear VR was coming in 2015. Now we have a price and a better sense of the release timing.
The mobile-based virtual reality headset will launch in North America “in time for Black Friday” and worldwide “shortly after,” as Samsung SVP of Technology Strategy Peter Koo revealed when he took the stage at the Oculus Connect keynote on Thursday. It’ll sell for $ 99.
The final build of the Gear VR is 22% lighter than the “Innovator Edition” that first launched in Dec. 2014. It’s also got a revised design that does away with the top head strap and a smarter design for the side-mounted touchpad, with an directional pad-shaped indentation that should make blindly operating the controls more convenient. Read more…
By Allison Martell and Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) – The owner of adultery website Ashley Madison had already been struggling to sell itself or raise funds for at least three years before the publication of details about its members, according to internal documents and emails also released by hackers as part of their assault on the company in recent weeks.
Some unnamed investors wanted out, multiple attempts to close a deal or raise funds failed, and a public market debut looked increasingly unlikely, the documents show.
Avid Life Media announced on Friday that CEO Noel Biderman, who founded the website in 2001, had left the company with immediate effect, the latest sign of the wrenching impact on the company of the attack that led to the disclosure of sensitive data about millions of clients.
In an April 2015 letter addressed to all its investors, closely-held Avid Life acknowledged that some investors had pressed it to improve liquidity so they could sell shares. The company said it would buy back up to $ 10 million worth of shares.
“Over the last couple of years, we have not been successful in exploring various alternatives including a sale of the business and seeking debt from third parties,” said the letter signed by the board of directors.
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the email messages and internal documents.
Avid Life did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Members of the company’s board also could not be reached for comment. Biderman was not reachable by phone.
Diller’s hopes dashed
The attack has likely sharply lowered the price Avid Life could muster in any sale of assets, assuming it could find a buyer willing to take on a company facing several multi-million dollars lawsuits and the challenge of rebuilding a computer network that has been so badly infiltrated.
Bankers told Reuters last month – before the massive disclosure of its customers’ information – that a full data dump would create a ‘doomsday scenario’ for the company, and kill any IPO plan.
Several messages show that Biderman was trying to secure a meeting with executives at media mogul Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActive Corp, whose biggest online dating assets, including Match.com and Tinder, are being prepared for a public market spinoff. Biderman’s goal was to start acquisition talks with the much larger rival.
“They would be CRAZY not to speak with us,” wrote Biderman in February this year. And in May: “If there was ever a moment to have a ‘private’ meeting with Diller, it is now.”
But in an email message later forwarded to Biderman by an intermediary, one IAC director, Bryan Lourd, was blunt about the chances IAC might buy Ashley Madison: “They don’t want it.”
IAC declined to comment “on rumors and speculation about transactions.”
Avid Life in April said it was considering an initial public offering in London, at a $ 1 billion valuation, with company executives expressing hope in media interviews that European investors would prove more understanding of the controversial business than those in North America.
The emails show that Biderman received an informal approach in May from Cliff Lerner, the CEO of Snap Interactive, which owns the online dating site AYI.com. Lerner suggested a reverse takeover and a Nasdaq listing.
A spokesman for Snap said Lerner had a short back and forth email conversation with Avid Life representatives, but ultimately decided a deal wouldn’t work.
By June, Biderman called the IPO a “long shot” in one email. He told an acquaintance, who helped put other companies’ financing deals together, that he was looking to raise between $ 50 million and $ 75 million in debt.
Similar efforts had fallen through before. Avid Life had a letter of intent from Fortress Credit Corp, part of Fortress Investment Group, to borrow $ 43 million in September 2013, the documents the hackers released show, but the deal never went through.
“I can confirm that the proposed loan you referenced did not close,” Gordon Runté, head of investor and media relations at Fortress, said in response to queries, declining to comment further on the reasons.
Avid Life had intended to use some of that cash to pay a dividend to its shareholders, the proposal, dated September 6, 2013, showed.
It also received a term sheet for a $ 40 million three-year loan from GMP Securities, a Canadian investment bank, in 2012.
GMP said the deal was not completed and it has never loaned Avid Life any money. It declined to specify why.
The emails also show that Avid Life came close to selling itself at least three times in 2012.
In one instance, a deal with Canadian billionaire Alex Shnaider and frozen yogurt mogul Michael Serruya fell apart because of CEO Biderman’s “difficult and very demanding” personality, according to an email from the potential buyers. Two other attempted deals, with a boutique investment bank and a private equity firm, also fell apart.
Shnaider confirmed that he and Serruya wanted to strike a deal to acquire Avid Life and had agreement in principle to buy it. “We didn’t feel comfortable, at the end of the day, going through with the deal,” he said.
A spokesperson for Serruya did not immediately return calls.
(Editing by Amran Abocar and Martin Howell)