By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, InCyberDefense, In Space News and In Military. Veteran, U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force
Since computer science began, a favorite science fiction trope involves the omnipotent power of a computer capable of analyzing any query posed in plain English, indistinguishable from the way a human might answer questions.
Examples are legion but my favorites include TARS and CASE from “Interstellar,” HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and even the Computer from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
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But artificial intelligence (AI) is more than just a screenwriter’s handy MacGuffin. Today, AI can be found on the cutting edge of almost every industry from meteorology to healthcare, and even sales.
As a technology writer, I am fortunate to meet and discover influencers and companies that act as real tech disruptors. Nowigence and its CEO, Anoop Bhatia, and his team are just that. If data and information are the currencies of the 21st century, companies that can leverage AI to increase the speed and precision of the flow of information are ushering in the next industrial revolution.
Sound hyperbolic? It’s not. It’s happening right now.
Nowigence is a fast-growing Software as a Service (SaaS) company that uses natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning to automatically extract and synthesize intelligence from unstructured (think conversational) data. The company’s artificial intelligence platform actively learns from each user whose internal or externally sourced data can also be uploaded, creating an institutional memory capable of benchmarking the past to predict future scenarios.
This AI-driven form of predictive analytics — a subject I once taught at Baker College in Michigan — is what makes Nowigence so formidable.
I recently had the good fortune of speaking with Bhatia about leadership and the future of AI.
Wes O’Donnell: Anoop, thank you so much for your time today. Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself?
Anoop Bhatia: Thank you, Wes, it’s a great opportunity. For most of my career, I worked with General Electric.
I’m a chemical engineer and did my MBA also, subsequently. I initially started with a subsidiary of Akzo Nobel in India.
I eventually joined GE’s global team and was transferred to Europe, where I worked across different functions and different nations. I worked for GE in The Netherlands and Germany and was later transferred to the U.S.
Wes: GE is a great company. I like to call them the “Siemens of America” because I used to work for Siemens and they were our primary competitor, at least in the healthcare space. Can you tell me about your company, Nowigence?
Anoop: Nowigence was started back in 2015. At that time, natural language processing was gaining strength in the world. NLP is providing the computer the capability of understanding any of our human languages. We started with researching taking guidance from a few experts in academia and industry, and we believe now that we are among the first companies able to comprehend English in real-time using computers.
In order to achieve that, we have to teach the computer as we learned English, right from kindergarten. We have to go into the grammar and sentence syntax and teach the machine how it would comprehend English. And we brought it up through kindergarten to higher levels and are now specializing it across different verticals.
Wes: Is all of the software that you work with proprietary?
Anoop: We developed our software from the ground up with the help of industry-standard open-source frameworks. On top of that, we have implemented proprietary algorithms and novel methods in the area of NLP and machine learning.
Wes: When you’re looking outward with this technology, who is your ideal customer?
Anoop: That’s a great question. We started at a broad level. We wanted to teach the machine the art of comprehending natural languages and we feel that we have accomplished that.
So now we are applying the technology to different functions and specific workflows. But the machine has the ability to go across verticals depending on the priority we assign it.
At this point, we are focused very specifically on salespeople. Sales, we believe, is the starting point for building a business; they are the ones that know the customers’ needs the best. We help sales to do many of their jobs: help them understand their customers better, help them to create better messaging, and also help them compare their performances against each other, which teams are working best with customers.
Our customers are able to not only customize the AI platform for what they need, but they also are able to share best practices among each other in order to elevate the skill set of the entire business.
So, sales are our starting point, but the platform has applications across many other areas. Because the technology is so versatile, it ultimately becomes an enterprise software.
Wes: One of your products is interesting. Pluaris for sales planning and prospecting?
Anoop: When you think about it, even though you and I may work in the same company, we have different needs, we take care of different customers or territories. There are different aspects to any job.
When you personalize with our system, which is what the user does when they get access, tell the machine what you need, and every person’s informational need is very different. All of that varied information makes the platform more powerful.
Wes: Since this is InCyberDefense, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about security. What security do you have in place to protect your clients’ data?
Anoop: Our product is cloud-based, and we have a very high level of security. We take user data seriously in our technology infrastructure. We have taken the following security initiatives: All traffic between users and our servers are fully encrypted using the industry-standard; all server clusters and VPS are monitored with network policies to limit open ports; we employ strict access management on any SSH session, and only machines with white-labeled IP addresses can access our data warehouses.
In addition, once our customers log in and take control of our product, we are hands-off of the customers’ data unless the client wants to provide us feedback. We actually have no visibility into our clients’ data.
Wes: There are a lot of other Customer Relationship Management (CRM) companies out there; Salesforce comes to mind as well as Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Are there other companies using NLP the same way you are?
Anoop: Salesforce itself has introduced a new AI platform that they call Einstein, but Salesforce is more like a workflow. For the most part, it delivers intelligence that salespeople already know. They are the ones who entered it. Our system is a little bit different. We provide the intelligence that the salespeople need to do their job better.
So, we rummage through data both from within the firewall of the company and external to it in their market ecosystem to pick out and sew pieces of intelligence and trends in ways that deliver significant increase in productivity, effectiveness during prospecting and upselling, smart lead generation, team collaboration, timely customer communication with powerful messaging and better win rates.
Nowigence has been mentioned in Gartner’s most recent “Market Guide for Data Intelligence Solution for Sales”.
Wes: If you don’t mind, let’s shift gears and talk about company leadership and specifically you as the CEO. How do you describe your culture? Is it a culture where ideas and criticisms are welcomed?
Anoop: The biggest aspect that I look for when hiring leaders, data scientists or even graduates from college is the ability to self-compete. It’s like the game of golf in which you are really competing with yourself and your previous score. If you have a passion to improve your game, then you will be competing with yourself every day.
I want a culture where individuals want to be better today than they were yesterday. In addition, our company spans a vast field of knowledge with many different subject disciplines. I believe that knowledge makes you achieve more. And we look for individuals with that passion.
Wes: What is the future of artificial intelligence? I know a lot of big-name influencers like Elon Musk warn about the dangers of a self-aware AI.
Anoop: AI means different things to different people, but in the end, AI is all about velocity. Look at companies trying to create driverless cars. It is all about using AI to increase velocity on normally congested roads.
It is the same thing that we do when we’re talking about reading comprehension. Our capacity as humans to absorb is the same, with some people able to read maybe a little faster than others. But if we increase the velocity of the content and the amount that we read and retain, then the amount of knowledge that we retain from generation to generation only makes the next generation richer.
So, to me, AI is about increasing the velocity of whatever it is supposed to do. If we are able to retain more information as time passes, that is how a society enriches itself. The end goal is that, hopefully, future generations will have to re-learn less and make fewer errors.
Wes: I love that. Fundamentally, computers from their inception were all about increasing velocity. Coupled together with AI makes it that much more enriching. What’s on the horizon for Nowigence? Do you have a product roadmap for the next 12 to 18 months?
Anoop: Definitely. Now that we have taught the machine how to comprehend text, the next achievement for us would be to help the machines listen and comprehend.
Also, now that we have taught the machines how to understand English, I believe we have to go after other languages. So, two ways that we would be progressing is learning other languages and whether our platform can listen and understand.
It is very difficult to transcribe audio without human intervention. Even with IBM Watson or Google’s transcription, the results do not have a high level of accuracy. If you involve humans to transcribe than that accuracy jumps to 90% to 92%. We have to teach our AI to perform better than 92% in order to have a marketable product that would be automated.
Wes: I understand exactly what you mean. I have tried transcription software for interviews just like this, and I always end up just typing it myself, which is an incredibly time-intensive process for me.
Anoop: NLP as a field has come a long way but still there are so many challenging areas that require a significant amount of work. The machines are getting more and more capable.
Wes: Anoop, it was fantastic speaking with you. I am excited about the future of Nowigence and love everything that you are building. Please stay in touch.
Anoop: It was my pleasure, Wes. Thank you.
Find out more about Nowigence and their AI-powered sales solutions.