AI is just the world moving forward: Mr. Ram Menon, Founder & CEO, Avaamo Technologies

Avaamo Technologies’ Founder & CEO Mr. Ram Menon brings over two decades of experience in enterprise software. The frustration with accessing enterprise information and getting work done using his primary device, a smartphone prompted him to found Avaamo. Avaamo is a deep-learning soft­ware company that specializes in conversational interfaces to solve specific, high impact problems in the enterprise.

Edited excerpts:

1. Like the world, the Indian government has started to look at AI with great importance. How has such focus helped companies like yours?

There is a healthy interest in India in AI - which is why our software is deployed by State Bank of India Mutual Fund, Aditya Birla Group, and several Banking and Insurance customers.

2. What are some of the challenges faced in the AI space?

The technology is maturing rapidly, however the challenge is with large enterprises deciding which way to go. In our own research 85% of Indian CXO’s believe AI is an important step, but less than 5% know where to actually begin. The current challenge typically is with large enterprises deciding whether to launch their AI in Customer Service, Supply Chain, Employee Self-service or in Operations.

3. AI needs to gain deep-learning and that can be time consuming too. How does the time aspect of AI learning hurt business?

The technology is advancing at light speed, deep learning modules built by companies like Avaamo can have AI systems live in a larger enterprise in 8-10 weeks. As our ability to use customer data to teach the Algorithms faster improves, the perceived challenge is going to go away as anticipated.

4. Which sectors are Avaamo’s focus areas?

Avaamo is presently deployed across 43 countries, but in India our focus is on the broader Fintech industries. We have customers presently in Banking, Insurance, Wealth Management and Mutual funds with a focus on Customer self-service and Employee self-service.

5. India had recently started a new insurance (healthcare scheme) Ayushman Bharat. Do you see your technologies helping in making the scheme more robust?

Ayushman Bharat is a massive health care scheme to cover over 10 crore families in India. The implementation of this scheme needs the support of various stakeholders and at various levels to make it a reality. We believe that technology can definitely play a role in making this happen. In fact any programme of this scale should take the advantage of modern day technologies to access the grass root level and to implement the required checks and balances for its success.

6. Can your supply chain management be made available to perishable products like vegetables? Are you looking at agri-space in some way?

We do believe that the Agriculture space is ripe for technology disruption, however since the sector is fragmented a systematic adoption of AI is a challenge. Lack of organized customers or supply chain data further proves a hurdle for deploying accurate algorithm-based systems.

7. Who are Avaamo’s clients now?

Avaamo’s customers include Paysafe, Black and Decker in the US. In India, they cater to companies like Reliance Capital, SBI Mutual Fund, City Union Bank, HDFC Loans, ICICI Prudential, Reliance Nippon Insurance, Axis bank, Ashok Leyland, TAFE, Birla Sunlife, India First etc.

8. Which are the new sectors you plan to enter?

Avaamo has forayed into the entertainment sector in the US. The company recently created an intelligent bot for Universal Studios' new smash hit ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ on Facebook Messenger. The bot answers questions about show timings and includes features/ options for augmented reality and games. In April 2019, the bot had over 8.5 million users. We are also moving into new areas such as Automotive and Government in many markets.

9. There is this constant argument, 'while AI will work wonders in western countries, it will hurt a populated country like India (hurt job creation)'. What is your view in this?

When Henry Ford created the car, all the guys who made buggy whips got upset. AI is just the world moving forward. In this field, I believe that we are finding our feet; we are not going to have singularity by 2020. It’s progress, not a calamity.

10. Are you looking at raising any more funds?

With 300% growth in 2018, we are profitable on an operating basis in the last quarter. We eschew the traditional mode of start-ups which end up running loss making operations. However, we will raise funds later in the year as we expand the business into Latin America and Africa.

11. Avaamo is funded by biggies in the technology space. How has that helped the company?

When you start in a new space – AI in this case – you want to have the ecosystem invest in you. So we eschewed the more traditional model of obtaining financial investors. When you think about the ecosystem objectively, in technology you have hardware, software, and software-enabled services – the guys who have the hammer and the nails.

When you look at hardware, you must look at Intel. We have customers who run big, custom workloads on Intel architecture, so it just made sense. When you think about software, there is no better partner than Ericsson; and one of our target markets is big telecom, and 54 percent of wireless traffic in the world still runs on Ericsson boxes. Then we have WIPRO, which is a $7.5 billion systems integrator – the guys who have the shovels. They actually implement our software and have hundreds of people trained, so we are able to punch above our weight. Those are our investors, the emerging ecosystem around creating and implementing AI for very large enterprises.

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