[Cybernews Interview]: Enhancing business operations with AI solutions

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byChisimdi Nzotta

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a field in artificial intelligence that enables machines to understand, process and analyse natural language in a similar way that humans do. As NLP becomes one of the most popular forms of AI, it’s important for businesses to learn more about its potential application. Our principal engineer, Matthew Pattinson, shares some intel on this exciting technology in an interview with Cybernews. He also talked about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and other technologies that can significantly enhance business operations.


Let’s go back to the very beginning of Aveni. Can you tell us more about your journey?


Aveni is an award-winning, Edinburgh-based Regtech firm that uses the latest advances in NLP to monitor and analyse every customer interaction enabling improved business intelligence, risk oversight, and process automation for regulated industries, specifically Financial Services and Utilities. The company was founded in 2018 by Joseph Twigg, who previously spent 16 years working in the Financial Services industry, and Dr. Alexandra Birch, one of the world’s top 100 Natural Language Processing (NLP)  scientists. 


Since Aveni’s inception in 2018, we’ve grown our team of world-leading NLP scientists and computer engineers, built a powerful, industry-first QA automation platform, and worked with leading brands in the FTSE 100 and 250. However, one thing has remained the same – our mission to fuse AI with human interaction, harness the power of the customer’s voice and help clients make transformative business improvements. 


Tightening regulatory controls are a key driver for the adoption of our technology.  The FCA recently released guidance on enhanced Consumer Duty requirements that firms need to meet by July 2023.  As regulatory controls become more data-driven, clients are turning to Aveni as a “Machine Line of Defence.” We systematically identify risks that matter to firms, including flagging vulnerable customers, conduct issues, complaints, and providing quantitative regulatory evidence.


Through several successful funding rounds, Aveni continues to make ground-breaking advances to its platform creating high-performing machine learning models tailored to each client’s needs.  


Can you introduce us to what you do? How is AI incorporated into your platform?


Aveni leverages cutting-edge NLP techniques to derive deeper insights from customer interactions for our clients. We bring together targeted intelligence and additional data sources such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to build a unified view of a customer that drives workflow automation, continually learns, and powers data-driven decision-making. In addition to effective preventative control and richer data insights, clients that adopt our platform see significantly enhanced productivity, oversight, and revenue growth. 


We build high-performing pre-trained machine learning models tailored to client data, efficiently providing solutions that meet their exact needs.


Our platform automates processes directly from the customer’s voice, accurately identifies and presents key information to clients, and provides insight into how trends develop over time. For example, recognising a potential customer vulnerability like a recent health diagnosis, flagging a risk such as mentioning they have lost their job or identifying emerging trends across a population such as an increase in defaulting on payments for a certain demographic given the rising cost of living. 


We also use AI to power targeted coaching opportunities by analysing customer calls for the quality of language used, script adherence, the level of empathy, tone and clarity and the sentiment used by staff when dealing with difficult situations.


In your opinion, what are the biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to handling sensitive customer data?


One of the biggest mistakes companies make is not ensuring there are adequate controls and governance to protect sensitive data. For example, not categorising data and not controlling where it can be stored and processed or who has access to it in the company. As a result, it can expose a company to regulatory issues relating to data residency. 


Allowing employees to copy sensitive customer data to their laptops opens a company to increased risk if that device is lost or stolen. Using cloud-based storage and the appropriate tools allows employees to securely access the data without requiring a local copy.


In many cases, passwords are the first line of defence. Failing to manage credentials securely or not enforcing strong password policies compromises this.


A lack of alignment of security with the company objectives is another common mistake. It risks sidelining security as a burden rather than being part of the day-to-day operations and a business enabler.

How do you think the recent global events affect your field of work?


The pandemic has led to broader adoption of remote working. There are now more calls and video meetings, thereby digitising customer interactions. Companies can now derive more actionable insight from these interactions through our platform to ensure they are offering a high-quality service, fulfilling their duties to customers, and being compliant with regulations.


Increasing energy prices and higher costs of living have unfortunately resulted in a rise in vulnerable customers. Many financial services and utility companies struggle to identify and appropriately respond to those in vulnerable situations. They are turning to technology to help with this challenge, as they should. By using platforms like Aveni, companies can monitor 100% of customer interactions, identify and flag high-risk conversations and automate processes. In doing so, they also free up agent time to better respond to customers requiring support. 


Global events have also triggered a raft of FCA guidance around the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, Consumer Duty, and setting new standards around personal conduct. As regulatory controls tighten, many firms seek a more comprehensive and reliable ‘Machine Line of Defence’ and a means of putting evidence in place for regulators to protect against reputational risk and regulatory censure. Aveni leverages Artificial Intelligence to enable firms to comply with regulations and evidence them.


Besides conversational AI solutions, what other technologies do you think can significantly enhance business operations?


Companies have a unique data footprint of their customers’ culture, products, and processes. Effectively understanding and utilizing this data to establish products and services that meet and exceed customer needs and expectations is key to long-term success. Using any technology that supports this can enable companies to enhance business operations and increase revenue.


Automation of workflow is a transformative opportunity for companies to drive efficiencies and streamline processes. The adoption of workflow automation allows companies to invest their time in high-value tasks, improve performance and accuracy, and enhance business operations.


Talking about cybersecurity, what tools or practices do you think are essential for companies and individuals nowadays?


Ensuring strong passwords are used and not reused is vital in protecting yourself from it being guessed or being contained in a breach. Using strong and unique passwords is advisable as they are hard to remember. Avoid writing them down because they can be compromised. The use of a reputable password management system allows you to only have to remember a single complex password and also securely share sensitive credentials with a colleague. Adopting multi-factor authentication significantly reduces your risk too.


Companies should follow the principle of least privilege, ensuring that employees and systems have the minimum access and permissions they need for their roles. This minimises risk in case of compromise.


Utilising a tool such as Mobile Device Management (MDM) for company devices to enforce security policies such as encryption of a laptop’s hard drive and password policy to access the machine is advisable. The ability to remotely wipe a device can help mitigate the risk of unauthorised access to company data if devices are lost or stolen, which is highly likely with remote working.


Companies developing software should ensure their software and its dependencies, configuration, and infrastructure are secure and don’t contain vulnerabilities. This is available to companies using tools like static code analysis, dependency checking, and real-time threat detection for your cloud infrastructure. Many are open-source and can significantly reduce your risk, catching issues early and allowing proactive remediation.


Education about cybersecurity and emerging threats is vital in staying safe. Sharing information about best practices for staying safe online and how to identify suspicious communications or websites can be very helpful. Phishing attacks are on the rise and pose a significant threat to organisations and individuals if someone is tricked into sharing sensitive data or installing malware.


For companies, it is fundamental to have governance and controls in place to ensure that you are following best practices and that security is embedded into how the company operates daily. This is why Aveni has recently undertaken ISO 27001:2013 certification.


What tips would you give to companies looking to strengthen their relationships with their customers?


Communication is the best way for companies to strengthen their customer relationship. Companies need to communicate with consumers in a way they’ll understand, listen to them and use their feedback to improve products and services and, as a result, provide a better outcome for them. However, the challenge is, how can companies tell their communications are clear enough and accessible to consumers? How can they listen to every consumer, especially since there’s often a wide range of consumers with different needs?


Using a solution such as Aveni Detect gives companies deeper insights and actionable outcomes from their customer interactions. By using this insight, companies can learn if consumers understand their messaging and identify trends in customer behaviour, and understand complaints, opinions, and circumstances to proactively improve processes and products. 


Understanding how individual members of customer-facing teams are performing against company standards ensures high-quality customer service is maintained. If they find any gap in staff performance, they can conduct staff training for enhanced customer service and improved staff performance. Using the automated assessments within Aveni Detect embeds coaching and quality assurance into efficient, automated workflows and targeted coaching where customer interactions could be improved. This, therefore, provides the consumer with a great experience, thereby fostering a good relationship with the company.  


Where do you expect to see AI solutions be used more often in the near future?


The application of AI solutions to the intelligent use of energy is one of the key enablers of the wider adoption of renewable energy and the decarbonisation of the energy grid.


The understanding of usage patterns and grid demands enables demand to be more closely in balance with production. The move toward electrified transport and energy price increases continue to drive the importance of this.


Would you like to share what’s next for Aveni?


We recently secured a £2.75M investment to deliver the expansion of our Aveni Detect platform across the financial services and utility markets across the UK. This investment is accelerating our growth, allowing us to expand and serve other regulated industries beyond financial services and utilities.


Our goal is to improve the way companies serve their customers by using AI solutions and data-driven technologies. With the recent funding, we are spreading our wings wider and more companies are embracing the solution we provide.


Interview with Cybernews

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