Data revolution: how APIs can and should accelerate your Digital Transformation

Colin Clive, Director of Platforms & Engineering, looks at the history of APIs, and the value they can and should bring to your business.

APIs: a history

The Application Programming Interface or API as it is more commonly known refers to the modern approach of using HTTP to provide access to data. APIs allow software applications and digital services to talk to each other. They return and send raw data, which can be in a standard machine readable format, and are primarily used to support the integration of systems. Modern Web APIs became mainstream in the early 2000s when new start-ups such as Salesforce, Amazon, and eBay published Web APIs to make services available to customers and third party providers.

Since then, APIs have been behind the technology revolution in a number of sectors, and has improved the customer experience in each of these sectors. This includes Financial Services, where the use of Open Banking opened up commerce and payments, and Social Media, where APIs became the power behind the platforms used by giants such as Facebook and Twitter.

You can find more information here on APIs including a link to a popular dissertation on Representational State Transfer (REST) by Roy Fielding, which laid the foundations of Web APIs that we use today.

The Value that APIs can Bring

When an organisation can make it simple to exchange information both internally and externally, it opens up massive opportunities. It is a misconception that APIs are only there to be used by Technology professionals to build applications. They can also be used simply to provide access to a wide range of data sets. To enable this, it is important to make the APIs accessible to non-developers using API tooling that doesn’t require any knowledge of coding.

A simple and powerful starting point is to outline clear instructions, detailing how to use the APIs and where to find to them. Extending this simple concept to your partners or customers opens up the provision of data and digital capabilities outside the organisation, without the need for time consuming and expensive technology integrations.

Of course, with increased interconnectivity comes increased security risk, and APIs are no different. It’s vitally important that organisations employ API security best practices, including API gateways and data encryption, to ensure the APIs are accessible to those who need them, and nobody else.

How APIs can accelerate Digital Transformation

Simplicity is the key to innovation and accelerating Digital Transformation. The focus of the Technology team should be to remove the backend complexity and provide a catalogued suite of APIs that will open up functionality and data to clients and partners.

However, this is not just about Technology. In an API-first organisation, the API strategy should be linked to and driven by business needs, with business owners defining the details of the API contracts, i.e. the data to be sent or received, how it is requested, and the events that allow the data to be sent or received.

With the technology in place and the key business experts involved in defining and prioritising, the capabilities to be integrated through APIs will allow for innovation, and the unlocking of value, at a rapid pace. Working in collaboration with clients to react to changing customer needs through already created and available APIs will accelerate the speed of achieving digital transformation.

What we’re doing at Webhelp

In business process outsourcing, the seamless integration of data and functionality between the client and the outsourcer is paramount to providing the best Customer Experience and insight.

With this in mind, Webhelp is currently putting in place an API infrastructure and deploying an API Gateway to manage, secure, and monitor a rich suite of APIs that will be available internally and – more importantly – externally, to our partners and clients. With an initial focus on data exchange, we will provide an open and secure mechanism over the public internet to allow the common data required for seamless operational reporting and business intelligence through Partner APIs.

We will provide a standard suite of APIs that will be accessible, catalogued, and simply defined using common industry standards. This will allow our clients and partners to use the APIs from Day 1 without the need of any timely and costly IT set up. All that is required is access to a reliable and performant internet connection.

 

Nothing stands still. The ability to develop new APIs and change existing APIs at pace to drive digital transformation, will require a shift from a traditional monolithic design to a cloud-native design supported by modern technology. To support this, Webhelp are moving to a modern enterprise digital platform, leveraging the best practice in the technology industry. This platform, combined with a team of highly skilled engineers using Development, Security and Operations (DevSecOps) to deliver securely at speed, will provide the ability to deploy APIs to the business, and to partners, at lightning speed.


Impact of AI on online content moderation

We have all heard about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the numerous potentials impacts it will or already has on our daily lives.

Machine Learning through Data Annotation is teaching computers to recognize what we show them, what we say, and how to react accordingly.

When trained well, the impacts it could have on online Content Moderation seem quite straightforward at first. Nonetheless, we will see that AI brings opportunities in the field as well as new challenges, not forgetting that we are only witnessing its genesis – there is still great room for improvement.

Implementing the process, but not totally developed yet

Virtually, AI seems to be a no-brainer as it will take the hit on the most sensitive contents. It will work as a fully impartial chooser instead of moderators having to approve or deny harmful posts.

This is currently put into practice within Webhelp – thanks to our in-house technology handling a growing part of the incoming User-Generated Contents, and attributing priority levels for moderators to take care of the most urgent ones first.

We have established that if AI obtains total control over what can appear on the internet, it will start to get messy very quickly. 2020 pushed tech giants to send workers home and to rely on algorithms to moderate their platforms. As soon as this happened, issues were observed across the two extremes. In fact, on Twitter, there was a steep increase of 40% of hate speech in France, while Facebook and Google both doubled the number of pieces of content flagged as potentially harmful material from Q1 to Q2.

Several examples of artificially intelligent moderators failing their tasks have been observed as not being able to understand human expressions in the first instance, such as irony, sarcasm, or more striking and unambiguously harmful words, however when they are put into context they reveal to be harmless.

This happened over a live chess game on YouTube which has been taken down due to hate speech, but only chess strategy was talked about. The limitations Artificial Intelligence encounters start to fade away as researchers from the University of Sheffield are starting to successfully integrate context in Natural Language Processing algorithms. This technology will be able to detect the differences of languages across communities, races, ethnicities, genders and sexualities, but as Ofcom says: “Developing and implementing an effective content moderation system takes time, effort and finance, each of which may be a constraint on a rapidly growing platform in a competitive marketplace”.

Beneficial in fighting discrimination and derogatory speech online

Following an objective of moderating online content solely through Artificial Intelligence, several start-ups are arising in the market with ever-improving AI-driven solutions. Bodyguard is a great example of this new generation of players implementing technology fighting hate speech and other ailments. The platforms themselves have started developing their own tools: Pinterest unveiled AI that powers its Content Moderation and highlighted its benefits since its implementation: over a year, non-compliant reports have declined by 52% and self-harm content by 80% in the past two years. As we already mentioned, the quality and the quantity of labelled data is key -Facebook, thanks to 1 billion Instagram photos, has also succeeded in developing an innovative image-recognition AI system aiming at moderating the platform almost instantly. As it has just been launched, we are not able to appreciate SEER’s (SElf-supERvised) direct effects on the platform yet.

Watching out for the deepfakes

While these new technologies have potential for positive impact on Content Moderation, they have also created new challenges which plenty of us have already come across, growingly without even noticing it: deepfakes. When analyzing the credibility of content sources, AI can more easily recognize a bot that would be used by malicious users to amplify disinformation, and we can reasonably assume that it would do so for AI-created deepfakes. This issue is way more difficult to detect for the human eye, but appropriately trained moderators, supported by the right AI-driven tools is the perfect combination to complement purely automated or purely human moderation, quickly and effectively.

The first big reveal when it comes to this technology is Microsoft’s deepfake detection tool which has been trained on over 1,000 deepfake video sequences from a public dataset, in a similar manner Facebook has trained its moderation AI. Disruptors also enter the market: platforms like Sensitivity.ai are specialized in detecting face-swaps and other deepfakes which can have deep impacts on the political scene for instance. In fact, the most famous and recent example of deepfake was the face swap of Tom Cruise on Chris Ume’s body and which effect was that it impressed a consequent part of the internet and went viral. When applied to politic speeches, debates or else from official, the impacts could be way more considerable.

AI is not the silver bullet – there’s still room for improvement

Artificial Intelligence is a solution for greater accuracy and efficiency in Content Moderation. Nonetheless, it must not be forgotten that there is still huge room for improvement, as well as growing challenges because of its development for malicious purposes. It is important for any social platform and online community to appreciate how central Artificial Intelligence is becoming in the Moderation field, as both a threat and an opportunity.

Reacting accordingly by getting the right combination of human moderators and technological solutions is in fact needed, as the possibility the impacts on real life and brand image it could generate might rapidly become overwhelming.

 

Author

Thomas Japy

Digital Content Services Business Analyst

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The future of outsourcing

Webhelp’s Customer Solutions MD Andrew Hall reflects on the conversations he’s having with BPO industry leaders about how the solutions we provide continue to evolve as the world changes around us.

One question, more than any other, seems to be currently occupying the minds of industry commentators: “What’s next for BPO providers?

The suggestion here is that the sudden automation and impact of home working will significantly change the nature of the business we provide. Yet from a BPO perspective we are seeing perhaps the biggest adoption of outsourcing in a generation.

In early 2020, we saw many businesses dramatically shift their approach to employee and customer engagement. This was by no means uniform across the sector. To better understand where the market has gone, we first need to identify how companies exist at different stages of digital maturity. Through our research, we’ve identified three groups in which organisations sit.

Group 1: Digital Natives

30% of the market are start-ups – they are digitally native, able to flex and adapt with speed and agility to any crisis or opportunity presented. Their challenge is how to achieve high growth in a cost-effective way. Their platform lends itself well to scale and adoption, but CX is a human based-task and, despite best efforts, will always require a human element. For this group, we have a bespoke offering called The Nest by Webhelp. It understands the unique issues surrounding low-cost growth, and the excellent human conversations that still need to happen. Coupled with a best-shore approach, we introduce AI and other services that support customer engagement, and optimise advisor performance to deliver on a set of unique targeted outcomes.

Group 2: Digital Transformers

35% of the market are digital transformers – brands who have accelerated their journey to digital and omnichannel. While some are much further along this path, a significant number still look to an outsourcer to support their transformation. For these businesses, we bring an organisational design that delivers several things:

  1. Places customer engagement within the fabric of the company
  2. Underwrites and aligns outcomes to gainshare models that share the risks and the rewards, offering much greater certainty of deliverables
  3. Leverages the leading technology, operational performance and best-shoring approach that we offer

Group 3: Established & Resilient

35% of the market deliver mature outsourcing at scale in a sophisticated network of organisations, often with multiple outsourcing relationships and a complex supply chain, in which many now seek to leverage higher value through outcome-based, analytics-driven customer management. Typically, these would be Telco, Grocery and Utilities, along with some high-tech companies.

What each of these groups has in common is a need to optimise their partnerships, to draw more on the investments being made in transformation, people, data and technology, and to recognise outcomes that not only futureproof a business, but also offer certainty around CX performance that goes way beyond traditional cost-to-serve.

Included in this is the question of work from home or office. There is no doubt the world is now different; the standard customer model has changed, and so must the way companies engage their consumers and their people. Home working introduces huge opportunities to engage a more diverse group of advisors, but it can also isolate those who crave an office environment. The reality is that organisations will need to settle into a new norm of blending home and office, to optimise their teams and their performance. For Webhelp, this is another feature of our best-shore approach, and is a component we had adopted long before it became necessary to do so.

 

Far from seeing a reduction in demand, we are excited to be part of the journey with so many more companies across the different stages of digital maturity. They demand more, and we delight in offering the innovation and creativity to ensure we provide more, and meet the increasing expectation and need for our services.


B2B Marketplace payment terms

B2B Marketplace: how to reduce payment terms?

B2B Marketplace payment terms

Payment terms, if not met, do businesses a disservice by depriving them of a source of funds. In the case of B2B marketplaces, which act as a link between professional sellers and buyers, it will be crucial to manage these deadlines by offering tailor-made solutions adapted to the business lines and operating models.

Although the Modernisation of the Economy Act (LME), which entered into force on 5 August 2008, made it possible to reduce payment terms and thus improve the cash flow of some suppliers, these payment terms vary greatly from one sector to another*.

On average, payment terms are 44 days for customers across all industries, with 25 days for commercial customers compared with 55 days for manufacturing industries. Within these same industries, companies pay their suppliers between 42 and 61 days on average.

B2B Marketplace payment terms

How can one remove barriers and offer buyers payment terms while keeping control of the seller’s cash flow and exposure to risk?

This is the equation that operators must solve in order to convince buyers to finalise a transaction and to ensure that sellers use the marketplace as a strategic axis for growth.

As a payment institution, Webhelp Payment Services is used to working with different business sectors such as fashion, agri-food, pharmaceuticals and manufacturers. We offer marketplace operator customers solutions specific to their customer strategy, including maintaining control of payment terms and deadlines in order to reduce risk. In fact, it is up to the marketplace operator to define the rules that apply on its marketplace. It thus directs the buyer towards a risk-free but potentially prohibitive prepayment, or towards payment on the due date, which facilitates the transaction but places a financial risk on the seller.
The payment terms themselves contain a number of elements that facilitate risk management, such as payment dates or the method of payment (bank transfer, direct debit, financing plan, etc.). Also, this decision-making phase is even more crucial than the transactional phase because it will help avoid problems in the future.

 

Tailored solutions to reduce payment terms

In addition to its function of bringing sellers and buyers together via the platform, the marketplace makes it possible to automate the tracking of invoices until they are integrated into the interested parties’ CRM. Automation of the process thus allows considerable time savings between invoicing and payment, significantly reducing the payment date.

To reduce and control payment terms on your marketplace, our experts support you based on the profile of the transaction and the buyer with tailor-made solutions adapted to your situation:

  • Is this a first purchase?
  • Do you have qualitative information about the buyer and their payment behaviour (have they ever had outstanding payments to their bank? Do they have overdue debts?)
  • What is the transaction worth? (a €100 purchase does not involve the same financial risk as a €50,000 purchase)
  • Is the buyer covered by credit insurance?

Finally, it will be essential to set up a proper credit management process, following-up overdue invoices and a step by step reminder and recovery process (amicable, pre-litigation, litigation).

 

Our experts will recommend good practice to suit your situation:

  • If it’s the first transaction between a seller and the buyer: focus on zero risk 

In the case of a new customer it is preferable to offer only prepayment by credit card or bank transfer to reduce the risk of unpaid invoices (order not despatched until payment has been received).

If you know your customer, you can give them the choice of payment method. Alternatively, you can calculate the customer’s outstanding payments and offer the customer only prepayment if outstanding payments are already very high in your marketplace.

Either way, these management rules are decisions for which the operator is responsible and are applied in the marketplace via the PSP and the platform.

  • The due date has passed 

Above all, it will be necessary to manage an incremental approach to future payment reminders. A customer who is late in paying is not necessarily a bad customer. Also, it is advisable to send the first reminder by e-mail or SMS, then to space out reminders so that they are not perceived as harassment.

However, if after several weeks the payment has still not been received, we will recommend that you call in specialist collection agencies who will be responsible for contacting the customer (by post and telephone).

To conclude, while it is true that, in the context of how a marketplace operates, the risk of non-payment is borne by the seller, it nevertheless remains the responsibility of the marketplace operator to set the rules and more particularly the payment terms made available, the payment deadlines granted or the type of reminders when payments are in default.

 

Although this clarification is mainly for the domestic market, these good practices also apply internationally, adapted to normal practice in each country, something which Webhelp Payment Services does through its seven subsidiaries based in Europe and North America, making payments to more than 35,000 buyers in 35 countries.

 

* Based on the 2018 Annual report on compliance with payment terms

 

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Job platform match: attracting companies and job seekers using content management & moderation solutions

If the job-matching process is smooth, companies will trust your platform and so will job-seekers.

The trust and safety of users online is crucial in today’s digital world. As 2020 shifted society to online and seek for jobs all across the internet, user-generated content is fast becoming a powerful and flexible tool to enhance job-matching capabilities and attract users to these job ads platforms.

This paper looks at some of the pain points in the the job ads space, highlighting how Webhelp can offer a comprehensive and game changing solution to ensure a smooth and efficient experience.

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Peer Hackman joins as Managing Director of Telecommunications, Media and Technology Practice

Webhelp and Gobeyond Partners are pleased to announce the expansion of their Telecommunications, Media and Technology Practice, under the leadership of Peer Hackman.

Peer joins Webhelp as Managing Director for TMT. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the business with over 20 years’ experience in leadership, consulting and operational roles with CSPs, technology vendors, management consultancies and media start-ups.

He is supported by a global team of industry consultants, customer experience specialists, customer engagement operations experts, analysts, data scientists and engineers, who work with our clients to transform and create value from customer engagement and experience engineering. This practice brings together specialists who transform customer experience excellence into profitable growth and run your customer operations at greater efficiency and lower costs.

 

Commenting on the TMT expansion, David Turner, CEO of Webhelp UK said:

“Telecommunications is a diverse and hugely important sector of the global economy, which has provided a crucial  role during the pandemic in keeping individual and businesses connected, media companies entertaining and informing us, and technology vendors providing the devices and infrastructure. However, the gap between these sectors in shareholder returns has widened. All businesses have realised that customer engagement, experience and trust is THE decisive enabler to produce sustainable growth and expansion in uncertain times. Peer and his practice are working with leading operators, media businesses and technology vendors to help them mature their digital transformations across strategy, customer engagement, operations, culture, technology and data, to build sustainable, resilient and highly profitable future-facing businesses.”

 

Peer Hackman, Managing Director for TMT, continues:

“Webhelp and Gobeyond Partners provide end-to-end capabilities – from assessing our clients’ digital and CX maturity, to helping them to shape their customer engagement strategy to drive business performance, to engineering profitable customer experiences and providing holistic customer engagement solutions. We are uniquely placed to deliver transformative programmes which help clients grow the value of their existing customers, open new market opportunities, drive down the cost base, increase revenue and improve customer satisfaction.

“I’m delighted to be joining the team at Webhelp and Gobeyond Partners and look forward to bringing customer engagement transformation solutions to the often complex challenges faced by their prestigious client base.”

 

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Debt collection and people

Collection of overdue payments: effective and people-friendly solutions based on Commitment, Innovation and Solidarity

Debt collection and people

In a difficult social context, a new model for collecting overdue payments is needed. More people-friendly, but no less effective, the new model has three focuses: Engagement, Innovation and Solidarity, as explained during a Smart Session given by Franck Etienne, General Manager of Collections Services – Customer Financial Experience products at Webhelp Payment Services.

Methods of collecting overdue payments are changing. They are adapting to a difficult social context, scarred by both an economic and a medical crisis. For businesses, the situation is worrying and delicate: what’s the best way to make it work? In-house or with a specialist partner?

Experience shows it is wise to re-organise the model around three focuses: Commitment, Innovation and Solidarity.

 

1. Commitment: to make collection advisors more effective

As professionals, collection advisors are accountable for the advice they provide, i.e. what they say to a client. Ultimately, this responsibility falls on the partner company. So the initial training and then daily coaching of these teams is crucially important.

Every day, these advisors are dealing with people who are struggling or unwilling to pay. So they are “on the front line”, displaying the brand image of the company seeking payment. Therefore, the advisors need to be extremely careful when using the three traditional phases – case analysis, listening and finding solutions! In addition, monitoring, listening and measuring systems need to be set up and properly managed.

Overall, the advisor must feel fully accountable and committed to his actions, completely consistent with his colleagues and managers and within the “spirit of the brand”.

From the customer’s viewpoint, it would be inadmissible for the credit company to provide responses which varied with the contact person or the communication channel (email, mail, SMS, etc.).

This concept of advisors’ professional commitment must be reconciled with the concept of trust.

Typically, the business of collection starts with fairly rigid call scripts. Exchanges between the advisor and the client are structured as they progress – which is very reassuring for a newly recruited advisor, for example.

However, switching as quickly as possible to other methods, such as the mind map,is recommended. This very practical and powerful technique makes it possible to visualise the client’s thoughts and behaviours. It is a live, adaptable method that benefits from exchanges between the various parties involved. This free flow of ideas makes it possible to emulate and constantly improve, increasing the competence and confidence of advisors – which ultimately results in greater efficiency.

And of course, in a context of working from home, whether hybrid or full time, this concept of trust between advisors and managers has become a key point of collective efficiency – the manager’s adaptability also being crucially important.

This new organisational situation will probably be perpetuated in many companies, the aim being a “triple win'” where everyone benefits: employee, creditor and end customer.

To meet this commitment challenge, a healthy trust between employee and manager needs to be put in place, rather than “command and control”!

 

2. Innovation: so that the advisor optimises the collection strategy

Too often, the keyword “innovation” is associated with new digital tools. This should not be exclusive: social innovation must remain the priority, as technology is there to be used for human performance.

For example, when carrying out data management analysis for our customers, we study many variables: profiles of overdue customers, behaviours and reactions to requests, analysis of reachability, creditworthiness, payments, etc.

In our experience, for this data analysis to be effective, it must be cross-referenced with analysis of the actual experiences of advisors and their managers.

What we find is that, over and above raw and quantitative data, it is the quality of the human interaction that makes the difference.

Thus the advisor has a key role in realising and optimising brand strategy. However, it should not in any circumstance be considered rigid, definitive and mechanically employed in a “top down” manner.

To return to the concept of technological innovation, let’s not forget we are now at the stage of enhanced advisor. This means the advisor can rely on a variety of automated business process solutions (or RAP for Robotic Automisation Process).

In practice, some repetitive or low value-added tasks are handled automatically, either totally or partially. This usually but not always refers to back office areas.

For example, there are real-time monitoring and re-transcription systems for conversations between advisor and client. They provide indicators that tell you about the quality of the conversation, such as its emotional content.

These monitoring tools can also offer the advisor tools to help with decision-making or discussion.

However, these tools should be studied or implemented with care. Within the Webhelp Group, experiments are underway, particularly in Nordic countries.

Measuring the implementation costs for these solutions is essential. In addition to direct costs associated with the acquisition and technical operation of these solutions, there are organisational costs to be included. These enhanced advisor solutions require very specific HR and managerial support. Careful preparation and then testing are required to create the expected added value!

Finally, technological innovation also applies to the omni-channel advisor. This advisor no longer only handles outgoing calls; he also handles incoming calls, emails, chat conversations, and sometimes even mail. This has led to the growing importance of writing in recruitment and training processes for collection advisors.

3. Solidarity: for empathetic support in line with brand values

Solidarity is traditionally defined by concepts of “social duty, reciprocal obligation, help and assistance, courteous collaboration between people in a community… “.

The brand must position itself clearly in relation to this fundamental value. This is even a priority in certain professions, such as mutual organisations and insurance companies for example.

And so in 2021, and probably in 2022, the brand will ask the question: “how are we to approach our clients who are suffering hardship in such a stressful social, health and economic context?”.

For its part, for several years now Webhelp Payment Services has been working in partnership with Crésus,a federation of 24 regional associations. Their mission is to help people who are in over-indebted or suffering financial problems. They also play a role in providing information on excessive debt and its prevention.

For example, this partnership has made it possible to measure people’s level of fragility in order to inform collection services and allow referral to appropriate support services.

In certain sectors of activity, this value of solidarity also enables the brand to play an advisory role–going as far as providing coaching. In addition, experiments between Crésus and Webhelp Payment Services will be extended during 2021.

Similarly, the idea of solidarity applies to teams of advisors engaged in a collective effort to improve service and share best practice.

To sum up, although there is a certain amount to be collected, it is possible – and probably desirable – to bring people into the relationship, while relying on technologies and tools that enhance that relationship.

It is also this empathy and this search for human solutions that over time will lead to a good and lasting relationship with the customer and a positive brand image! A relationship to everyone’s benefit!

 

To find out more about this topic


Bots, Bias & Bigotry: safe scaling of AI

In the first of our Risk & Innovation series, James Allen examines the barriers to overcome when scaling AI.

Now that we’re well into the fourth Industrial Revolution (also known as Industry 4.0), we expect to see some fundamental shifts in how businesses operate and serve their customers.

Here’s what we see as the three big pillars of Industry 4.0:

  1. Digitisation of product and service offerings
  2. Digitisation and integration of supply / value chains
  3. Digital business models and customer access

 

The shift toward Industry 4.0 has become more important to many brands, and has accelerated during the Covid crisis as a result of significant changes in supply chain and consumer behaviour.

In fact, a recent McKinsey survey highlighted that 65% of respondents see Industry 4.0 as being more valuable since the pandemic, with the same survey revealing that the top 3 strategic objectives for Industry 4.0 are:

  1. Agility to scale operations up or down in response to market-demand changes (18.4%)
  2. Flexibility to customize products to consumer needs (17.2%)
  3. Increase operational productivity and performance to minimise costs (17.2%)

Yet when the same respondents were asked if they had successfully scaled Industry 4.0 initiatives, only 26% had managed to do so successfully.

 

According to Rothschild & Co, the market for Industry 4.0 is expected to top 300 billion dollars, and with AI and connectivity projected to reduce manufacturing costs by 20% (or 400 billion dollars), it’s essential that companies find a way to scale safely, at pace.

Artificial Intelligence evolution

AI has been in development for years, starting with the first computers in the 1940, with which scientists and mathematicians began to explore the potential for building an electronic brain. In 1950, the “Turing Test” proposed that if a machine could carry on a conversation that was indistinguishable from a conversation with a human being, then it was reasonable to say that the machine was “thinking”. This simplified version of the problem allowed Alan Turing to argue convincingly that a “thinking machine” was at least plausible, and the paper answered all the most common objections to the proposition.

Fast forward many years, and many millions of pounds of research investment, and in 1997 perhaps the first publicly recognised AI computer was developed. This came from IBM in the form of Deep Blue – a chess-playing computer that beat the reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

But machines like Deep Blue were incredibly complex, extremely expensive, and inaccessible to all but a few large technology companies. In the past few years, however, the interest and opportunity presented by AI within Industry 4.0 has exploded.

This is due to a number of factors:

  • Wider availability of computing and access to cloud environments with large processing power
  • Development of deep learning algorithms
  • Big Data platforms
  • Development of Artificial General Intelligence

AI – learnings and barriers to scale

Whilst many companies see the potential presented by AI, companies are also rightly concerned by the risks that it presents, as well as the barriers they need to overcome when scaling.

The most common challenges we tend to come across are:

  • Access to specialist skills
  • Cost of processing in cloud environments
  • Inability to demonstrate fairness, lack of bias and integrity of AI algorithms
  • Risk of unintended consequences
  • Regulatory understanding
  • Ability to seamlessly switch between AI powered processes and regular business processes in the event the AI fails

This presents organisations with a real conundrum. AI use raises questions over ethics, safeguards, interpretability and more. It’s only right that organisations probe these issues and take the learnings from those that have gone before them.

Here’s a few public examples of where AI has gone wrong:

Footballer or felon

A facial-recognition system identified almost thirty professional American footballers as criminals, including New England Patriots three-time Super Bowl champion Duron Harmon. The software incorrectly matched the athletes to a database of mugshots in a test organized by the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Nearly one in six athletes were falsely identified.

CEO gets spoofed

In 2019 the CEO of a UK-based energy firm got a call from his boss at their German parent company, instructing him to transfer €220,000 to a Hungarian supplier. The ‘boss’ said the request was urgent and directed the UK CEO to transfer the money promptly. It turned out the phone call was made by criminals who used AI-based software to mimic the boss’ voice, including the “slight German accent and the melody of his voice,” as reported in the Wall Street Journal. Such AI-powered cyberattacks are a new challenge for companies, as traditional cybersecurity tools designed for keeping hackers off corporate networks can’t identify spoofed voices.

Get me out of here!

US airlines were subject to widespread criticism after their AI powered pricing systems charged customers up to 10 times the price of a regular ticket, as they desperately tried to escape Florida ahead of the arrival of hurricane Irma. The systems did not have a kill switch. “There are no ethics valves built into the system that prevent an airline from overcharging during a hurricane,” said Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and journalist.

 

Navigating the risks and enabling safe scaling of AI

Webhelp and Gobeyond Partners have developed a comprehensive framework to support the safe scaling of AI, including assessment of risk, key controls, human-centred ethics principles, algorithm management and data handling. This framework includes open source methods that can be used to demonstrate the integrity and explainability of AI algorithms.

Safe scaling of AI

Questions your organisation should consider

Although AI presents a huge opportunity to transform both business operations and customer experience, this is not without risk. Here are some of the long term strategic questions that we recommend you consider, for your organisation:

  • What role does AI have in the working environment and is there such a thing as a post-labour economy? If so, how do we make it fair?
  • How do we eliminate bias in AI?
  • How do we keep AI safe from threats?
  • Is it right to use AI in cyber defence? If so, where is the line?
  • As AI capabilities become more integrated, how do we stay in control of such a complex system?
  • How do we define the humane treatment of AI?

 

Feel free to get in touch, to see how we can help you safely fulfil your Industry 4.0 ambitions at pace and at scale.


Stricter content moderation policies puts pressure on social media platforms

Growing concerns towards content moderation policies aroused over the last few years due to scandals, users, and politics. Subsequently, there have been growing concerns about Content Moderation (CoMo) policies and enforcement on social media platforms. Today, we are dealing with how world-renowned social media platforms enforce their Content Moderation policies, as opposed to  how governments or institutions desire them to (See Article). Bear in mind that in most countries, these platforms are not immediately liable for their User-Generated-Content (UGC); Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in the United States is a great example of this ’liability shield’:

When it comes to terrorism or other threats to users, several countries like members of the EU, Brazil and Australia impose a time limit for platforms to delete content after it has been flagged as inappropriate.

With platforms not immediately liable for their User Generated Content, why are huge corporations enforcing stricter policies, raising censorship concerns ? Why don’t they just leave their communities to live freely? They need to for two main reasons:

  1. To protect their communities from violence, hate speech, racism, harassment and so many more threats to ensure a smooth user experience
  2. Protect individuals on their platforms from being influenced by other users who might spread misleading information or leverage the network to influence their decisions and behaviors

But as you will discover in this article, some platforms endure growing scrutiny from their audience due to their huge reach, whilst others might benefit from different levels of acceptance to convey a somewhat brand image.

Scrutiny makes social media leaders tighten their CoMo policies

The former is the case, especially for both Facebook and Twitter. Their billions of daily users have the ability to influence mass opinions – far more easily than any other type of media. Following several scandals, trust between these platforms and their users has been damaged (link to WH article). In fact, when interrogated in a hearing by the US Senate last October, leaders of Twitter, Google, and Facebook were pointed out as “Powerful arbiters of truth”, a rather explicit denomination.

Content Moderation has wide political implications. Last year’s American elections played out a bigger trial for large tech platforms showing how they were able to monitor the peaks of political comments, ads, and other UGC, safely and considerately. Numerous examples of Content Moderation can be cited as no political ads on Facebook: first flagging Donald Trump’s tweets as misleading or partly false before permanently banning the former US president on both platforms.

TikTok has also been questioned several times regarding their moderation of political content, but most importantly almost live suicides, paedophilia, and increased usage of guns in the videos were posted by their users. Further to political aspects, the reasons why these types of content should be deleted and not seen by the communities is straightforward. When it comes to firearm usage, local laws make it even more unclear on how to moderate the use and applications of these types of weapons online.

Logically, the pattern rubs off on smaller players

Most Big Tech giants have now funded Safety Advisory Councils generally – “made up of external experts on child safety, mental health and extremism”, signaling to their communities that they are trying their best to protect them while avoiding censorship and audience attrition.

Due to the attention their bigger peers face, targets of the proposed tighter Content Moderation policies are progressing towards them. Platforms such as Parler advocate free speech and use it to promote their brand image, while welcoming the most extreme far-right supporters, whose comments are widely moderated on Twitter and other mainstream social

After Parler was banned from most well-known online app stores (Amazon, Apple, Google, who are the main providers of these apps) due to its lack of Content Moderation, it was forced to go offline and its now-former CEO, John Matze, has been fired over his push for stronger moderation. There are several other social media platforms claiming to promote free speech (Telegram, Gab), but some have chosen bravely to take on the Content Moderation challenge to avoid Parler’s faith.

Nonetheless, such patterns are already observed for new and innovative social media, including Substack (newsletter developing platform) and the infamous Clubhouse (live audio conferences). The former was not expecting such controversy about one of their newsletters until one of its previous releases linked IQ to race. The latter poses new questions on how to efficiently moderate live audio feeds.

Mastering Content Moderation policies is the key to success

The scale of emerging social media platforms, as well as their innovative format and technology imposes new challenges on Content Moderation, which is evidently highlighted by increased scrutiny from users. Unfortunately, without benefiting from years of experience in Content Moderation, newcomers, and smaller players find that their policy is adapted to their own targeted communities, as well as their content. If both areas are too permissive or restrictive, they become dangerous for their longevity and brand image.

Mastering Content Moderation enforcement is a lever to the welfare of your community and reputation.


 

Author

Thomas Japy

Digital Content Services Business Analyst

Contact the author

Innovation

Innovation is necessary, safety is crucial

James Allen, Webhelp’s Chief Risk & Technology Officer, introduces our new series taking a deep dive into risk and innovation.

Risk and Innovation don’t tend to appear in the same sentence very often. Innovation is, of course, essential for businesses aiming to survive and thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution. But with an increasing weight of regulation, and with data becoming more valuable than oil, how can companies simultaneously innovate while staying ahead of emerging threats?

Here at Webhelp and Gobeyond Partners, our mission is to be leaders and experts in delivering low risk solutions that help our clients to innovate and stay safe.

In this new series, we’ll be providing some insight and perspective into some of the key questions that we work to solve in partnership with our clients.

  • AI has huge potential to transform customer experience in my business. But how do I safely move from small scale experimentation to deployment at scale?
  • In a world of increasing regulatory burden, how can I use digital technology to automate compliance activities?
  • My firm is part of a critical national infrastructure, but I have a large amount of legacy applications that provide critical economic functions. How can I accelerate transformation of my business without putting these at risk?
  • My business has made massive investments in digitisation, but my control environment is still analogue. How do I pivot to the new without losing control?
  • How do I attract new skills in digital, analytics and cyber into my Risk function?
  • Now that home working is part of the new norm, how do I deliver leading edge cyber security with world-class colleague experience?

Innovation

End-to-end collaboration

By encouraging and facilitating collaboration between different teams, this helps teams reach outside their own comfort zones, think differently, and better consider the customer and colleague experience from beginning to end.

 

Understanding new technology

New developments in technology are the cornerstone to enabling businesses to innovate, operate effectively, and react quickly. But with the adoption of new technology inevitably come new risks, and new challenges. Foremost importance should be placed on understanding these implications, and ensuring the safe deployment of the new technology.

 

At Webhelp, we work every day to drive innovation, with control by design. We adapt and innovate – in our technology, our mindset and our operational practices – and continue to push the boundaries of what we can do for our clients. But at the heart of everything we do is a focus on delivering low risk solutions, helping our clients to innovate while remaining safe, now and in the future.

 

In Risk & Innovation, our new series of articles and white papers, we’ll be exploring how emerging technologies can be used to help companies stay safe while maintaining necessary growth and agility. The first in the series, Bots, Bias & Bigotry- Safe scaling of AI, will arrive on Monday March 22, and will address the fairness, privacy and operational safeguards you need to consider when incorporating AI into your operational model.

Interested in more content from our thought-leader James Allen? Check out his earlier pieces on Taking a human centred approach to cyber security and How AI and data analytics can support vulnerable customers.