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Urban Company (formerly known as UrbanClap), a soonicorn with its last round of valuation at around $935 million, is investing a substantial portion of the capital it has raised till date towards training and safety of the 30,000 service professionals who work for its platform.
Abhiraj Singh Bhal, Co-founder of Urban Company, told YourStory that the company will be investing Rs 150-200 crore ($20-27 million) towards training, quality control, and safety-related efforts over the next three years.
Abhiraj Bhal, Co-Founder of Urban Company with one of the home service professional
Meet the Mavericks: Abhiraj Singh Bhal, Co-Founder CEO of Urban Clap, India's home services startup
Launched in 2014 by Abhiraj Bhal, Varun Khaitan, and Raghav Chandra, the startup today operates more than 100 classroom training centres across 22 cities in India and has presence in a few international markets.
It has built an in-house team of 150 full-time trainers, who train between 3,000 to 5,000 professionals a month. These training programmes focus on both core skills and soft skills, and can last anywhere from one week to two months. The company is also working closely with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) and the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to certify its fleet of service professionals.
When it comes to maintaining trust and safety (T&S) on the platform, the company has adopted 10 key initiatives to enhance the same. These initiatives broadly fall into three buckets – before the service, during the service, and after the service.
As part of before the service at the time of onboarding, Urban Company has partnered with government accredited third-party platforms like AuthBridge to verify the background of every service professional.
Each professional is interviewed in person by a category manager to check for behavioural traits. The professionals will have to also undergo an upfront “skill test” or “skill interview”, typically administered by the trainers themselves.
“These processes ensure that on an average, only 25-30 percent of the professionals who apply are selected. Coupled with a strong referral programme, this ensures a strong upfront gate, through which only the best professionals are onboarded,” says Abhiraj.
The Gurugram-based home service company said it has also partnered with Microsoft Azure to leverage its cognitive services to verify the identity of each professional before the start of the job, ensuring that jobs are not passed onto someone else.
Abhiraj tells that the company recently launched its safety centre and SOS helpline on both the customer and the partner app. This helpline is powered by a third-party company, trained to administer quick response and provide emergency help.
Sharing an example, Abhiraj tells that a professional had met with a road accident some time back, and a bystander called the SOS helpline using her UC app on the professional’s phone. “The SOS helpline was able to detect the precise location of the accident and ensure the ambulance was at the spot in five minutes,” he adds.
As part of post service delivery on Urban Company, both professionals and customers can rate each other. The minimum requirement for professionals to remain working on the platform varies between 4.2 to 4.5, depending upon the city and the category. The platform also blacklists customers from time-to-time, who do not adhere to its policies or have a low rating, tells Abhiraj. He adds that thecompany has also set up an in-house Trust & Safety (T&S) and Law Enforcement Response Team (LERT), which ensures that any safety-related escalations are properly managed, working in conjunction with the law enforcement authorities of the city.
Apart from the above, Urban Company is also building a robust supply chain of tools, products, and consumables used during the service delivery process, partnering with brands like L'Oréal, O3+, RICA, Man Company, Diversey, Bayer, Kärcher, etc.
Lending on the cards
Further, the company has partnered with many NBFCs to offer upfront kit loans as well as personal loans for its professionals. It has also applied for an NBFC licence. To ensure that professionals have a safety net, the company said it has launched a life and accident insurance cover for all its professionals in India, in partnership with ACKO General Insurance. It is also extending a health insurance cover to select professionals.
In August last year, the Gurugram-based home services startup had raised $75 million in a Series E funding round led by Tiger Global Management, the US-based investment major. Along with Tiger Global, the round also saw participation from existing investors, including Steadview Capital and Vy Capital. In its most recent and major development, the startup rebranded itself as Urban Company from UrbanClap (as it was known earlier), aspiring to be a horizontal gig marketplace with a global footprint. Its ambition is to be a leader across service categories like beauty and wellness and home repairs and maintenance, the home-service firm stated.
Summarising its efforts across training, safety and quality control, Abhiraj mentioned that from the outside, one only sees the tip of the iceberg, and might not fully appreciate the investments needed to run a platform like Urban Company. He further added that it is a misconception that ecommerce companies spend most of their investments to fund discounts.
For a platform like Urban Company, it claims that less than one percent of the capital raised till date has been used for giving out discounts. On the contrary, it adds, the vast majority of its capital, over 99 percent, has been used to build the backend infrastructure, which ensures consistency and quality on the platform.
Technology is redefining workplaces. A new generation asking for meaningful work and dynamic workplaces is entering the workforce. Real talent is scarce, therefore, demanding.
Welcome to 2020, where skilled employees are the architects of their own destiny. What does that mean for the hiring managers? It means reimagining their strategies, realigning their processes and exploring new platforms that are compatible with the new-age candidate’s habits, preferences, liking and disliking.
As in-demand candidates push employers to reinvent the wheel, employee experience enhancement is bound to become a buzzword that will have a deep resonance across sectors. To hire talent that can make a difference, employers will have to market themselves to the talent pool, look hard for mediums to reach this talent, nurture strategic relationships with lost candidates and woo them back carefully into the fold.
According to a study by AuthBridge on employee hiring trends to watch out in 2020, it is found that technology will be playing a crucial role in hiring, besides recruitment marketing and candidate relationship management that will gain importance. The other trends include social media and data analytics which will take centre stage, while emotional intelligence will become a hot skill and employee experience will be at the heart of hiring. Below are the top measures of employee experience enhancement that will dominate 2020.
The end-to-end automation of the recruitment process—from hiring to verification to on-boarding—will catch up with employers so that all actions associated with hiring are defined, allocated and completed in time to bring all stakeholders involved in the hiring process on the same page. Digital on-boarding will also help organizations in attracting and retaining Gen Z talent by offering seamless pre-boarding and on-boarding experiences that engage them in ways they comprehend and appreciate.
Recruitment Marketing Competition to lure talent is rising and this places candidates in a unique position in the equation where they choose the employer as much as the employer chooses them. In 2020, employer branding will gain focus in order to attract and nurture talented individuals who are the best fit for the organization. Data-based targeting and retargeting of specific talent and employer branding initiatives will gain importance to generate awareness, consideration and interest.
Candidate Relationship Management
Unlike before, a recruiter’s job will not end at discovering a desirable candidate but will focus on developing a relationship cycle for long term engagement. Human resource analytics tools rooted in artificial intelligence and machine learning will help recruiters in better workforce planning, skills gap analysis, assessment, retention and database management for future considerations. This, in turn, will positively impact quality of new hires as well cost and time spent during the hiring process. Automation of ex-employee verification process, a rising trend, will help organizations in saving time and resources as well as generate insights on attrition trends for better retention policies and practices.
Social Media Recruiting
Understanding employees beyond their curriculum vitae and work history will be crucial to build successful workplaces of the future. To this end, employers will come up with structured methods of making use of social media platforms. In addition to posting jobs, social media recruiting will extend to creating positive stories around the brand and gathering insights around emotional intelligence of employees, their passions and their motivations.
Rise of Remote Workplaces and the Gig Economy
The new-age model of remote workplaces and temporary or virtual workforce in gig economy will push employers towards ‘remote workforce management’ that is not bound to time and place constraints. This is especially true for the gig economy where a continuous supply of workforce is mandatory for the economy to hold together. This, in turn, will see huge reliance on technology to ensure quick, efficient and reliable automation of staff on-boarding.
Data Protection and Privacy
A rising concern worldwide, data protection and privacy norms will start impacting organizations’ hiring policies and mechanisms. With impending changes in regulations, be it GDPR or India’s own personal data and privacy bill, employers will have to assess and redefine hiring practices and processes to stay complaint.
Inclusiveness: Cultural Diversity
Cultural diversity will continue to be the key to creating a strong, value-focused brand as Gen Z will place a premium on culturally dynamic workplaces. In the age of surging involvement of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning for resume shortlisting, candidate assessment and selection, employers will have to be cautious of technology (and algorithmic biases) defining the cultural fabric of their workplace.
When a technological advancement is written about, it is either done with an intent to evoke fear or rake reverence. It is rare to come across a restrained account that underscores a historically proven impact. And this holds true in the context of the HR experience at the beginning of a new decade, to be impacted by technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), as well as the emergence of the tech-inspired, Gen Z workforce. The challenge however is that while it is natural to get muddled amidst the chaos that precedes change, there is also a need to want in on the latest trends. For the HR function however, it is key to start from the basics, and bring in hiring and onboarding into mainstream boardroom discussions.
Getting the basics right
The initial experiences of a prospective employee with your organisation can leave a lasting impression as you send vital cues that can influence their enthusiasm about joining or not joining your organisation –the wait time at your office, the number of forms filled, the number of occasions they were called back to complete various processes, and who they interacted with. And when the tech-informed, hypervisual, digital natives of the future, plagued with short attention spans are factored in, it does not take long to realise that hiring and onboarding is awaiting a marvellous makeover.
To add to the recruiters’ woes, the Conference Board’s 2016 survey of global CEOs identified that attracting crème-da-la-crème that comprises only about 5% of the global workforce, but delivers 95% of the results, will remain as the main challenge in the coming days. An increase in the number of insider frauds across industries further highlights what we already know – the current methods of hiring are inefficient, prone to errors, and will not get us very far in our efforts at building a safe workplace and a productive workforce. A comparison of the employee background verification and onboarding technologies at disposal, and their actual adoption in organisationslarge or small reveals a deep chasm that is being deepened with fallacies such as :-
- Laborious and manual document co llection and data gathering
- Poor archiving of data
- Redundant form filling
- One fit all verification procedures for employees at all levels
While lack of resources to manage the verification and onboarding function may be a deterrent for small organisations, large organisations suffer owing to extensive deadlines and the need to process large volumes of applications and data in a limited time frame.
HR Technology in 2020
There is a lot that data solutions, enabled by technologies like AI, ML, and deep search can do for hiring and onboarding functions with respect to technology adoption. End to end automation of verification and digital on boarding can ensure that all key actions are well-defined, assigned, and completed in time for each new hire – providing clarity and consistency across the organisation. The awareness about and access to specific platforms, powered by the latest technologies and leading databases is important to that end. For the tech-savvy, these platforms allow for easy sign up across the web and mobile.
The ability to create customised workflows can aid creation of customised packages. Workflow automation enables activity triggered tasks such as form filling, document submission, sending reminders to candidates, automatic check initiation for verification, and complete visibility over the audit trail of cases through a single dashboard, bringing disparate departments on the same page. Insights on attrition, employee behaviour, and lost talent can serve two ends - simplify and amplify the user experience and contribute to a marked performance efficiency of teams involved in hiring and onboarding processes.
These tech platforms also improve the quality of employees hired, and aid the creation of a safe work environment. Their ability to access leading databases allows employers to authenticate identity, education, past employment history, address, and a lot more in just a few clicks, significantly reducing the time taken to perform this activity. The time thus saved can be the difference that motivates a good candidate to pick you over a competitor with a long onboarding and verification cycle. Real-time identity verification and image matching benefit companies, especially those in the sharing economy or ones that systematically manage gig and part-time workers. The Denver body of the Boy Scouts of America, the largest scouting organisation in the USA, for employing huge numbers of seasonal workers switched to automated onboarding, eliminating the need for workers to be physically present to furnish paperwork. And as a result, they saved 48+ hours in admin efforts in comparison to a paper-driven, manual process that took weeks.
Going a step further
A digital onboarding process makes it easier to keep the hiring manager involved through timely notifications about the actions needed on their part. For the candidate, this creates a seamless pre boarding and on boarding experience wherein they feel connected from the start. Remember, how you hire and onboard can be the best endorsement to a candidate about your company. It is the best opportunity to indicate to them that you care about them, their time, and experience.
Additionally, a digital onboarding process is crucial for the standardisation of hiring processes. A uniform candidate experience is relevant for large organisations, or those eyeing the global markets. In today’s time, some of the most successful organisations are those that take data gathered from their digital onboarding processes to create individualised off boarding strategies focused around wooing back ex-employees and attracting the talent they lost to competitors.
According to the Aberdeen Group, 54% organisations with a formal onboarding process report more productive new hires, and 50% experience greater retention of new workers. These numbers are insightful for organisations sitting on the fence about adopting digital onboarding and making it a part of their hiring process in 2020.
As hiring and retention strategies for a new workforce are put together, it will be valuable to evaluate existing technologies for maximising the impact of HR. The Gen Z is expected to push employers to not just be tech oriented, but to imbibe a tech DNA, which makes it urgent to identify need gaps in hiring and onboarding processes at an organisational level and fill them with care. While a greater spin might take time and consistent effort, it might look overwhelming from where you stand right now, since each day spent contemplating is bound to put you behind the competition. The key is to get started!
The good news for the gaming industry is that it shares most of its challenges- customer-related, regulatory and compliance- with BFSI-a sector where a similar disruption has already happened, and innovative, tech-led solutions around compliance to KYC, AML already been tested.
The online gaming industry in India has been seeing an upward curve for the past few years. What has sparked this growth is the shift in the revenue model, which earlier was dominated by in-app purchases and advertisement but is now moving towards real money games. A report by CXO capital positions the current size of the real money gaming market around Rs 2200 crore with an average rate of growth of users standing at 50 per cent.
As aspirational consumption in India doubles by 2025, along with massive multiplication in the number of people under the age of 45-the biggest consumer base of the gaming industry in India, the market has the potential of emerging as one of the largest in the world, a report by Deloitte states. The recent investments of Sequoia India, Times Internet, and GoVentures and few others in Mobile Premier League- only substantiate the claim.
The Upcoming Challenge
Riding on the support of the law, the real money games have been able to shed the shadow of gambling that surrounded them. This has empowered users to freely embrace these platforms for the possibility of drawing a huge sum from a pool on a small investment. While new to India, the experience of developed countries with gaming platforms has a lot to teach us. The possibility of winning/earning money invariably attracts fraudsters along with threats like money laundering. This is true for any fundamental shift in money transactions like in the case of BFSI when e-banking was first introduced. Data breaches, identity and location spoofing in the online gaming industry have been facilitated by the rise of the dark web that gives easy access to names and email addresses to trick users to fraudulent gaming sites. This has led the regulatory bodies around the world to tighten the noose on compliance and due diligence obligations surrounding KYC/ AML and fraud prevention.
In the Indian context, the varying state laws around skill-based gaming further complicate matters for operators. To give an example, skill-based games, including those played online, are legal in all Indian states except Assam, Orrisa and Telangana whereas in Nagaland these games can only be played online on websites licensed by the State of Nagaland. Chance-based games, on the other hand, are conditionally legal only in Goa, Sikkim and Daman. Age verification is mandatory for almost all types of skill-based games, whether they are played online or offline.
To comply with the stringent laws, the operators must add layers of safety at every stage – from onboarding to the transfer of amount won- to mitigate risks that threaten the player experience.
Consequently, with clunky and lengthy signup processes, exhaustive nature of documents demanded by operators or delay in verifying age, identity and address by operators; the player drop-out at onboarding has become extremely high. Most gamers playing online for entertainment have an account with multiple operators. They are short of patience with elaborate signup processes. In their head, they are constantly, albeit subconsciously, comparing onboarding, deposit and withdrawal procedures of not just immediate rivals in the industry but across industries, also expecting a safe playing environment always. Attracting new players to register/make real-money transactions within the confines of regulatory bodies and enabling those who complete registration to play faster is making the already hard job of operators even harder.
Winning both players and regulatory bodies needs a solid balancing act
Streamlined verification at onboarding presents itself as a potent solution to make the positive first impression on players while also carrying out the larger objective of providing a fraud-free environment. Technology-enabled identity and address verification emerge as one of the most efficient ways to tackle these challenges head-on as they can add speed, efficiency and reliability to every step of the player experience.
Background Verification Screening companies like AuthBridge have built on capabilities like optical character recognition to extract, auto-populate and validate player data from IDs instantly. Rooted in AI, ML and deep search algorithms, our Instant KYC solution for the gaming industry validates identity and age in real-time. Advanced Video KYC and geo-coordinate tracking APIs facilitate liveness detection and fight against location-spoof that plagues the gaming industry in the presence of widely different local laws in different states/countries. Quick bank account verification and PAN verification ensures that the money invested/won/transferred belongs to a genuine user of the playing age and doesn’t have a connection to a money-laundering group.
All roads lead to tech-powered, streamlined onboarding
More than 75 per cent of India’s population is under 45 years and an average Indian gamer falls under the age group of 20-44 years, a study by the World Bank reveals. This, coupled with the surge in smartphone ownership and data usage across India, makes online gaming a ripe segment for the generation of employment, taxes and revenue not just for itself but across industries, specifically IT and related services. The good news for the gaming industry is that it shares most of its challenges- customer-related, regulatory and compliance- with BFSI-a sector where a similar disruption has already happened, and innovative, tech-led solutions around compliance to KYC, AML already been tested. Efficient onboarding is already a norm in BFSI that keeps both customers and regulatory bodies happy. Following high standards of self-governance, transparency and integrity will go a long way in making an impact in the gaming industry as will keeping up with the technology-powered innovation in the space.
The top issue on fraudulent information, according to Authbridge's Annual Trend Report 2019 for Employee Background Screening relates to employment tenure, qualification verification, address verification, reference check and even identity verification
It causes a lot more disillusionment when rule makers become rule breakers. That was what Avinash Sethi, Co-founder and CFO of Indore-based IT company InfoBeans felt as they caught the lie of their Talent Acquisition head that he was an employee in recruitment firm. In reality, he was its founder and had shut down the firm a year back. This is not one of the rare cases. "We have been regularly getting negative surprises ever since we started background verification for our teams this fiscal," says Seth.
He adds, "It is sad to see that professionals in India play all kinds of tricks when it comes to ethical and moral aspects." What's more disheartening is that it is not just newcomers but senior executives too have the chalta hai attitude. Data from background verification firm Authbridge corrobates this. According to data from 1400 firms they work with, candidates between 35 to 45 years have the highest percentage of misinformation in their resumes.
Powered by the new wave of technologies such as Automation, Digitisation, ML and AI, the HR industry has developed efficient and data-driven operations solutions with predictable ROIs, an indication of the graduationof the role of the HR from an administrative and compliance department to key decision and impact maker. Some of the majortrends to have emerged include:
The top issue on fraudulent information, according to Authbridge's Annual Trend Report 2019 for Employee Background Screening relates to employment tenure, qualification verification, address verification, reference check and even identity verification.
Kamal Karanth, co-founder of specialist staffing firm Xpheno says that the most common distortion is by extending job tenure. He explains, "The gap between jobs is still seen as a crime. From hiring perspective, India is yet to wake up to the fact that people can be without a job for different reasons other than bad performance." Due to this strong bias in recruiters, people try to cover it up to get the negotiating power in the new job role.
The second most common instance is when candidates play up experience or knowledge of 'hot skills'. Even if they have worked on cyber security for a month or two, they boast about in-depth knowledge of the subject. AuthBridge CEO and Founder Ajay Trehan doesn't think this is a new trend. Global companies following international regulations have always had strong screening processes. But now every large Indian company also understands the cost and reputation risk of not doing employee background verification.
He adds that catching fraud is an ongoing game but what worries Trehan is when people go to bogus colleges and get genuine certificates made. A whopping 41 per cent are degree certifications obtained from unrecognised universities and 33 per cent are fake or forged documents. He says they also find cases when people start living the identity of another person. He shares the instance of a commerce graduate who stole and started living the identity of his former employer who was the founder of the Mumbai-based chartered accountancy firm. He got caught when he applied for a job and AuthBridge checked his employment records. This might be an extreme case but mostly companies at the admission of slighted deceit, however trivial, terminate the employment.
Sethi has come up with a strategy that allows people to repent through penance. He says, "It is easy for us to fire people but they will go out in the market and do it again. So, rather than stalling their career we want them to give them an opportunity to amend their ways." For instance, when they caught a person who had submitted a fake taxi bill, they deducted his one month salary and asked him to give the cheque to the NGO of his choice. The person can choose to leave but if they want to stay, they pay the price. "I think this penance idea is working as we have several instances of people who decided to stay back and some of them have been with us for 4-5 years," he says
A 2019 HCM Trends report from ‘The HR Federation’ states that global HR technology venture capital reached $3.1 billion in 2018, more than triple the amount invested in 2017.
A survey on the ‘Future of Workforce’ claimed that the HR function is the most vulnerable to be replaced by automation. If one were to look at the historical impact of technology, the claim feels removed from the truth. What technology has historically done across functions-replacing labour-intensive jobs in the immediate future to create new kinds of jobs in the long run- it is set to do the same for the HR department as well. In fact, A 2019 HCM Trends report from ‘The HR Federation’ states that global HR technology venture capital reached $3.1 billion in 2018, more than triple the amount invested in 2017.
Tech in HR Operations
Powered by the new wave of technologies such as Automation, Digitisation, ML and AI, the HR industry has developed efficient and data-driven operations solutions with predictable ROIs, an indication of the graduationof the role of the HR from an administrative and compliance department to key decision and impact maker. Some of the majortrends to have emerged include:
Laborious tasks like employee onboarding have been transformed with Robotic Process Automation so that repetitive jobs like creating records, documentation and adding employees in payroll systems can be made quicker and hassle-free.
Learning and Development
Employee training programs have become digital and catered to individual needs. These programs use interactive AI and AR/VR solutions as well as gamified L&D systems to ensure participation. It is also possible now to measure their effectiveness against clear ROIs and goals.
Data-driven decisions around promotions, compensation, training, employee retention and agile cross-functional team staffing can be taken with the help of HR analytics. Sentiment Analysis based on sentiment data generated through hundreds of interactions between managers and employees is also not unheard of in today’s time.
With HR Tech, companies are making way for dynamic goal setting, regular performance check-ins and crowdsourced feedback. This kind of engagement, with data analytics to back it, makes employees feel more engaged and helps retain them.
Predicting workforce demand and attrition, searching for the right candidate, primary screening and interviews can all be achieved at a few clicks with intelligent AI systems.
Digitization of information coupled with the latest technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, elastic and deep search etc. has opened new possibilities in background verification. We, at AuthBridge, have embraced technology for driving innovation. Today, we can deliver Instant Identity Authentication, Real-time Criminal Background Check (through our registered platform VAULT™),Education and Employment Verification. Technology has enabled the creation of proprietary databases and powerful search engines to scrape millions of data-points to generate precise results. Our in-house field staff managing application(FieldKart) has brought accountability and reliability in operations, especially in Physical Address Verification. Most importantly, technology has made it possible for us to deliver better data security and compliance to our clients, two crucial pillars of success for any business.
Technology is learning to be humane
Conventionally, the HR departments have relied on human judgement in understanding employees and their emotions, motivations, behaviour and complexities. While automation for operational tasks starteda long time ago, the new-age technology powered by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is now ready to enable the HR department to make data-driven conclusions in relation to the nuance of human emotions and psychology as well. This technology is changing the ecosystem of the HR world and making it function in a way unimaginable a decade ago. Be it direct roles of learning and development, payroll management, onboarding, employee engagement or outsourced services like employee background screening, HRMS etc., technology has empowered the HR domain like never in the history before.
The future of HR Tech looks bright
The global human resource management (HRM) sector is projected to reach $30 billion by 2025. The McKinsey Institute estimates that by this same time the global economic impact of AI will be somewhere between $7 and $13 trillion. With timely investment and right tech education, the HR function will be able to move beyond the mundane to create business efficiency. The successful HR leaders of the future will have a seat at the high table that they can use for a dialogue on the future of work, which is not expected to be linear butadaptive of thegreat needs of the new generationto grow across industries, verticals and departments. The future of HR holds an amalgam of tech with human capabilities and it’s time for HR leaders to embrace this future to build their own.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are two of the disruptive forces in the industry today. Being in their early stages, they already have the potential to absolutely change the way business decisions are made in the organization.
AI/ML Favors Companies With Significant Data Stores On Historic Operations. So, It Favors Companies With Scale And Those Who Have Invested In ERP, CRM, MES, Sensor Data, Etc. And Kept Historic Data. Very Small Companies And Those That Have Thrown Out Historic Data Will Be At A Disadvantage.”
Stephen Pratt, CEO, Noodle.ai
Conversations around Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning began in the 1950s. It was then that people started talking about these technologies academically, in relation to the business and what they could generally mean for the development of computer science. In 2019, AI and ML’s all-encompassing presence within the business operations have transformed them from merely a niche solution to a mainstream disruptive force.
Anil Arora, Principal Data Scientist, SAS India notes that an explosion of data sources, low costs of computational power and advancements in methods and algorithms are the catalysts that have led to the advancement of AI and ML over the last decade.
Artificial Intelligence Is Poised To Unleash The Next Wave Of Digital Disruption, And Companies Should Prepare For It Now. AI Promises Benefits, But Also Poses Urgent Challenges That Cut Across Firms, Developers, Government, And Workers. The Workforce Needs To Be Reskilled To Exploit AI Rather Than Compete With It.”
Anil Arora, Principal Data Scientist, SAS India
AI and ML for the Enterprise
AI and ML are revolutionary technologies. These learning algorithms have the potential to fundamentally reform the way operational decisions are taken by the enterprise. In 2018 the NITI Aayog under the National Program on Artificial Intelligence, adopted a three-pronged approach – undertaking exploratory proof-of-concept AI projects in various areas, crafting a national strategy for building a vibrant AI ecosystem in India and collaborating with various experts and stakeholders.
The Indian enterprises are gradually moving towards AI-ML friendly business operations, as they have identified and plan to benefit from the advantages that an organization stands to accrue if it deploys these technologies.
Conversational AI Is A Frontier Technology, Offering Capabilities That Most Companies Are Not Yet Aware Of. This Includes Everything From Making Marketing Conversational, Interactive, And Personalized To Making Customer Support More Immediate, Effective, And Cost-Efficient.”
Kartik Walia, Head India operations, Amplify.ai
AI and ML are extremely useful for Security, for instance. It allows the system to identify a pattern of use, mannerisms, data transfers, accessibility, etc. At any slight deviation, say irregular log in requests by employees or accessing of data base through unknown systems, AI tracks the disruption and alerts the authorities immediately so that the crisis can be averted. Hence, by intercepting and mitigating potential breaches or leaks, AI and ML become crucial tools for prevention from the security point of view.
Below are some testaments from business leaders on how Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have proved to be a game changer for their business.
Commenting on how AI has shaped their business activities, Gail Moody-Byrd,CMO, Noodle.ai, says, “We have a not-so-secret plan to create a world without waste through the Enterprise AI apps we deploy to manufacturers and supply chains. Our products focus where the waste is – companies that make things and move things. We think traditional rules-based software is failing business leaders, so we work with our customers to leverage artificial intelligence to do things like improve quality, reduce downtime, improve fill rates and recover lost sales – all while reducing waste.”
Talking about how ML has benefitted their business, Ajay Trehan, Founder & CEO, AuthBridge says, “We have used AI/ML to reduce the turnaround time for our customers, to deliver lower costs and serve better quality. Vault, our Criminal Records search product, has become more efficient through ML and is getting even better with time through self-learning driven by additional data sets. Instant results from searching millions of records are getting precise reducing the time considerably to deliver the service.”
Addressing the issue, Sandeep Geol, Senior Vice President – Technology, Moglixsays, “We have deployed AI and ML based solutions to address critical business problems such as Data Quality, Buyer’s behaviour prediction, supplier selection and more. We are using AI and ML for supply chain optimizations through initiatives like Data Cleansing and Catalogue Management, Purchase Recommendations and Supplier Performance Management.”
But the Transformation journey is hardly as smooth as it seems to be.
The Rise Of AI And ML In The Financial Industry Proves How Quickly It’s Changing The Business Landscape Even In Traditionally Conservative Areas. We Are Witnessing And Delivering Transformational Changes In How We Make Decisions, Manage Risk, Prevent Fraud And Automate Processes – For An Improved Customer Experience.”
Neeraj Goyal, Head of Technology India, RBS India.
Problems with AI and ML deployment
The challenge that arises with such technologies, that are still, in many ways, only in the early years of development, is that there is not enough information or awareness about it. “Many customers in the Indian market are not aware of the difference between a report, a BI dashboard, a simple analytics service and a ML or AI service. The awareness factor also is dependent on the steep learning curve ML and AI as a domain warrants,” says Anand Subramaniam, Head – Artificial Intelligence Practice, Aspire Systems.
All the highly skilled personnel that any business already has, would be people who are trained in technologies that have already gone through the initial stages of development and are now an established norm. But as far as adoption of AI and ML is concerned, businesses cannot proceed without either acquiring a new tea or training its existing one.
“AI projects require a multi-functional team,comprising of domain knowledge experts, data scientists and programmers,” says Ajay Trehan, Founder & CEO, AuthBridge.
So, even though AI and ML have immense potential for the businesses, it cannot be realized unless and until there is a considerable growth in the number of professionals available in the market who have a thorough working knowledge of AI and ML.
Addressing the problem of the extensive lack of skills and tools for the adoption of AI, Anil Arora, Principal Data Scientist, SAS India, says, “Majority of the organization want to embark upon AI journey but with lack of skills and relevant tools it becomes almost impossible to build and deploy AI in their system. It’s imperative to have highly skilled resources at disposal to be able to build any AI application.”
AI And ML Is Going To Impact Every Vertical/Sector Dynamically Or Anywhere Where Primary Customer And Operational Data Is The Lifeblood Of An Enterprise.”
Joseph Jayakumar, CEO, Amstar Technologies
Another challenge that needs to be mentioned here, is the problematic of Cybersecurity. AI and ML primarily uses huge volumes of Data to make intelligent decisions, which makes it imperative for a business to safeguard Cybersecurity to ensure that security concerns like Data Breach and Identity Theft are under control.
Like every other Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, come with their fair share of potential and challenges. At the end of the day, it all comes down to how well can a business overcome the challenges, in a cost-effective manner, so that they can overhaul their activities in a way that is only for the betterment of the organization. It is only after a business excels at this, that Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can prove to be a game changer for them.
Businesses Subsist For The Customers And If They Feel AI And ML Give An Easing Experience, Giving Them That Would Be The Right Solution”
Mohar V, Co-founder and CEO, TECHVED Consulting.
Gurugram-based startup AuthBridge offers services such as instant identity verification, employment background screening, customer screening, partner due diligence, and works with several Fortune 500 companies.
This incident may seem right out of a Bollywood thriller but it actually happened. A woman took on her elder sister’s identity to join a job that her sibling was selected for. Except the elder sister was dead. It was when the employer ran a AuthBridge on Background check that the truth was revealed.
Cases like this and many more are all in a day’s job for Gurugram-based AuthBridge, which offers services such as instant identity verification, employment background screening, customer screening, and partner due diligence. The company, which works with several Fortune 500 employers across the country, foiled the identity theft attempt.
AuthBridge CEO and Founder Ajay Trehan details how the incident unfolded. “After the employer reached out to us for a background screening, we went to the candidate’s previous employer. They asked us why we were screening her, as she is dead. We sent the employee’s photo and they said this is not the girl. They also sent us the hospital’s medical report of her death.”
AuthBridge Founder and CEO Ajay Trehan says his company runs checks for recruitment and existing staff across the board – starting from the drivers to company board members.
After this, the Gurugram startup confronted the employee, who admitted to assuming her sister’s identity to join the company. The deceased, who had five years of work experience, had applied for the BPO job before her death.
Ajay, an IIT-Delhi alumnus, recounts another interesting case where the CEO of a mid-sized IT company with 18 years of work experience was found to have furnished fake IIT and IIM degrees.
“After a month of the CEO taking charge, there were murmurs within the company. The employees were of the opinion that the guy’s skills were not in line with an IIT-IIM graduate’s. That is when we came into the picture,” Ajay says.
Both the IIT and IIM degrees furnished were quite old, dating to 1985 and 1987, respectively. While IIM-Ahmedabad was quick to react and came back the very next day after the query was sent to them, IIT-BHU (Banaras Hindu University) took 60 days to confirm that the fraudulent CEO was never a part of the institute.
According to AuthBridge, around 10 percent of the cases they take up every month have discrepancies. However, some discrepancies can be easily resolved. One such case had to do with hiring for an international board. The candidate had a $40 traffic violation in the US, which was still open after several years.
“Being part of an international board means that you may come under the scrutiny of global regulators. And if something like this were to come out, even though it is not a big offence, it would bring embarrassment to the board and the individual. We asked the candidate to settle the fine, after which the offer was rolled out,” Ajay says.
Other times, the upshot’s not so simple. A male teacher who had been teaching in a Dehradun school for several years was revealed to have been part of the CBI’s most wanted list. The shocking revelation was made when the school decided to run a routine check of its staff through the Gurugram company.
That’s why AuthBridge now runs checks for recruitments and existing staff across the board – starting from drivers to company board members.
To check the reputation of the candidate, AuthBridge uses aggregated data from digitised court and litigation records
How it started
AuthBridge was founded in 2005 with the premise of creating a platform for employee background screening services. Prior to starting AuthBridge, Ajay ran a BPO company offering services to the US and the UK.
“I would ask my HR whether we had background checks on employees and there would be nothing,” Ajay remembers. During his trips to the US, Ajay came across background screening companies. He realised there was a massive opportunity back home to tap into the sector and formed a small team of three-four people to experiment with the format in August 2005.
“No one was doing it in India then. And this was not detective work. This was a research-based KPO opportunity. I spoke to HR people and everyone said they were looking for a service like this. I realised the huge opportunity that lay unexplored,” Ajay says.
It took the company around four months to figure out how to go about their work, the founder admits candidly. “However, we broadly knew what we wanted to do. To authenticate educational and employment background,” he says.
In 2006, AuthBridge got its first contract. From a skeletal team, the company now has over a 1,000 employees, having served 1,400 clients.
The tech pivot
Around the time the team size reached 30, the company realised that unless they “brought in tech and thought of doing business in a radically different way” they could not scale up. And so in 2007-08, it turned to automation.
“As the client base was growing we were ending up calling or getting in touch with the same universities and organisations. We realised it was time to automate,” Ajay says. AuthBridge started creating a year-by-year database of graduating classes and employment records for quick cross-checks. Their database currently has 300 million records that it has aggregated over the years.
Since the company holds a lot of private information, the automation engines also made sure that the data was available only on a need-to-know basis. It ensured strict control on the viewing and dissemination of data.
The company currently screens 15,000-20,000 candidates on a daily basis. The three broad buckets it looks into while assessing a candidate are identity, profile, and reputation. As part of the identity check,, it looks at all identities of a candidate, including PAN, driving licence, passport, etc. The company uses government licensed APIs (application programming interface) to verify these. The profile check includes verifying education and employment history through AuthBridge’s proprietary software.
To check the reputation of the candidate, the company uses aggregated data from digitised court and litigation records. “In 2012 we started using web spiders that would crawl and aggregate the data,” Ajay adds. For reputation assessment the company also engages with former employers and colleagues on a case-to-case basis.
Ivy League institution Cornell University even published a case study titled, AuthBridge: Innovating HR Operations in India, on the company’s technology innovations in the space of employment background screening.
Competition and clients
AuthBridge’s list of clients includes the likes of Mindtree, Max Life Insurance, Manpower Group, and PropTiger. Several schools and colleges are also part of its clientele.
Competition in the Indian market exists in the form of companies such as US-headquartered First Advantage and KPMG’s background screening and verification services.
However, AuthBridge claims to be the market leader with an annual revenue run rate of Rs 100 crore. The company has been profitable from the first year itself, Ajay says.
Last year, in September, AuthBridge acquired Bengaluru-based Footprints Collateral Services, marking the biggest deal in the background screening industry, as per the company. However, it is reticent about the deal size. The acquisition was part of a long-term growth strategy of investing in service, scale, and technology. The company expects the acquisition to help capture 40 percent market share by March 2020. At present, the company claims to have more than 30 percent market share with an annual growth rate of 40-50 percent.
Ajay says: “There are more acquisitions in the pipeline to further complement our capability.”
Beyond employee verification
AuthBridge also does vendor and distributor due diligence for large FMCG companies, and reputation data analysis of entrepreneurs and companies for private equity funds. “With the data bank we have, we can aggregate this information quite quickly,” Ajay says.
The company also caters to banks and financial institutions by providing data solutions. “These organisations require data for customer-related decisions such as loan approvals. They need to decide who to loan to and how much,” Ajay explains. For first-time customers, lenders tend to look at surrogate data such as education and employment history. Authbridge provides ‘plug-and-play’ services to these institutions, allowing them to use the company’s large database.
AuthBridge has recently also started conducting drug tests for companies on their employees. Random spot tests are conducted and the most common drugs found have been marijuana and opiate, Ajay says.
The road ahead
In the early days, background screening in India was driven mostly by BPO companies, Ajay says. Their clients – typically from the US and the UK – wanted employee background checks done. It has now become a “mandatory hygiene thing” for many sectors, he says.
“Currently, white collar staff are background checked by 20 percent of the companies, so there is a major scope to grow there,” he says.
With the rise of the shared economy and temporary staffing, there has been an increasing need to verify ‘partners’ such as delivery personnel and cab drivers. The penetration in blue collar verification is at a miniscule 1 per cent and the company clearly sees massive opportunity to build on that.
The served market for background verification stands at around Rs 500 crore with a potential to reach Rs 15,000-20,000 crore, Ajay says.
The company has not yet raised any institutional funding and has so far been funded by Ajay and “some angel investment”. However, in the next 12 months, as it looks to scale, especially on the tech front, the company is looking to raise funds. “AuthBridge has already hired an investment banker for the process,” Ajay says.
Technology has always proved to cause a tremendous growth in the start-up business due to the revolutionised business concepts and models.
BENGALURU: Technology has always proved to cause tremendous growth in the start-up business due to the revolutionised business concepts and models. It provided a faster, more convenient and efficient way of performing the business transactions to have a wider reach in the global market thus attracting more clients and customers.
We believe that start-ups succeed when they focus on not just meeting customer expectations, but on increasing and exceeding them. In order to drive better health outcomes for the user our innovations in personalisation algorithms, predictive analytics and user experience have driven breakthrough health outcomes, often driving 27X more impact than traditional approaches.
As a result, our growing user base has 2x better compliance rates than prior highs, satisfaction and retention rates of 90 per cent and an NPS measure which is 8x compared to industry averages. Inciting higher expectations from our clients and users motivates us to continue innovating to stay ahead of the curve.
Due to poor user experience, users often get disengaged, leading in turn to poor compliance (studies show that at most 33 per cent users adhere to physicians; advice) and eventually poor health outcomes. For example, customer experience and expectations with healthcare have traditionally been low. Research from Accenture (link) shows that the average Net Promoter Score (NPS) for healthcare, a measure of customer experience and expectations, is 9 on a 100 point scale.
– Rekuram Varadharaj, co-founder and COO, Healthi
As a start-up begins getting noticed, some of the early challenges are to deliver speed and efficiency, while ensuring scalability to meet dynamic expectations of clients/ customers.
Luckily, we learned early to embrace technology to innovate. Being the pioneers in India for our industry, we have lived through the rising expectations of our clients for TAT, custom solutions, mode of delivery, quality and accuracy.
With a strong focus on technology, we have innovated our processes to not only meet but surpass some of these expectations and establish industry benchmarks. One such example is automating
the operations workflow system. It was a game changer and even got recognition as a case study by Cornell University.
The technology is bringing intelligence to our processes and systems and helping us to innovate to deliver instant checks, hyper-customised solutions and error-free data processing without human intervention. While dealing with a lot of data, automation is building repositories or databases, which are becoming reference points for increased business intelligence and efficiency.Often, when I am educating clients on our products and services, I end up being inspired with an idea or two myself. For us, the innovation comes from expectations; the higher the expectations, the more inspired I feel to build solutions around those expectations.
– Ajay Trehan, founder and CEO, AuthBridge
The new millennium witnessed a tectonic shift in the global business sector, with various entrepreneurship initiatives getting consolidated in the form of startups.For achieving sustained growth, a strong team comprising erudite professionals who closely follow latest trends in developments in science and technology, is imperative.
The technical wing needs to be effectively supported by an innovative marketing team which can procure efficacious monetising models and generate significant revenue. Social media has indeed become a powerful tool to integrate various growth factors, which not only includes roadmaps for procuring funds, but also encourages a feedback system that channelises client priorities and customer satisfaction.
However in an era of fierce competition and rising expectations, the success of any venture rests on its innate emphasis on fortifying its fundamentals.
– Oshikka Lumb, author and entrepreneur, Markitiers