Spotlighting Diversity at the National Minority Supplier Development Council Seminar

The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) recently held its Program Managers’ Seminar here in Puerto Rico. As one of the country’s leading corporate membership organizations committed to helping solve the growing need for supplier diversity, we were delighted when I was asked to speak on behalf of Wovenware in front of corporate technology executives from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google and others.

Since Puerto Rico continues to recover from Hurricane Maria, we are grateful to the NMSDC for choosing the island for its national seminar and supporting our local economic recovery efforts.

As part of my presentation, I explained the journey that Wovenware has taken to become a successful entrepreneurial firm – expanding from a company solely focused on custom software development, to one fully embracing Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning technology. I also shared stories of how we are helping customers deploy AI chatbots, deep learning tools and predictive analytics – in industries as diverse as accounting, telecommunications, mosquito disease control and government.

Here at Wovenware, we often forget that we are a minority-owned business, since in corporate headquarters, Puerto Ricans are actually the majority. But in fact, when we visit our clients in the mainland U.S. and attend events around the world, we are reminded that we are indeed a minority-based firm, yet we continue to be embraced by customers for the diverse experience, skill-sets and life experiences we bring to the table. Likewise, we’re also embraced for the common commitment to technology innovation, and solving business problems through a relentless commitment to excellence in our work.

As the NMSDC attests, supplier diversity is fast becoming a business necessity, and nowhere is that more evident than in the technology industry. It complements a global business world that must embrace different cultures, communities and ways of doing things; it fosters a workplace that produces happier and validated employees and stronger corporate identities; and by empowering people of all backgrounds, it boosts the economy.

We were inspired by the real interest and sincere commitment of the NMSDC program managers and all other attendees who are doing their part to foster supplier diversity in their companies.  We’re also confident that more companies will follow suit since diversity is truly the key to corporate and economic growth.

The Aspen Ideas Festival Got Me Thinking…

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Aspen Ideas Festival, hosted by the Aspen Institute, as a scholar. This organization is well-known for gathering diverse, thought leaders, scholars and members of the public to address some of the world’s most complex problems. The ultimate goal of the group is to take these ideas beyond the conferences and bring them into the world.

There were so many amazing ideas, discussions and insights shared by some really brilliant minds, that it’s difficult to compress it into a few key paragraphs.

One thing was certain, however, the four days of sessions I attended in late June, got me thinking of things I may never have previously considered. While the conference was not tech-specific, It also made me realize that to be a true technologist today, you need to have a much broader and well-rounded mind-set. Things that appear to have absolutely no relevance to technology, such as civic equity, gender equity, energy and the environment, and even health and sports, all have direct bearing on how we build technology into all aspects of daily life. We need to keep listening to these stories and learning from them.

Attending lots of really cool presentations at the Aspen Ideas Festival got me thinking – in no particular order:

  1. AI is the most transformative technology that we’ve had in the last 15 years. A common thread throughout many of the talks was the disruptive power of AI to do good. John Doerr, venture capitalist and chairman of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers summed it well when he said that every 15 years a digital transformation has occurred, and we are now in the throes of the most recent one with AI and Deep Learning.
  2. The middle class is eroding in the U.S. From sessions led by politician John Kerry and others I realized how a huge chasm is developing between the wealthy and the poor in the U.S., and I’m seeing this first-hand in Puerto Rico. We need to build up the middle class with employee savings options, advanced training and other ways to help them remain relevant in a market quickly becoming automated.
  3. Software developers have not had their atomic bomb. AI has clear benefits, but it could also be a dangerous thing if left unregulated. Will we see dire consequences or stop ourselves before it happens?
  4. Getting ideas is easy, creating companies is very hard. That’s why in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, professionals are moving from one start-up to the next.
  5. Persuasion for profit is becoming the next stranger danger. There is an arms race for attention and some of the big tech and media firms are taking all kinds of persuasion measures to keep kids and adults alike on their platforms for profit. From auto play features to Counter for Messenger, kids are being glued to their devices and unwittingly being held hostage by tech.
  6. Animals and emotions. I would be remiss if I didn’t include one additional really interesting session, led by author and MacArthur Fellow, Carl Safina, who discussed how animals truly think and feel, and how it brings into question what should and what does make us human.

We can all learn from the great thinkers that explored these topics, as well as from peers, and yes, even animals. But one thing is clear, exploring the vast universe of broad disciplines, regardless of our profession, can make us better leaders, visionaries and human beings.

Giving Back to Our Community, Supporting Those Still Dealing with the Hurricane’s Aftermath

It’s hard to believe that it’s hurricane season once again in the Caribbean. Hopefully it’s a mild one this year and Puerto Rico will have time to continue the hard work of recovery from last year’s devastation.

As part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitment here at Wovenware, we’re doing our part to assist with these recovery efforts, as well as in support of those with disabilities. Two key initiatives we’re supporting include local community outreach programs, TECHO Puerto Rico; and SER de Puerto Rico.

TECHO Puerto Rico: Putting Families Back in Homes

TECHO Wovenware Community Support

TECHO Building – Wovenware Community Support

Since the aftermath of Hurricane Maria continues to wreak havoc on poverty-stricken families whose homes were destroyed, TECHO Puerto Rico is working to build modular homes for families without shelter. This is a cause that speaks directly to the hearts of our employees, and in June a group of them picked up hammers, shovels and work clothes to give a hand to these efforts. We’ll continue to lend our support in this urgent program and give families the shelter they so urgently need. We may be techies at heart but we’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and get the job done when it comes to supporting those in need!

SER de Puerto Rico: Leveling the Playing Field for Those with Disabilities

Teleton Ser Puerto Rico Wovenware

Teleton Ser Puerto Rico – Wovenware Office

As a technology company, Wovenware recognizes the need for people with disabilities and autism to be able to leverage technological advances to help them level the playing field. To support the valuable work of SER de Puerto Rico in providing exceptional medical, therapeutic and educational services to these members of our community, we’re working to help raise much-needed financial support so that SER de Puerto Rico can continue to provide them with the opportunity to live, learn, work and recreate in their communities to the maximum of their potential. On Friday, June 22, we participated in Embeleco Day, which served as a precursor to the Telethon Puerto Rico on June 24, in which many valuable funds were raised.

We’re proud of our employees and the time and contributions they are making to give back to our community. Helping to build homes for those in need; and raising funds for those with disabilities reflect an essential part of our organizational culture and four key company values of passion, professionalism, discipline and fun.

We look forward to continuing to support our community in its need, helping to improve people’s lives, while fostering shared commitment and goals among our employees. While it’s been more than nine months since Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria struck the island, there is still much to be done and we want to be part of our Island’s long-term recovery. We strongly believe that only by giving back can we truly be successful in our work to help companies move forward through technology and innovation.

AI and Nearshoring: A Marriage Made in Tech Heaven

When you think about technologies that really take off, it’s usually due to a combination of factors – technology advancements, market need and often being in the right place at the right time.

For example, before the iPhone could be developed there needed to be advancements in cameras, touch screens, miniaturized chip technology, and Wi-Fi to name a few. It also needed a receptive market. With the advent of the Internet, consumers enjoyed the power of being in the driver’s seat and in charge of their online experience. And as road warriors became more commonplace, they needed to conduct business and connect with everyone at any time, no matter where they were.

The growth of artificial intelligence (AI) has had a similar trajectory. The technology has become more sophisticated, for example, enabling chatbots to understand and respond to human language and text in a human-like manner. And similar to the iPhone explosion, the market need is great. Consumers are demanding real-time information and support from call centers, which can no longer feasibly or economically staff them with employees 24/7. Similarly, medical device manufacturers need to be able to predict when their devices might fail, and oncologists need to match clinical trials and research that might be available for their clients, just to name a few examples. The ability to sort through huge amounts of data quickly and see patterns in it is becoming more and more valuable for all types of industries.

Challenges to AI Growth

But there are a couple of challenges that can slow down the growth of AI. One issue is having the right people to do the job – data engineers and data scientists are needed to develop algorithms that train the smart software to learn. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of these professionals. According to an IBM report, annual demand for these professionals will reach 2,720,000 openings by 2020. This makes it difficult for every company to hire their own data scientists and data engineers.

In addition, AI projects often require additional manpower to prepare the training data needed by data professionals to do their tasks. Typically, image recognition AI programs use crowds to identify patterns in images and label them accordingly to produce the datasets needed to train the software. Public crowds, such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, can be used to create these datasets but it is a more time-consuming process and not as accurate as those developed with private crowds.

Since the accuracy of the algorithms depend on crunching a huge amount of data, it is becoming increasingly important to invest in hardware – GPU servers that can process information quickly. All of this points to the need to turn to AI-as-a-Service, where you can outsource the development of algorithms to professional firms that have the expertise, capabilities and manpower.

Nearshoring is an Ideal Solution

So, we have the “how” new AI technology gets accelerated, the “why” of the market need that is propelling AI growth, and we also have the “where,” which is fast becoming nearshore regions.

Nearshoring, in which a company outsources its software development to a region in fairly close proximity, enables companies to more easily and cost effectively initiate complex AI projects in collaboration with their service provider, who most likely speaks the same language, has the same currency, time zones and has similar – if not the same – regulations.

Consider a work project that needs to be delivered on a certain date. If a company needs to change the requirements, they would need to wait until the work day starts in another location around the world. The back-and-forth communication would not only be impacted by the time differences but also by nuances in the language that would be best understood by a native speaker. The ability to communicate effectively and collaborate is particularly critical when developing complex technologies such as AI, deep learning and other smart apps, which need to be trained to understand all of the subtle nuances of language.

Nearshoring enables companies to tap into the expertise of an outside firm, but typically offers the same shared language, culture, work values, and proximity that you could find in-house.

Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories, play a unique role in nearshoring, providing added benefits. In addition to the convenience and fast turnaround of being close to mainland U.S., Puerto Rico offers a highly educated and skilled workforce of U.S. citizens, trained at U.S. universities. And, as importantly, Puerto Rico adheres to the same best practices and U.S. standards in software development and security management to protect data and intellectual property.

There is also a financial benefit to working with nearshoring firms in Puerto Rico, which follow the same high standards and produce the same quality as mainland U.S. firms, but typically at fees that are 30-50 percent lower.

It is becoming imperative for companies across industries to offer AI solutions to advance their customer service, quality goods and services and capabilities. However, the staffing requirements and technology infrastructure required to develop these solutions are beyond the reach of many organizations. By turning to nearshoring, these organizations can get the high-quality AI solutions they need cost-effectively. And by leveraging new technology advances in this time of growing market need, and filling the much-needed AI development gap with highly skilled custom software engineering services, nearshoring can provide the missing ingredient to faster AI deployment and lower costs.

What’s It Like Being an Entrepreneur in Emerging Markets? Inventure$ Conference Sheds Light

Last week Christian and I had the opportunity to speak at the annual Inventure$ conference in Calgary Canada, addressing an audience of fellow entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, startups and thought leaders about my entrepreneurial journey and some best practices I’ve learned along the way.

The key takeway? Organizational change is not linear, but requires many different pathways, recalculations and stops and starts along the way. For those companies however, willing to take the risk, the effort is well worth it.

And, the risk takers, are also often called early adopters – those entrepreneurs who are willing to come to the game early and adopt the new technologies that will give them competitive advantage – even if all the kinks aren’t worked out yet.

Especially with today’s data-driven AI and predictive analytics, there’s really no time to wait. As I explained to conference attendees, your entrepreneurial data – your customer profiles, historical information, product data – is really the lifeblood of your organization. Data-driven ones, that recognize the value of their data and its role in today’s early AI solutions, are the ones who will come out ahead of the pack.

The late adopters, or technology laggards, will be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to AI adoption, because it’s not something that generates benefits overnight. AI requires very unique data – and lots of it – in order to train algorithms to solve the business problem you’re applying it to. For this reason, laggards are not only late to the game, but they will constantly be scrambling to catch up.

Being an entrepreneur always involves risk — and it comes from all sides. Taking a risk on new technologies, like AI and predictive analytics, however, can go a long way to actually mitigating risk and arming entrepreneurs with data-driven insights to make better decisions and to ultimately take their business to the next level.

Bringing it Down to Earth: Four Ways Pragmatic AI is Being Used Today

I recently wrote an article for Forbes.com as part of my role on the Forbes Technology Council, exploring the ways Pragmatic AI is being used today.

When many people think of AI they automatically think of something straight out of science fiction, robots that are smarter than the humans who created them. But, as I mentioned in the article, a different form of AI – Pragmatic AI – is being applied successfully today.

Without even knowing it, we are interacting with Pragmatic AI applications day in and day out. They are the automated chatbots that answer our calls and questions, the customer service rep that texts with us on a retail site, providing a better and faster customer experience.

As the article goes on to explain, four key categories of Pragmatic AI, include speech recognition and Natural Language Processing through virtual assistants; predictive analytics that identify historical patterns to predict future outcomes; image recognition; and self-driving cars.

Despite the fact that Pragmatic AI is alive and well today, and the future holds even more applications of AI that rival our wildest imagination, the need for human intelligence isn’t going away anytime soon. As the article concludes, “Humans and their ability to reason must always remain a part of the AI workflow, since software can never know as much as humans – today or in the future.”