How Singapore-based TAIGER uses AI to find meaning in a sea of data
Dr Sinuhe Arroyo, founder and chief executive officer of Singapore-based artificial intelligence (AI) company TAIGER, sits down with Withersworldwide as part of the law firm's Stories of Success series to talk about how being street-smart and finding a home in Singapore saved his company from its early rocky years, and how AI can free the human intellect to accomplish more.
"Carpe diem!" answers Dr Sinuhe Arroyo, when asked to describe his personal philosophy in business - and he certainly isn't paying lip service to the old Latin aphorism. The 44-year-old founder and chief executive officer of Singapore-based artificial intelligence (AI) company TAIGER has found himself at many a juncture where he had to seize an opportunity and make a bold move.
Such as making the call to uproot his company's operations from the US and replant them in Singapore six years ago. It was a move that helped TAIGER find its footing, and allowed the potential of its technology to shine and translate into the types of tangible business gains that organisations thirst for: cost- and time-savings, and better service.
Founded in 2009 in Austria, TAIGER develops AI solutions that solve information access problems, particularly with extracting meaning from unstructured information , which range from documents to emails and chat messages, amongst others. Businesses use such capabilities to improve operational efficiency and create new services. Examples include insight engines, intelligent document processing, and even virtual assistants.
TAIGER's solutions, which revolve around the application of natural language processing and semantic technology, have immense potential - according to an Accenture report last year, nearly 80% of enterprise data is unstructured. Yet, such data is still difficult to make sense of in an automated fashion.
TAIGER is built differently, because our hybrid AI core enables us to read anything, says Dr Arroyo.
Hybrid means blending statistical with symbolic AI. The former uses machine learning and other systems on large amounts of data to derive patterns, while the latter uses logic that mimics human cognition. The result: organisations can unlock access to difficult-to-process data in a faster, cheaper and more scalable way, as part of their larger digitalisation or automation strategy.
He says: "We want to free the human intellect to accomplish more, by giving people the ability to work better. The dream is to harness real intelligence in AI to augment the human mind, even for the most cognitive workflows, so that businesses can unlock their version of 'better'."
Take TAIGER's work with Singapore's National Heritage Board (NHB). When NHB wanted to build a digital catalogue for its some 100,000 resources, TAIGER's Omnitive solution organised those resources in just one week. It would have taken NHB one year to do so manually.
Dr Arroyo taught himself programming when he was ten, on the first PC that his father bought. Those first lines of codes he learnt would spark a roller-coaster entrepreneurship journey that took him from his home country of Spain to Austria, the US, and finally Singapore.
The early years were rocky. He recalls: "Translating research into a business venture without entrepreneurial experience was a massive challenge. TAIGER's initial offering was largely based on the research I conducted for my PhD back in 2004. Although I conceptualised a solution in my research, it is inherently situated in academia.The "saving grace" was the move to Singapore. "So, one of the most valuable takeaways I have from the experience is the importance of being street smart, not just book smart."
Dr Arroyo says the defining moment for TAIGER was when it clinched its first deal in Singapore, to build a virtual assistant solution for the nation's Housing Development Board .
"We had to apply to a public tender to try to win the deal. In many countries, this is thought of as impossible or extremely challenging unless the company has inside connections. Few people trusted us, but business in Singapore is fair and based on merit, so we went ahead knowing that our ability to win the tender depended on the efficacy and value of our solution."
For TAIGER, which is now also present in Madrid, Moscow, Dubai and Mexico, and has more than 50 global projects, the challenges it faces now largely have to do with business maturation and scalability issues.
The tough competition in the US market made it difficult to sell anything. To survive, we would've needed much more money but all we had was the EUR400,000 we raised. We had a good product, a semantic search engine which today is one of our most popular solutions, but had difficulty commercialising it well.
As its business matures, the focus is on hitting the sweet spot where its technology can translate into solutions that customers need and cannot find elsewhere, says Dr Arroyo. This means making constant revisions to TAIGER's technology and finding the right markets that let the technology's comparative advantage shine.
As it scales up its business, the key is to be good at "rinsing and repeating". He explains: "During our early years, we could afford the time and effort to provide highly customised solutions for all kinds of clients and their demands, but reaching the next stage of growth necessitates scalability at all fronts.
"This is why we launched Omnitive, a no code platform that empowers line-of-business users, such as banking administrators or customer service officers, to access powerful AI capabilities. This solution is new to the game, with massive potential for scalability."
Dr Arroyo says: "The goal for TAIGER has always been clear cut. We want to grow as fast as we can, by growing our talent, platform, partners, geographies, clients and profit margins. I guess the challenge is in figuring out how to do those things well.
"That's where my personal goals come in. Where the company goes is strongly tied to the direction I set as CEO, which is based on the knowledge I have and expedited by the connections I have. It is why I'm working hard together with the brightest minds like our board of directors to continue to learn rapidly, and guide my expanding team to the best of my ability.
"We're sitting in a very new environment today. It's a very interesting business climate, and many of us are outside of our comfort zones. To me, this is an opportunity we must seize, by learning well and leading well."
In other words: Carpe diem.
First published by the Singapore Business Times on 26 August 2021.
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