“It’s important to stay ahead of the curve.”
Serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Scope e-Knowledge Center, Chandu Nair sees technology as an aid, enabler, and differentiator.
A pioneering KPO, Scope e-Knowledge Center was ahead of the curve when it moved into web-based knowledge services (data, content, information, research, analysis) and provision of such services to an overseas audience.
We were engaged in a diverse range of activities and services in certain key domains (various branches of chemistry, engineering & electronics, medicine, as also general B2B). The output was aimed at professional audiences – researchers, technical, practitioners- for improving the way they worked.
Activities included intelligent abstraction, indexing, taxonomies & ontologies, database creation and maintenance, content creation and repurposing, pre-sales and competitive intelligence, patent analysis and research and so on.
Scope needed to always be one step ahead of competition as also a fast changing external environment, where services performed yesterday by humans could today conceivably be done by machines. Plus, tighter economic conditions meant constant pressure on client margins and budgets, meaning we folks also had to bear the brunt of various demands.
That is how we started looking at technology – first as an aid, then as an enabler and finally as a competitive differentiator. This was also a cornerstone to achieve our vision of being a globally respected, integrated content, information and research company.
Two core values for us are:
- Ensuring client satisfaction
- Growth and excellence in operations through continuous learning
Without technology, we realized, that these would not be achieved as we grew in size, complexity and diversity.
Most of the activities we were doing were quite different from each other in the nature of the tasks to be done. Plus, with knowledge services still being niche and not mainstream, the scale was not as large as typical IT projects. What we needed was intelligent use of technology. So we came up with the concept of Assisted Automation – where technology plays a vital role (and that role increases as the project /activity progresses) but human intelligence would play the pre-dominant role.
Use of technology
How did we approach this? Most processes in Scope are completely or partially automated so that the subject matter expert’s (SME) time is spent only on productive activities that need their specialized skills.
Some of the things that we did:
- Automation of repetitive and time consuming processes like file and user management, workflows, generation of metrics (operational and quality), performance tracking etc.
- Collaboration and Knowledge sharing
- Content Management systems tailored to our environment-
- Project specific tools – e.g., text parsing, pattern recognition algorithms, domain specific search and retrieval or taxonomy creation/maintenance, data de-dupe, standardization and classification tools using self learning algorithms and user generated repositories, language and domain specific translation tools and much more.
To take one example; we were creating a database of chemicals with their properties from a large body of documents spanning over a century! There were many challenges – OCR quality was erratic, in many cases the chemicals themselves needed to be derived based on the input given in the documents, it required deep knowledge of chemistry etc. Initially, the pilot was done on a completely manual basis and that is how our client overseas too was doing it for years. Slowly, we realized there was some kind of a trend.
That is when we hit upon the idea (along with our consultant) of using a pattern recognition algorithm to discern the various chemicals, highlight the associated properties of each chemical within the document. In addition, we also colour coded each property (as each had potentially 2-4 sub fields) and created a new workflow tool.
The result – what took 26 minutes per document crashed to about 6 minutes!
The cumulative benefits in terms of non-linear growth (people & infra not increasing in direct proportion as revenues increase), improved efficiency, learning and collaboration as also client satisfaction has been really satisfying.
The way forward
The world of knowledge is ever-increasing exponentially, even as we read, write and speak! What remains constant is the need to change, improve and be relevant, both for our clients and for us. Some of the things that we are working on, both on our own and with partners, include:
- Auto Extraction, Abstraction using NLP (natural language processing)
- Semantic Tagging using Controlled Vocabularies
- Content Delivery using Mobile Technology
- Content Mining using Machine Learning
- Clustering & Visualization Interfaces
- Knowledge Discovery & Search Tools
So far, we have been predominantly working on .Net technologies but have recognized the vast body of work potential in open source technologies and HASA (Human assisted software analysis). That is currently a key area of focus for us. In addition, we are currently leveraging the cloud to provide more flexibility to our internal operational teams.
As I see it, in the world of knowledge there will be a blurring of lines between, and an increasing convergence of technology and knowledge in whatever form it appears- data, content, information, analysis, research or insight.