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When Bots sell better

For the past 18 months, artificial intelligence has helped a bot sell insurance in South Africa. Now it is getting even smarter, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



Meet Rose. She wants to sell you insurance. But you can’t shout at Rose if you find her annoying. Well, you can, but she won’t care. 

Because Rose is a software robot, better known as a bot. She is here to automate the process of selling insurance, but in a way that will make your life easier and more efficient, rather than have you tearing your hair out.

If you’ve ever dealt with the bots used by mainstream financial services organisations, you’ll know that they are close to useless. Typically, they match keywords in your query to keywords in their database, and suggest where you can get more information online or by speaking to a human call centre representative.

These bots prove that automation is not the same thing as artificial intelligence (AI).

This user-unfriendliness may be the bane of customers’ lives, but it is a boon for new players entering what is now known as “fintech” – financial technology. It means they can reinvent services without having to maintain legacy systems, can overlay a true customer orientation on these services, and can run rings around the big players.

Enter Rose. She works for Naked Insurance, which describes itself as “South Africa’s first AI-native insurance provider offering comprehensive cover for cars, homes and contents.”

Naked says that, because its fully automated systems are free from legacy technology and infrastructure, it can give customers unprecedented control over their insurance experience – and significant premium savings. 

Naked began using a bot to sell car insurance less than two years ago, and has now graduated to home insurance. Buildings can be insured for up to R10-million, and contents up to R2.5-million – with Rose generating a quote in 90 seconds. Naked promises she can sign up a customer for home and contents insurance “in under three minutes – completely online and with no need for a phone call”. Even better, they can also claim from, manage, change and cancel their policies from the app.

“Over the last 18 months, the success of car insurance has been really good,” says Ernest North, co-founder of Naked Insurance. “We are really grateful that it’s done so well, especially the word of mouth: it has just been amazing.”

While Naked Insurance sounds brilliant in theory, some clients are hesitant to make use of a new type of insurance, especially when considering that traditional insurance platforms have vast portfolios for covering their clients. For this reason, Naked is expanding its insurance portfolio beyond just car insurance.

 “A lot of people have said that they’re reluctant to switch just their car insurance without their buildings or home insurance as well,” says North. “So pulling all of that together under one umbrella is something that a lot of people look for.”

Naked Insurance launched its original platform in April 2018, and is now fine-tuning interactions between client and technology, and expanding its insurance portfolio.

“I’m quite fascinated by the ability to use customer interaction data as an input into the AI in allowing it to estimate what the client needs,” says North. “For example, the client answers a couple of questions, and it takes about 90 seconds to do the home insurance quote. It estimates based on credit score and the area people live in, but also things like what car they drive, how much the value of their house should be or the value of contents cover that they need. 

“We’re not an advice service. We put the final responsibility on our clients to decide how much cover they buy. It is really interesting that the AI can dynamically look at two people, who look fairly similar in profile, and recommend to the one person to buy R500,000 cover and to the other one that they should buy R700,000 cover.

“This addresses something that’s been a big issue in the industry in the past. Other insurance companies only wait until a claim happens, and then they start doing the investigations and then say you were only worth 70% so we are only going to pay 70% of the claim. We bring the majority of that investigation to the beginning, and we are helping people pick the right amount of coverage. We do that predominantly using the AI to pick up from your profile, which we think is quite a game changer.”

In short, customers become their own insurance inspectors, thanks to the versatility of the app.

“On the app, you take pictures of your most valuable items, and then the AI estimates whether those items are sufficiently insured. For example, a client can enjoy electronic items insurance for R20,000, but this looks like an iPhone X, which actually should be R24,000, so you need to increase your cover. So we dynamically get back to you. Building that technology was a big focus over the last two years.”

A big question around such a revolutionary approach to insurance is why other financial service providers do similar things so badly. The answer, says North, is not just about the technology in use, but about the psychology of customer interaction.

“There is an emotionality and link to the brand of something fresh and something new in everything about the way we do business, the way in which we write contracts, and the way in which we communicate with our customers. We are strongly focused on making it clear we’re not an old school business.

“On a technical level, it is because, in the case of such companies, it’s clear that the bot is a secondary way of interacting with the client. The primary system design was done assuming that a broker or a call centre agent speaks to you. To transform those systems into this digital process, and to do it in a way that that still meets all the system criteria for the old version of doing things, makes it very difficult.

“So, for example, it’s extremely difficult, although not impossible, for them to build something with dynamic question sets. The primary system on which they sell insurance was designed 20 years ago, with thinking that you always sell insurance through a broker or through a call centre agent.”

In other words, traditional insurance is still stuck in the 20th century, when the idea of a software bot was still science fiction. In 2020, science fiction is our reality – at least, if we deal with companies that have embraced the digital revolution.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee


IoT sensors are anything from doctor to canary in mines

Industrial IoT is changing the shape of the mining industry and the intelligence of the devices that drive it



The Internet of Things (IoT) has become many things in the mining industry. A canary that uses sensors to monitor underground air quality, a medic that monitors healthcare, a security guard that’s constantly on guard, and underground mobile vehicle control. It has evolved from the simple connectivity of essential sensors to devices into an ecosystem of indispensable tools and solutions that redefine how mining manages people, productivity and compliance. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), IoT offers an integrated business solution that can deliver long-term, strategic benefits to the mining industry.

“To fully harness the business potential of IoT, the mining sector has to understand precisely how it can add value,” she adds. “IoT needs to be implemented across the entire value chain in order to deliver fully optimised, relevant and turnkey operational solutions. It doesn’t matter how large the project is, or how complex, what matters is that it is done in line with business strategy and with a clear focus.”

Over the past few years, mining organisations have deployed emerging technologies to help bolster flagging profits, manage increasingly weighty compliance requirements, and reduce overheads. These technologies are finding a foothold in an industry that faces far more complexities around employee wellbeing and safety than many others, and that juggles numerous moving parts to achieve output and performance on a par with competitive standards. Already, these technologies have allowed mines to fundamentally change worker safety protocols and improve working conditions. They have also provided mining companies with the ability to embed solutions into legacy platforms, allowing for sensors and IoT to pull them into a connected net that delivers results.

“The key to achieving results with any IoT or technology project is to partner with service providers, not just shove solutions into identified gaps,” says Bornheim. “You need to start in the conceptual stage and move through the pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility stages before you start the implementation. Work with trained and qualified chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and structural engineers that form a team led by a qualified engineering lead with experience in project management. This is the only way to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned with the industry and its highly demanding specifications.”

Mining not only has complexities in compliance and health and safety, but the market has become saturated, difficult and mercurial. For organisations to thrive, they must find new revenue streams and innovate the ways in which they do business. This is where the data delivered by IoT sensors and devices can really transform the bottom line. If translated, analysed and used correctly, the data can provide insights that allow for the executive to make informed decisions about sites, investment and potential.

“The cross-pollination of different data sets from across different sites can help shift dynamics in plant operation and maintenance, in the execution of specific tasks, and so much more,” says Bornheim. “In addition, with sensors and connected devices and systems, mining operations can be managed intelligently to ensure the best results from equipment and people.”

The connection of the physical world to the digital is not new. Many of the applications currently being used or presented to the mining industry are not new either. What’s new is how these solutions are being implemented and the ways in which they are defined. It’s more than sticking on sensors. It’s using these sensors to streamline business across buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, and sites. These sensors and the ways in which they are used or where they are installed can be customised to suit specific business requirements.

“With qualified electronic engineers and software experts, you can design a vast array of solutions to meet the real needs of your business,” says Bornheim. “Our engineers can programme, create, migrate and integrate embedded IoT solutions for microcontrollers, sensors, and processors. They can also develop intuitive dashboards and human-machine interfaces for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to manage the input and output of a wide range of functionalities.”

The benefits of IoT lie in its ubiquity. It can be used in tandem with artificial intelligence or machine learning systems to enhance analytics, improve the automation of basic processes and monitor systems and equipment for faults. It can be used alongside M2M applications to enhance the results and the outcomes of the systems and their roles. And it can be used to improve collaboration and communication between man, machine and mine.

“You can use IoT platforms to visualise mission-critical data for device monitoring, remote control, alerts, security management, health and safety and healthcare,” concludes Bornheim. “The sky is genuinely the limit, especially now that the cost of sensors has come down and the intelligence of solutions and applications has gone up. From real-time insights to hands-on security and safety alerts to data that changes business direction and focus, IoT brings a myriad of benefits to the table.”

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Oracle leads in clash of
e-commerce titans



Three e-commerce platforms have been awarded “gold medals” for leading the way in customer experience. SoftwareReviews, a division of Info-Tech Research Group, named Oracle Commerce Cloud the leader in its 2020 eCommerce Data Quadrant Awards, followed by Shopify Plus and IBM Digital Commerce. The awards are based on user reviews. 
The three vendors received the following citations:

  • Oracle Commerce Cloud ranked highest among software users, earning the number-one spot in many of the product feature section areas, shining brightest in reporting and analytics, predictive recommendations, order management, and integrated search. 
  • Shopify Plus performed consistently well according to users, taking the number-one spot for catalogue management, shopping cart management and ease of customisation.
  • IBM Digital Commerce did exceptionally well in business value created, quality of features, and vendor support.

The SoftwareReviews Data Quadrant differentiates itself with insightful survey questions, backed by 22 years of research in IT. The study involves gathering intelligence on user satisfaction with both product features and experience with the vendor. When distilled, the customer’s experience is shaped by both the software interface and relationship with the vendor. Evaluating enterprise software along these two dimensions provides a comprehensive understanding of the product in its entirety and helps identify vendors that can deliver on both for the complete software experience.

“Our recent Data Quadrant in e-commerce solutions provides a compelling snapshot of the most popular enterprise-ready players, and can help you make an informed, data-driven selection of an e-commerce platform that will exceed your expectations,” says Ben Dickie, research director at Info-Tech Research Group. 

“Having a dedicated e-commerce platform is where the rubber hits the road in transacting with your customers through digital channels. These platforms provide an indispensable array of features, from product catalog and cart management to payment processing to detailed transaction analytics.”

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