Small businesses, big ideas: meet the 2018 BT Infinity Awards winners

Written by Richard Johnstone on 29 May 2018 in Feature
Feature

John Manzoni meets the winners of the 2018 BT Infinity Awards

Civil service Chief Executive John Manzoni has highlighted potential for augmented intelligence to help solve problems across government – including some of the border issues created by Brexit – as he lauded the winners of BT Infinity Awards.

Now in their fourth year of a partnership with the Cabinet Office, the BT Infinity Awards were established to identify and support start-up firms in a different category each year.

The awards form a key part of BT’s efforts to help build better public services, which is focused across three themes: people, places and ideas. Though creating a space for the development of new ideas, the BT Infinity Awards support small- and medium-sized enterprises to turn big ideas into real life solutions.

This year’s awards, organised with the Cabinet Office and TechHub, focused on the field of augmented intelligence. Winners were named in three categories – digital public services (won by ultimate.ai), digital defence enablement (won by Archangel Imaging) and digital retail (won by Cortexica) – with each successful firm receiving support from BT to co-develop their technology and trial their product either within the firm or with customers.

Speaking at an event showcasing this year's winners, Manzoni, who is also Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office, said the innovations being developed by these firms were key to the future of the civil service, and government wants to encourage SMEs, in particular in the tech sector.

“The development of SMEs is part of our innovation ecosystem, which is such an important part of how we do business"

Colm O'Neill, Managing Director, Major & Public Sector, BT

He highlighted that although government was in the early stages of using augmented technology, it “has to be absolutely at the heart of the next phase for the civil service”.

Greater automation would provide better services for the citizen, better jobs for civil servants and be better for the taxpayer, he said.

“I’m really excited about all of that, and I think whatever help that we can do, it is absolutely on the government’s agenda that small enterprises, just like you three in the tech sector, [are] deployed on activities inside government.”

The three winners were chosen from a group of nine competition finalists, with judges including Colm O'Neill, Managing Director, Major & Public Sector, BT, who chaired the panel. Others included Alison Pritchard, the Chief Operating Officer at the Government Digital Service, General Sir Chris Deverell, Commander of Joint Forces Command at the Ministry of Defence, Simon Bourne, the Group Chief Information Officer at the Co-operative Group, and Andrew Tibbitts, the Chief Operating Officer of TechHub.

The winner of the digital public services category, ultimate.ai, was recognised for its technology that augments customer service capabilities with AI by providing reply suggestions for customer service agents in online chats. The technology learns from historical chat data and provides reply suggestions in real time. This has the capability to reduce agent response times by up to 25%, according to Sarah Al-Hussaini, the Chief Operating Officer of ultimate.ai (left).

Manzoni said that this system had a number of clear applications in government, particularly in the departments, such as HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions, that have large volumes of customer calls,

The defence award went to Archangel Imaging, which specialises in technology that can undertake video analytics and object identification “on the edge” – the intelligence is on the recording device itself, rather than requiring the footage to be streamed elsewhere for analysis.

This allows alert data to be sent through low bandwidth connections, with uses including protecting offshore critical infrastructure and oil pipelines in Nigeria and Oman, said Dan Sola, the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Archangel.

Manzoni joked that although he'd “never heard of AI on the edge”, he could see clear applications to the system in defence.

The retail award went to Cortexica, a spin out from Imperial College London that has developed a unique AI computer vision solution to allow for video to be analysed with greater human-like perception which is unattainable when using just machine learning methods.

Alastair Harvey, the Chief Solutions Officer at Cortexica (below, with O'Neill, Elizabeth Varley, Founder and Chief Executive of TechHub, and Manzoni) explained that the company had received three Innovate UK grants, covering terrorism prevention and safety in public spaces, device processing from satellites, and manufacturing safety and the protection of the public-at-work and infrastructure using video.

Manzoni highlighted the applications for this system could also be in areas like national security, and could be part of the technological solutions for post-Brexit border issues. “I was in a meeting this morning about the border and the issues associated with the border, clearly lots of opportunity, lots of synergy, lots of enormous possibilities for all [three] of them.”

Government is increasingly keen to make use of such technologies, he said, he highlighted some of the ongoing transformation projects such as the digital tax account is being rolled out by HMRC and the digital court reforms being undertaken by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

The agenda at HMCTS also illustrated the close relationship between government and BT, Manzoni said, as the firm has been working with government to putting Wi-Fi into all courts across the country as part of this programme.

The firm also worked across a host of other policy areas in government, including operating call centres as well as working closely with the MoD in providing integrated voice, video and mobile phone services.

“I’m delighted to be in partnership with BT and thanks for the opportunity to come and join you and see some of these exciting things today,” Manzoni concluded.

Also speaking at the event, O’Neill said BT was proud to be involved in helping these companies take the next step, as part of the firm’s substantial investment in research and development in the UK.

“We have an eco-system that we work with – big companies and small companies – [and] we support the government’s agenda to promote and develop SMEs,” he said. “We are lucky enough to consider one million SMEs as our customers and we help them do their business every day. We also spend money with lots of companies to do our business, and over 48% of that is spent with SMEs. The development of SMEs is part of our innovation ecosystem, which is such an important part of how we do business."

Watch a video of the awards here

Winner profiles

ultimate.ai

Ultimate.ai is focused on providing technological support to people dealing with customer service enquires online. The technology provides suggested answers to customer service agents in real time by using augmented intelligence to learn from previous answers in customer service chats, which increases agent productivity by over 30%.

A further service called Botman allows some replies to be identified as the most frequent and can be automated. This has been able to reduce the number of incoming questions to human agents by over 40%, the company’s chief operating officer Sarah Al-Hussaini said.

Archangel Imaging

Archangel Imaging is focused on "edge AI" – automated analysis where the data is generated, rather than requiring it to be streamed back to a centralised server.

“The use cases that we really like are generally the problems that the cloud can’t reach – you can’t get the data back, it is on the end of a limited data link, and you have to solve the problem out on the edge,” said Dan Sola, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Archangel (right, with O'Neill, Elizabeth Varley, Founder and Chief Executive of TechHub). “The other area is urgency – if a person is in the way of a moving machine, then the machine needs to respond now, you can’t wait to ping a distant server.” Examples include monitoring oil pipelines for theft, where an alert can be generated from security cameras without the images themselves having to be streamed back to a central computer.

Cortexica

Cortexica, which was spun out from Imperial College in London in 2008, is focused on real-time video and image analysis, and the firm is focused on providing AI in the real world – both indoors or outdoors in any weather condition and on any cameras, says Alastair Harvey, the firm’s Chief Solutions Officer.

“The outcome of this video analysis is that we are able to identify people by their actions – there is a lot in the news about facial recognition and its failings but we can actually match and track people with actions and how they move.”

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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