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AiThority Interview with Alistair Dent, Chief Strategy Officer at Profusion

AiThority Interview with Alistair Dent, Chief Strategy Officer at Profusion

Hi Alistair, welcome to our Interview Series. Please tell us about your journey and how you arrived at the idea of joining Profusion?

I started off my career as an Analyst for Deloitte Consulting, then worked my way up to Director of Paid Media at Periscopix, an online advertising campaign agency. Since then, I have worked at a number of businesses that specialise in digital strategy, including iProspect, Mismico, and iCrossing, where I held the role of Managing Director. I made the move to become Chief Strategy Officer for Profusion as I felt the company was really leading the way in helping clients to maximize the insights that they are able to get from their data.

What is Profusion and what are your core offerings?

Profusion is a data company that specializes in transforming data into value for businesses. We do this by creating data strategies that are designed to make a real difference in how a company operates. Crucially, we aren’t just strategists, we deliver data projects embedded into clients. Our team of data scientists, digital experts and developers design and deliver the projects. We work across a huge range of sectors for global leaders like HSBC, Unilever and Coty, through to scores of SMEs and startups. The work we deliver is equally diverse – encompassing everything from building bespoke marketing optimization tools to helping companies create data-led HR functions.

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How do you help your customers transform businesses with AI and data science?

We have tools like our AI Marketer, which brings together the latest predictive analytics and machine learning techniques in a universal API or plugin. It is designed with marketers in mind and it enables them to predict customer lifetime value, propensity to buy and customer churn. It also enables marketers to fully optimize their communication by, for example, tailoring their campaigns based on their individual preferences or other factors such as purchasing behavior. In short, it does all the heavy lifting of data analysis to give marketers the insights they need to create fully optimized marketing campaigns. The result is cheaper, faster and more effective marketing.

The AI Marketer is one of a suite of products our data scientists and digital experts have built using the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning. There’s also our award-winning recommendation engine for complex products. It analyses a huge number of data points to provide highly accurate product suggestions for very subjective goods such as perfumes. As well as this, we have an attribution modelling solution that gives businesses a complete understanding of how and why customers convert and the value of their different communication efforts.

Could you please tell us about AI’s role in the digital transformation of modern organizations?

AI is becoming more and more integral to digital transformation strategy. It encompasses innovations such as machine learning, natural language processing, data labelling platforms and predictive analytics. This means AI has the ability to tackle huge volumes of data, and provide the visibility and insights needed for businesses to make better strategic decisions in all areas of customer experience, targeting and future forecasting.

​​With the latest developments in Generative AI, marketers could soon find themselves in a position where their campaigns, blogs and even emails can virtually write themselves, and the more mundane admin-based tasks can be covered off allowing staff to be used in the most productive ways.

Integrating AI into a business will be game-changing for most, but it does require careful consideration and planning to work. Businesses need to assess their data, choose the most fitting technology, and develop and test their AI models for success.

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Which processes are heavily dependent on AI and data for their success now?

The rapid developments in generative AI this year have really opened everyone’s eyes to the power and potential of AI. It can be applied to automate a whole host of professions, from customer service and HR administration through to copy-writing and product research. It is important to remember though that AI is only ever as good as the data that is used to power it. If the data is biased, inaccurate or incomplete, AI will amplify these problems with potentially disastrous results.

When it comes to regulating AI and formulating policies, why do we see so much debate and ambiguity?

The rapid development of AI has made the need for some form of regulation inevitable. Yet the pace of innovation in generative AI seen in the last few months, and the understanding of just how far-reaching this technology will be, means that it is not at all straightforward to develop effective policies, leading to much discussion on the best way forward. The EU has indeed been forced to rethink its initial approach to regulating AI, as there has been so much change in the sector since the directive was first drafted.

There is debate over whether a risk-based approach, which seeks to categorize different uses of AI and then add rules based on the perceived ‘risk’ of the solution causing harm, is the best route. It has the drawback of being unable to anticipate how AI will develop and the impact new tools will have on society. Put simply, if you can’t know what form a new AI solution will take and how it will be used, it’s very hard to predetermine what category it should go in and apply the compliance burden accordingly.

What will change once the EU AI Act comes to picture?

The AI Act marks a pivotal point – a key opportunity to build the foundations for compliance going forward. It will mean that there is an ethical framework in place that organizations have to abide by which provides guard rails shaping how we use data and AI. It will ensure that there are standards in place that govern its development, and will mean the public can be more confident about the use of AI within different industries.

But it has blind spots and ultimately, I believe that a new rule-book for AI is not going to completely solve the issues thrown up by the progress we are seeing. AI is developing too quickly for legislation to anticipate every innovation and application.

There could be some potential unintended consequences of the EU AI Act as well, that impact the future development of the technology. Putting the legal burden of responsibility for misuse on developers rather than businesses that use AI applications is one such area. The reality is that AI solutions can often be used in completely different ways than their creators ever intended. The risk is that if all the fault lies with developers, innovation will be severely inhibited or we will see AI solution providers make contracts much more rigid and the inner workings of the solution more opaque.

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GDPR and CCPA were major game changers for online businesses. Could you tell us how the EU AI Act would make the industry more ethical? Isn’t it too much to expect from an AI Act?

The main aim of the AI Act is to establish Europe as the central hub of trustworthy and horizontally regulated AI in the global market, boosting competition and fostering AI’s potential for excellence. With the act being the first law on AI by any major region, it will undoubtedly be a game changer for the industry. The biggest and most well-run companies have already got the message on the need for responsible AI, but it will help all companies to build more robust ethical AI governance structures and policies to mitigate risks of bias, privacy breaches and harmful use. But it is important to note that the Act does not replicate the ‘one stop shop’ system under GDPR, which may lead to a fragmented application of the AI Act across the EU.

It is impossible for an AI Act to have the ability to foresee all the issues arising from the innovation that we expect to happen in the coming months and years, and so it is likely that there will need to be continuous changes made to it, in order to keep pace with potential ethical issues that arise. Whilst it may not manage to be an all-encompassing rule-book, and there may be a number of concerns with the final Act, I expect it to mean that businesses have to take a more considered and careful approach to the future development of AI.

Thank you, Alistair! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

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Alistair Dent helps clients enhance their value by maximizing insights from their data and ensuring it reaches the right people at the right time to facilitate better decision-making.

Previously, he served as the Managing Director of iCrossing UK and was recognized as one of Econsultancy’s Top Five Most Influential People in Digital. Before joining iCrossing, Alistair was responsible for paid media at Periscopix and later oversaw product and service strategy at iProspect.

He regularly speaks and writes about digital media, having contributed to publications such as Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, Econsultancy, Wallblog, and The Drum. Additionally, he has delivered international presentations at events including SMX, SES, PPC Masters, Ecommerce Expo, Conversion Conference, and Internet World.

Profusion Logo

Profusion is a data company that works with its clients to design, build, and embed cutting-edge data solutions to ensure the right information gets into the right hands, at the right time.

Whether its increasing customer engagement or optimising operations, Profusion has supported a host of blue-chip clients, including HSBC, Kingfisher Group, First Direct and Coty with data science, data engineering and multi-channel marketing support for twenty years. Profusion is based in London but works with clients globally and has won multiple awards for its innovative marketing and data science projects.

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