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AiThority Interview with Riaz Raihan, President of Products & Engineering at Alida

Riaz Raihan, President of Products & Engineering at Alida

Hi Riaz, please tell us about your role at Alida, and how you arrived here.

I’ve had over a two-decade career, building products and driving innovation at a variety of companies including SAP, Infor, Cisco and others. I joined Alida in December 2019 along with Ross Wainwright, the CEO of Alida. As President of Products & Engineering at Alida, I lead an amazing team of over 200 people including product managers, UX designers, cloud executives, as well as our Center of Excellence value and solution engineers. We work together to drive forward Alida’s aggressive innovation agenda. Innovation is our lifeblood and differentiator.

What makes Alida one of the most sought after CX Management platforms in the industry? What are your unique offerings?

There are two big reasons why we are unique Customer Experience (CX) providers and why we are sought after:

Alida has developed the latest and most modern platform in the Customer Experience Management (CXM) industry. From a competitive standpoint, our platform is cloud-centric, cloud native, micro-services driven, containerized, and has a data lake. All these factors combined give us the advantage of being modern and agile in the CX market. When you are a cloud-based organization, it makes it easier to deploy, use and modify, while allowing customers to pivot quickly. Most recently, we’ve launched new products including Customer Journeys and Conversational Surveys. Customer Journeys help organizations to pinpoint customer feedback at all critical touch points and monitor performance to deliver better end-to-end experiences. Conversational Surveys allows companies to easily engage with customers via SMS in a conversational style.

We have been acknowledged by Gartner as being one of the most aggressive R&D organizations across all of our peers. Speed is our secret weapon. In fact, we delivered 195 new features and capabilities in the last two years alone.

These two factors combined make a very compelling reason for why we are a preferred technology provider.

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Tell us a bit about the AI and automation capabilities offered within your product line? How do you customize AI and Analytics offerings for each of your products?

We use AI and machine learning across our product line in the following context:

AI runs on our data lake. When we start listening to customer signals, whether the signals come from surveys, social media, CRM systems or from any other source, all of the data is put into a data lake. Our AI sits in this data lake and it sorts and seeds through all the data confidentially. It then identifies correlations and trends. This automation process is essential for continuously collecting and sifting through data from multiple sources. Human beings cannot do this 24/7 and at a large scale.

When we display the data through a dashboard or a report and customers consume this data, here is where AI plays a big role. We have a technology where the AI will sit in the background and suggest to people what report might be useful to them, based on what they’re trying to look for. The AI serves as a guide that takes customers through the data and shows them what they might find interesting. It’s not dissimilar from what Amazon does on their website. For example, when you buy a cup from Amazon, the site will show you suggestions for what other people have also bought along with the cup. Similarly, our AI makes suggestions to help customers.

Alida’s AI works on predicting the future. The most difficult thing to do in human life is to predict the future, everybody gets it wrong. The question is, how wrong? Our AI works to set and constantly predict things like which customers are likely to churn and which are likely to renew. This helps our clients monitor all of their customers in real time. As an example, we have numerous media customers and media is a subscription business. Our media clients use our technology to manage their subscribers. Our AI helps them figure out when those subscribers are going to either renew or exit. This is an example of churn prediction, where our AI sets and predicts the future for our customers.

Our AI helps to ingest data and improve the quality of data at the data lake level. At the consumption level, AI can suggest what customers should consume. And finally, helps retain customers at the prediction layer.

When customizing our offerings, we take a customer-centric view. Many companies begin with the technology and then try to find a use for the technology. We start with the customer and ask ourselves, what is the customer trying to do? Based on the answer, we pivot and enhance our AI products to meet their needs.

Data is costly and vulnerable. How do you secure your data analytics offerings from external threat agents, and at the same time, sensitize your internal product development team from these challenges?

Great data is priceless. Alida is a 22-year-old company and one of the things I am most proud of is that we have not had a single data breach. We take data residency, security and privacy seriously. We ensure to go beyond GDPR software compliance by working alongside world-class cloud provider, Amazon Web Services (AWS). They are undeniable leaders in their field having one of the best security architectures and infrastructures. AWS also heavily invests in continuous technology innovation such as their elastic search, redshift and data security. Integrating AWS into what we do is one of the many reasons our platform is so secure. We are secure by design. Our platform is built using cloud-native architecture, which allows all the integrated security advantages of AWS to protect our data.

We integrate security into our product development process in two ways:

We have a set of protocols and procedures to follow. They make up an integral element of our product development process that standardizes security. This assures security is thought of at the beginning of each process, not at the end. Security is a core design consideration that informs the product development process.

Our team and the product development goes through an audit process done through a separate team run by our Alida CFO. This assures our compliance is confirmed and is approved by another party in the organization.

Hear it from the pro: How do you see technologies such as NLP and Cognitive Intelligence transforming the entire infrastructure associated with data analytics and business intelligence?

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is fundamental to text analytics and a very important part of the future in CX. Customers are talking with companies all the time whether it be through social media, call centers or stores. Companies have gotten good at listening, but this is not enough. When you get all the hundreds of thousands of call center calls and transcripts, you have to then push it through a text analytics engine to convert those conversations into analytics. This demonstrates customer trends and the causation and correlation amongst them. This information is vital to make intelligent business decisions, improve your processes, and ultimately your customers’ experiences.

In addition, if something truly remarkable occurs, either good or bad, you need to be able to get back to customers quickly. All of this is based on text analytics and the power of NLP, especially once you take scale into consideration.

At Alida, we provide a video feedback solution where customers can talk to someone in their native language. The video and cognitive technology will then work together to automatically capture facial emotions. It also takes note of when emotions change because a person may not have the same constant emotion. They might experience surprise, delight, anger or disappointment all within the same conversation.

We apply NLP to our technology called Text Analytics. This allows us to contextualize words from within complex structures, ambiguous sentences and even right-to-left languages. With this additional understanding behind customer priorities and motivations, our clients have increased knowledge on how to elevate customer satisfaction.

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Tell us more about your NPS Accelerator platform and how organizations use it to improve their customer engagement and revenue generation operations? Which industries are more likely to benefit from these analytics in the current context of hyper-personalization?

NET PROMOTER SCORE (SM) has seen a huge resurgence in the last three years. Companies have become customer obsessed and the pandemic has made that even more important. The other reason for its resurgence is that NPS® is beautifully simple; it asks one question and one question alone. How likely are you to recommend our service or product? When you combine the fact that it’s been around for a long time, its simplicity and the pandemic, you have the perfect storm as to why NPS has accelerated so quickly in the market.

We launched Alida NPS because we knew companies from a variety of industries were eager to start on their NPS journey and do so rapidly. When using Alida NPS, companies receive access to surveys, dashboards, case management actions, and predictive capabilities. It’s the full package. The industries who are likely to benefit from NPS include:

Retail has been particularly motivated by NPS due to the new considerations of the pandemic, which has required a quick pivot and adoption of a hybrid model.

Healthcare took a massive jolt through the pandemic, and quite a few companies privatized.

Additionally, the media industry went through a huge upsurge over the last couple of years due to the strong uptake of gaming within the media and tech industries.

Finally, I would say financial services. These companies must try and find a way to differentiate themselves and their services due to their offerings being similar. The only way to differentiate in that particular market is through experience. NPS is a great way to address this issue as it not only keeps your existing customers happy and engaged, but also opens the door to new customers.

Other than AI for NPS for marketers, which other domains can benefit from your new offering?

Text Analytics is one of the biggest beneficiaries of Alida’s AI. As an example, we sold Text Analytics to a bank in southern California, competing against 12 other vendors globally. They chose our platform as they were looking for an advanced solution to transform their entire call center. This included all of the conversations in that call center, transcribing them, pushing them through our Text Analytics engine and converting that into quantitative analytics so that they could then take action on that data. Our AI-driven Text Analytics offered this client a more efficient and automated solution as opposed to the manual process they performed in the past.

What is the future of AI-based business services? How are you preparing for the future at Alida ?

The future of AI-based services is very bright. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to have a huge impact on CX and Alida has already been working on several initiatives to revolutionize the industry using AI. These include:

  • AI-enabled chatbots. Chatbots have been around for some time but now, there are so many more things it can bring to CX.
  • Cognitive technology. AI is going to play a significant role in cognitive technology and will be a massive area of investment as we go forward. For example, in areas like emotion recognition, or predicting what customers want even before they say it.
  • Finding the user. Typically, we have lived in the paradigm where the user has to find the dashboard, but AI is going to reverse this process. Now, the dashboard can find the user based on permissions and other similar factors. There is so much more that will happen. This is just scratching the tip of the AI iceberg. Predictive models are going to get increasingly more advanced due to machine- learning algorithms that run all these models, which will have more and more data.

The data revolution which started 15 years ago is finally reaching maturity. It took 10 years to put the infrastructure in place and now companies are realizing that data is the new oil. And the oil is what ultimately powers AI.

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What kind of skills are you looking at: any advice to young AI ML engineers and data analysts who are interested in environmental intelligence?

At Alida, we look for people with experience in Python, which is commonly used for work in AI. We also source for people with experience in Node JS Typescript. We want candidates who can do both the back end and the front end. AI is a big part of our engineering organization and plays a huge role in our organization as a whole. My advice to young people is to truly commit to learning Python and Data Science. This combination puts you in a tremendous position to understand the building blocks of AI. If you’re interested in AI and this is a passion of yours, understand both the data and coding sides of it. These are the core skills that can catapult you into a career of AI.

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

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Riaz Raihan is the President of Products & Engineering at Alida. He leads product strategy, product management, R&D, engineering, artificial intelligence, product design, value engineering, CoE and cloud operations for the company. Riaz’s award-winning team builds world-class total experience management (TXM) software; and is ranked amongst the world’s foremost teams for product & design. Gartner recently placed Alida as a Visionary on their Voice-of-Customer Magic Quadrant. With two decades of product leadership experience, Riaz is a veteran of Cisco, SAP, Infor and Accenture.

Previously, Riaz was President & GM at Cisco’s IoT business unit in San Jose, California. He led a team of 1,500 technologists that created SaaS products by harnessing the power of IoT, cloud and AI/ML. Riaz spent a decade at SAP as SVP & COO. At Infor, he led digital engineering globally. Early in his career, he worked at Accenture and Ernst & Young advising C-suite executives at F500 corporations. Riaz holds engineering and MBA degrees (summa cum laude) and is a graduate of Stanford University’s management development program. He is a member of MENSA.

Riaz is passionate about youth STEM education. Since 2004 he has served as volunteer teacher for Junior Achievement, a global non-profit organization focused on youth education.

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Alida believes in a world where customers are respected as the ultimate source of truth. Because knowing the whole truth about your customers—even the parts that are hard to hear—can help companies make better decisions that drive long-term customer loyalty and growth. With the Alida Total Experience Management (TXM) Platform, leading brands like HBOMax, Adobe, Red Bull, and J.Crew turn their customer truth into action to power exceptional customer, employee, product, and brand experiences.

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