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How do I get the Timing of my Product Launch right?

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

The biographies of every successful entrepreneur will throw up one recurring theme, and that’s timing. From Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to Jeff Bezos, all will mention their immaculate timing when bringing their products to the marketplace. But for every successful business, there are those who fail to capture the zeitgeist, with innovative, revolutionary products and services that don’t appeal to the public at that precise moment in time. Sometimes they are behind the curve but often they are visionaries, seeing something others just can’t see, yet.

In the late ‘90s, I worked with an exciting American start-up called Decorwala. Their concept was to provide an interior design service for those undertaking home renovations, but in a virtual marketplace. By supplying your room dimensions, you could choose your furniture, wall and floor coverings, and lighting, all from multiple suppliers, and try them out together, in your own virtual environment. The items could then be ordered in one place and delivered directly to you from the individual manufacturers.

The concept was revolutionary, bringing multiple products and vendors together in one marketplace made so much sense, and I loved the idea, becoming a seed investor in the business. I also advised on the design of the product helping them launch the pilot. If this method of shopping sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Sadly, Decorwala didn’t capture the imagination of the consumer, and it wasn’t until Amazon launched its online marketplace after 2000 that this powerful method of selling really took off. Decorwala were ahead of the curve in concept and execution.

History is littered with near misses. As the leading phone manufacturer at the time, Nokia famously brought the first smartphone to the market in 2006 with modest sales. However, when Apple launched the iPhone is 2007, it captured the imagination of the public, revolutionising the market. Back in 1973, Xerox built the first Graphical User Interface (GUI) for their desktop, but it was only in 1979 after they shared their vision with a young Steve Jobs that the concept was embraced by Apple to create the Macintosh operating system.

Getting the timing right is not just about luck. One way of gauging whether your innovative product is likely to hit the timing sweet spot, is by reviewing the Gartner Technology Hype Cycle. For the digital market, Gartner produce an annual report ranking the progress of technologies on their patented Hype Curve. This gives a clue as to the perceived market readiness for your product or service.

It’s also worth mentioning that if at first you don’t succeed, don’t bin your product. Being ahead of the curve doesn’t mean you can’t retry the market at a later stage.

Bringing innovation to the market needs:

  • An understanding of your market and a knowledge of competitors products and services
  • Insight gained from research and advisory organisations like Gartner and McKinsey
  • Patience, perseverance and belief in your product, to re-try the market at a later stage
  • A little good fortune!

About the Author

Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services.  He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.

How do I compete with more established brands? Ashok talks to Sahil Verma about The Cookaway.

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

Perception can make or break a business, and in a year where reaching your potential client base has never been harder, the impression you create online with your website and across social media platforms is critical to the success of your product or business. You may start small, but there is no reason to think small, and embracing high production values with your marketing material and web content shows care, attention to detail, and importantly, demonstrates the credentials of an established and successful brand that customers want to buy from.

A business that has done this so successfully is The Cookaway.  After running a successful cookery school for over 10 years, my dear friends, Sahil and Nidhi Verma decided to launch a recipe-in-a-box business with a twist. Rather than following in the footsteps of Hello Fresh, Mindful Chef or Gousto, they created a chef-based, global cuisine recipe box offering with YouTube instruction videos. They concentrated on quality ingredients, eco friendly packaging and highly curated instructions that turned a recipe box into an engaging, shared experience. 

As Sahil Verma says “Our focus from the beginning has been to offer our customers an elevated experience across each and every touchpoint including the overall website experience, engagement on digital channels, no-subscription offering, product quality and range and customer service, to name a few. It’s a tall order to achieve all this for a young start up but we believe this is the only way one can build a sustainable brand with a loyal following that doesn’t need to be tied into a subscription.” 

To support their young enterprise, my wife and I decided to invest in their friends & family round of funding. In the early days, I advised them on choosing the right technology platform, ensuring their systems provided the functionality they required, at a price they could afford, and could be easily scaled as the business grew. In addition to offering business and entrepreneurial insight, it was a delight to try their prototype cook at home boxes. From advice on packaging, quality of ingredients to critiquing the boxes used for delivery, my wife and I worked closely with Nidhi and Sahil who proved to be inspirational entrepreneurs. Sahil was kind enough to say, “Ashok has been pivotal in helping us with our digital strategy both in terms of setting up an agile infrastructure as well as the softer design and UX elements. His experience working with start-ups is invaluable and he’s a great mentor, friend and sounding board to have on the team.”

By recruiting professional, high profile chefs for each of the global cuisines they offer, and using their cookery school knowhow, they opened their market to online cook-alongs. During the pandemic, they saw an opportunity for businesses to reach out to employees with corporate, remote cook-along events, adding yet another USP to this brand as it pivoted to B2B. This entirely new spin on corporate hospitality, offers groups of colleagues cook at home boxes with chef-led virtual gatherings. 

Recruiting chefs from different world cuisines immediately elevated The Cookaway, with the virtual gatherings providing the social aspect missing from other recipe boxes, something which resonated with customers during the last year. The social aspect and the global nature of the cuisine brought depth and breadth to the brand while disrupting the existing recipe box market. A decision not to use the subscription model also set The Cookaway apart from their competitors.

The Cookaway ticks many of the boxes required for success. In emulating their model try to:

  • Use association with other successful brands to hitch a ride on their wave of success
  • Ensure an excellent product – high quality, ethically sourced and packaged
  • Gain support from friendly investors, building collaborative relationships
  • Build a sound technology infrastructure providing flexibility and scalability
  • Be creative about the ways to market your product
  • Respond to changes in your market with agility and speed

The Cookaway is a small business with big ideas, and it’s leaving the established brands behind.

About the Author

Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services.  He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.

What does it take to scale up your start-up to a US$2Billion company?

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

I’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of thinking big when starting your business but visualising what big looks like from day one, envisaging your dream and developing a strategy to get there, is key to achieving the growth required to turn your start-up into a billion-dollar company. In my experience businesses that grow from small businesses into global corporations excel in four main areas: Culture, Innovation, People and Ambition. I’m going to use my time at Virtusa to demonstrate why these characteristics are important, and how, when brought together, they shape the future success of any business.

Founded in 1995, our strategy at Virtusa was to provide technology services to US companies to accelerate innovation at an affordable level of investment. During our first 5 years we successfully built products for many Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and software companies, but as the company grew, we wanted to attract corporate clients, so capital was required to build a bigger enterprise team. In 2000 after a $13.5m Series A investment from Sigma Partners, we won our first enterprise client, Bank One. Citigroup and Bank of America followed, along with expansion to the UK and Europe. From 2005 we added BT, P&O, Deutsche Bank and AIG to our client list, with IPO (NASDAQ: VRTU) following in 2007. Having weathered the 2008 banking crisis, Virtusa grew from strength to strength expanding into various industries and markets and following the acquisition of Polaris in 2016, became one of the largest Technology Services companies in the world. 2020 saw revenue in excess of US$1.3 billion and net income at US$43 million. Virtusa was acquired for US$2 billion in February 2021 by Baring Private Equity Asia.

1. Culture

As employee number one with Virtusa, I was in a unique position to participate in the building of a strong, creative and open culture that put the customer first. This was extremely important to the founders, who while ensuring the financial metrics were sound, encouraged creativity amongst staff, to increase the variety and breadth of the services we offered. The organisation had a flat structure, engendering the values of a true meritocracy where endeavour and ideas were recognised and rewarded, building strong relationships between leaders and staff. The strong culture at Virtusa provided the foundation for growth needed to achieve the dreams of the founders.

2. Innovation

Or as I call it, the ‘Innovative Mindset’, the ability to apply cutting edge technology to everyday business problems. Kris Canekeratne, one of the founders, was an ambassador for bringing new technological capability to large enterprises, making this a key selling point for Virtusa, and critical to the rapid growth of the business. As Sanjeev Palihawadana, a former Vice President at Virtusa remembers “What stood out for me was the ability to consistently stay ahead of industry and tech trends. We were always talking about where the puck would be 2 to 3 years ahead and almost all the bets placed turned out to be spot on.”

We were an ideas factory, specialising in re-platforming, providing integration that could be used at scale, across multiple businesses. ‘Productication’ was a framework we invented to educate enterprises to replace duplicate systems with a single platform.

3. People

Investing in great people, training them, recognising their worth and making the success of the business their success, made a huge contribution to realising the dreams of the Virtusa founders. With only a small pool of skilled engineers in Sri Lanka at the time, I remember running weekend bootcamps, training between 30 and 40 graduate recruits from the local universities in object-oriented coding, then from Monday – Friday reverting to coding for the customers. That culture of training and support evolved and became endemic throughout every part of the business from sales to people management, to finance. With the focus always on expansion, hiring top talent was crucial, as was training and engagement to keep your best people within the organisation.

4. Ambition

Sustaining the ambition to grow your business can be a challenge after early successes. But if you had that dream from day 1 and developed your strategy accordingly, ambition will keep you going. With Culture, Innovation and People providing the basis of your success, keep a close eye on your financial indicators, using every metric available to you, mapping these onto your 3–5 year scale up plan to gauge progress. At Virtusa the Board had a vision with an ambitious plan, no corners were cut, and a program to re-invest profits paid off. Dammika Ganegama, a former Director says, “At Virtusa we were encouraged to think big and look at different business models, financial models and partnerships that would make all parties succeed.” Clayton Locke concurs, “As Managing Director for Virtusa UK, a key objective was expansion into EMEA. We opened our first office in Amsterdam and invested in a few key hires but success in the new geography was not a given.The decision to invest in regional expansion is one of ambition, confidence, timing and market analysis. Our timing was right, and the EMEA business proved to be an engine for growth and diversification within Virtusa.” This was great for staff who worked with high profile corporate clients, launching new services and businesses in a variety of sectors including financial and telecoms. Fulfilling that ambition through large but calculated risks with a series of funding rounds and mergers and acquisitions, and never giving up in the face of adversity, Virtusa grew to the US$2 billion business that was bought in February 2021.

Virtusa succeeded by focussing on:

  • Culture
  • Innovation
  • People
  • Ambition

And never letting go of the dream. It was my privilege to be a part of this fast-growing organisation and to learn from their inspirational leaders.

About the Author

Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services.  He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.

How do I find my First Paying Customer in Year 1?

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

In the first instance, most start-ups concentrate on their product design or service and leave the thorny task of finding customers further down the line, almost as an afterthought. But keeping a keen eye on your market from the outset can put you well ahead of the game. 

Remember, everyone you come across on your journey is a potential customer, as is everyone in your personal network, and these will be the people you approach for their help in testing your concept and validating your product design. Using rapid prototyping and launching quickly, provides you with customer feedback that will hone your product more quickly and efficiently than you could ever achieve with costly, time consuming iterations. 

My golden rule is to get customer validation as early in the product life cycle as possible, using customer feedback to achieve faster error correction and adapt to your market. People will also pay for a product that has other customers’ endorsement, this can be everything from likes and comments on your website to large enterprise endorsement for your corporate offering. Obtaining a paid pilot, with a friends & family customer, within six to nine months of starting your business is an ideal way to validate that customers are willing to pay for something you are building.

Working with Kevin Laracey at eDocs, a Boston-based start-up we launched back in the late ‘90s, we pioneered an electronic bill presentment solution for consumers. Until then all credit card statements were printed by bespoke fast printers, such as Xerox, churning out 2000 pages per minute. We reverse engineered the raw print file and extracted the statement data. Our model was to take this harvested data, create the credit card statements and email them to customers. Early prototypes and customer feedback demonstrated we could not ensure adequate data security via email delivery. So, we pivoted, developing a web portal where customers could login securely and view their statements online. We developed a model that is still being used by several financial institutions today, on the back of early customer validation. Kevin suggests, “The key to early customer validation is to listen to your prospects and adapt your solution if you see a trend of multiple prospects making the same sensible request. But also keep in mind that sometimes customers don’t know what they want, and sometimes their requests can send you down the wrong path. Liberally apply your judgment to discern what feedback from prospects has merit.”

With the second prototype, we demonstrated the product to American Express in Year 1 by simulating their statement data with their own brands. The stakeholders fell in love with the innovative concept and AMEX became a pilot customer. As we all know, winning an enterprise customer early in the start-up journey can make a big, in fact a huge difference to its success.

The rest is history, as they say, with AMEX, Toyota Cards, Telstra and BT on board as clients, we raised US$20M in venture capital and completely rebuilt and scaled the platform. eDocs was acquired by Siebel for US$115M in 2004 and remains part of the Oracle Financial Suite, and the lessons learnt have guided my path with subsequent projects. 

So, the key to finding your first paying customer is early customer validation. Customers typically buy on the basis of recommendation. The ability to engage customers from the beginning, listen to their early feedback and win their approval and buy-in, results in a growing network of referrals and early adopters. 

Ask Ashok: If you have any questions or comments about eDocs, customer validation or on any of the topics covered in my blogs, I’d love to hear from you.

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

Listen to Dr Ashok Suppiah's podcast

How do I build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with little or no funding? Ashok talks to Paul Moorhead of Kraydel

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

This may be the question you are asking yourself, but is it the right one? Perhaps you should be asking, how do I bring my product to market sooner rather than later, while retaining as much equity as possible? 

An idea is just an idea until it gains form, function and fans. To that end, building a prototype to prove your concept works, to yourself and to potential investors, makes perfect sense. But it’s not the whole story. Prototyping can be a costly business, and as a start-up, you will want to keep those costs as low as possible. Look for where you can make savings, do as much of the work as you can yourself and try not to get sucked into costly iterations, call in favours, and ask for new ones. Use a virtual CTO or a tech partner who is willing to share the risk and the rewards. Using your own capital, or that of friends and family, as much as possible, will mean you can make your own decisions, and with friendly investors who are going to be wholly supportive of your plans, you won’t have to give away precious equity in your business. 

When I co-founded Kraydel in Northern Ireland, we used industry standard, cost-effective technology to build our prototype. I had long wanted to use tech to help the elderly stay safe in their own homes and using a Raspberry PI (at the time around £22) and a Bluetooth chest band commonly used in gyms, I built a rudimentary home monitoring device that would record heart rate patterns and provide analytics. I was introduced to Paul Moorhead, an ex Intel CTO, by old cycling buddies and discovered he had built a similar device for his elderly mother. Together we developed a blueprint for what would become Kraydel. With a grant from the Belfast Government, we hired a Mitra software engineer to build the MVP. We trialled the MVP with friends and family to prove the concept and gain customer validation. As Paul says, “You’re not going to get everything right, and it’s unlikely that the thing you want to build will turn out to be the thing that you need to build – so spend as little time and money as possible in exploring this.”

Timing is crucial, take your prototype to investors too early and you will find yourself giving away too much equity to secure funding. If you can wait until after you have an MVP and the all-important customer validation, you are in a far stronger negotiating position. Equity should be regarded as gold dust and protected as much as possible in the early days of your business. Paul concurs “You may be thinking ahead of the market and assume that they’ll get there, or you may be wrong about what people are willing to buy – but you can only find out which it is by building something – and if you spend all your money to get there, you’ll end up having to give a lot of equity away to fund the development cycle needed to correct your position.”

In the case of Kraydel, we didn’t initially understand the huge value of adding easy-to-use video-conferencing to the product, and of course we hadn’t foreseen Covid-19 and the massive shift to telehealth which made paired medical devices e.g., Pulse-Oximeters, compelling. By working with Mitra’s cost-effective offshore teams in the early years and focusing on features over infrastructure, we educated ourselves quickly, were able to showcase the product at Health Care and Age Tech events and became highly visible – far more so than would be usual for an early-stage company.

Kraydel is thriving and has since raised multiple rounds of funding and evolved their products to include communications via smart TV and automatic alerts based on environmental factors. Their systems are used by NHS trusts and care homes, as well as individuals.

So, my advice is to innovate cost effectively, assume that you’ll be throwing away your first prototype, seek funding from friends and family and where possible apply for government grants. Focus on showcasing the capabilities of the system and minimise the finer points, but remember your prototype is just that, and you will need time and funding to build your actual product. Work at gaining customer validation by testing your prototype with as many friendly adopters as possible and last, but most importantly, guard your equity jealously. 

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

Introduction to Low Code and How Your Organisation Can Benefit

By Blogs, Creatio

Within the last ten years, developing a business application  was only possible using skilled software developers. With the evolution of ‘low-code technology’ the need for experienced developers is far less. It is now possible for someone who has no experience of scripting languages to build processes and create applications. Low-code technology allows a non-coder to easily engage with more visual interfaces and use features such as drag and drop to create interfaces in a fraction of the time traditional methods take. This technology goes beyond just saving hours/days for any tech team, it reduces costs, massively accelerates time to market/implementation time and increases the agility of the business to respond to market led innovation. 

By lowering the barrier to entry, automating processes, and slashing development time; it allows for rapid prototyping and shortens time to market, meaning time spent is hours and days not weeks and months. It enables easier integration with legacy systems while also making the overall system easier to maintain. These benefits make teams more efficient and allow for greater innovation and creativity, leading to a new generation of ‘Citizen Developers’.

(See Forbes’s 14 benefits of low code for more!)

Statistics

The global low-code development platform market size is projected to grow from USD 13.2 billion in 2020 to USD 45.5 billion by 2025, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 28.1% during the forecast period. [1]

Forrester showed that total spending in this area will reach $US21.2 billion by 2022, with a compound annual growth rate of an incredible 40 per cent. [2]

Gartner forecasts that three-quarters of large enterprises will use at least four low-code development tools by 2024 and that low-code will make up more than 65% of application development activity. [3]

Every business wants to be competitive in the marketplace. Because of the development speed and flexibility of low-code, businesses can be digital-ready, proactive and agile, disrupting the market while keeping costs low.

Low code technology is extremely scalable and adaptable. This kind of technology can be used across industries, whether it’s healthcare, finance, aerospace, food and beverage or even education. Anyone from a high school student  to a highly skilled professional developer can develop solutions by using an intuitive visual interface. Simple logic, drag-and-drop features, and pre-built modules are used to create the relevant application.

The visual modeling tools enable the user to create apps quickly and seamlessly, with out of the box  (OOTB) functionality eliminating the need to build core modules from scratch each time. Drag and drop interfaces, reusability, cross-platform accessibility, security, scalability, reporting, and monitoring, all contribute to the cost savings made using this technology.

A great example of low-code doing exactly what it promises is Dynamedics. There was a rapid time to market for this innovative new health and wellbeing platform, which helps organisations deliver remote consultations, assessments and digital wellbeing services to employees, customers and patients. It is designed specifically to support employers to meet stringent Health & Safety Executive (HSE) standards while enabling hospitals and specialist clinics to provide high quality telehealth services. The platform is highly customisable and Plumb House took advantage of Dynamedics’ rapid deployment to ensure the safety of their employees on construction sites across the Boston area of the US, when they returned to work after lockdown. Dynamedics provided pre-screening for Covid-19 symptoms and an automated check-in process, tracking employees’ contacts.

In summary, anyone who uses low code technology will tell you that it’s a game changer. The key benefits to the client are

  • Much shorter app development time
  • Much faster time to market
  • Increased speed of business transformation
  • Much reduced costs
  • Improved Customer experience
  • Fluid business and IT collaboration

Usaith Uwize
Associate Manager- Market Development

Tehara Perera
Intern- Business Analyst

Does Low-code Pose a Challenge to Traditional Software Development or Can They Coexist?

By Blogs

If you have heard of low-code, then the above question will come as no surprise to you, but if you haven’t, let’s explain what low-code technology is and why it’s so important in todays’ IT landscape. 

Traditional software development is known to be slow and expensive, as well as complex. This complexity is what demands the need for highly skilled and knowledgeable software developers. According to a joint study by Mckinsey and Oxford, most large-scale IT projects fail to deliver on time, to budget, but most importantly, on value. 

What is a low-code development platform?

Low-code is a development framework that is visually augmented with a drag & drop canvas. Developers are able to drag and drop specific, reusable components and connect them with one another, on a virtual canvas to build software faster. These components are pre-programmed with a set of configurations allowing the developer to use them to suit their business application logic.   

These low-code development platforms are primarily intended for citizen developers to build applications to solve the challenges and problems they encounter in their businesses and organisations. These developers do not need to be highly skilled, technical resources but rather more business savvy, functional consultants, who are experts of their own business domains. They are expected to only possess high level knowledge of software engineering concepts, which can be easily acquired through self-learning. 

Platforms that enable software development by non-technical business users, making the building of software applications cheaper and faster, are identified as Low-Code Development Platforms (LCDP).

How does it work?

LCDP enables citizen developers to build applications using pre-programmed components and templates. More often than not, people at the business end have little to no experience in coding while software development teams have little in depth knowledge of the business requirements, or the core business unit. LCDPs present an attractive, yet reliable solution to solve this problem by providing a programming interface with visual building blocks for easy use by anyone at the business end of the organisation. 

A low code development platform (LCDP) consists mainly of 3 parts:

  • Graphical User Interface (GUI) : A simple drag and drop canvas that enables non-technical, business users to program an application by configuring inputs, outputs and operations as necessary. 
  • Integrations for I/O: Low code platforms offer interfaces to databases for data input and provide the ability to configure application outputs. 
  • Application manager: Similar to mainstream Integrated Development Environments (IDE), LCDPs too have tools to compile, debug and deploy low code applications.

Why is it important now?

In 2020, the global low-code market was estimated at USD13.2 billion and according to Gartner research, the worldwide low-code market will grow by 23% in 2021. Recognised as one of the trending technologies, low-code is expected to grow beyond USD45.5 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.1% within the forecasted period. 

Businesses have realised that by using low-code platforms, they are able to quickly develop and deploy apps to solve modern day business challenges, reducing the pressure on their IT teams. In a relatively short time, LCDPs have proven to be highly effective in facilitating the development of valuable business use cases and end-user solutions in critical industries such as banking, telco, insurance and healthcare. They’re also the best suited technology framework for automating manual, time consuming business processes in any business domain. 

Low code platforms facilitate producing apps 10 times faster than coding from scratch. Where the go-to-market time, agility and user friendliness of a solution are key drivers for any businesses looking for a competitive edge, low-code development platforms deliver on all three, while adding integrating innovation & entrepreneurship to their employee’s skill set.

What are some of the use cases of low-code development?

  • Customer Engagement Apps
  • Operational Efficiency Apps
  • Legacy Migration Apps
  • Contact Center Applications
  • E-Government Applications

What are some limitations of low-code development?

Although the purpose of LCDPs is to ease the burden on software development, it cannot be considered a one size fits all solution for every development task, due to the following limitations.

  • Limited customisation: Customisation is important in building unique, superior software solutions. Limited customisation in LCDPs often forces businesses to adjust their internal processes to meet the capabilities of the low-code platform. 
  • Limited integration capability: This is what mainly differentiates standard software development from low-code development. LCDPs can face integration issues especially with complex legacy systems, requiring skilled software developers to resolve. 
  • Limited flexibility: It’s no surprise that low-code apps, with limited components, are more simple to use for non-technical users. But when a customer wants to add a specific feature, there is a possibility that the set building blocks may not meet the business requirement. In such cases, custom code is required to implement the new feature. Introduction of custom coding within LCDPs can pose a challenge for future maintenance.
  • Security: Low-code apps are cloud-based, developed by non-technical users with limited background in information security. Hence, security breaches could be a risk in low code applications, therefore proper audits should be conducted before exposing them for external use.  

However, it must be understood that not all business problems are suited for low code development. Standard software development will still dominate the industry when it comes to solving complex business problems. But for those simple, business challenges that don’t require a team of software developers, LCDPs present an amazing opportunity to develop customer oriented apps much faster and with a hugely reduced development cost. 

Rajitha Peiris 
Associate Business Analyst Lead

Quantum Computing

How Quantum Computing Can Impact the Healthcare Industry

By Blogs

Technology, from the invention of the transistor, all the way through to the first computer processor, has significantly impacted our way of life, with healthcare being no exception.

As we move towards a more focused, personalised health service, using the power of the genome, healthcare system providers must focus on developing systems with the ability to process huge amounts of data, empowering healthcare professionals to make accurate diagnoses and informed, health related decisions. 

“Just as the 19th century was called the Machine Age and the 20th century the Information Age, the 21st century promises to go down in history as the Quantum Age.”

What is Quantum Computing?

The computers we use today process information sequentially, with a single ‘bit’ of information being a 0 or 1. This is the positive or zero electrical charge held by one of millions of tiny transistors within the atomic structure of a silicon chip. The computer makes calculations and remembers things by changing these transistors from 1s to 0s and vice versa.  However, in the quantum world this same information processing is done very differently. To try and explain, let’s think of this in terms of probability, using a household dimmer switch to visualise the probabilities involved.  If you imagine a classic light switch, it can either be on or off, well that is how each silicon transistor works, there are only 2 options.  If you then think of a ‘qubit’ (the quantum equivalent of a bit), as a permanently revolving dimmer switch with a range of probable states that the qubit can be in at any given time, it can be on, and off, and everything in between.  One of the quirks of Quantum Theory is that the state of a qubit or a spinning electron, or indeed our dimmer switch, is not determined until we look at it, and looking at it will always change its state. What all this means is that the quantum transistor can hold a huge range of probability values, which in turn means it can carry out many more tasks and store many more pieces of information, making it far more powerful than a conventional processor. The qubits ability to be both a ‘1’ and a ‘0’ at the same time, is called a superposition. Computer scientists build algorithms that can take advantage of this state to effectively harness the power of the superposition. If all of this seems difficult to grasp, you are not alone. Top scientific minds struggle with these concepts too, especially as much of Quantum Theory is still just that, theoretical.

How is the Superposition used in Quantum Computing?

Taking this a step further, if we think of an electron as a wave, the superposition of this electron wave is its ability to exist in two possible states simultaneously. Electrons have a natural ability to spin up or down. Imagine pushing the spin of an electron into a superposition so it is spinning both up and down, by the rules of observation in the quantum world, it will collapse its superposition into either spin up or spin down when we measure it. This natural phenomenon allows qubits to be coded with quantum information in both states simultaneously. This ability to compute and select a solution out of many potential alternative solutions, means the qubit can be all of those options, all at the same time using the superposition, and in exponentially less time than a classical computer.

Quantum Computing Applications in the Healthcare Industry

Radiotherapy
Radiotherapy is one of the principal techniques used in cancer treatment today. Targeted radiation is used to destroy cancer cells and stop them from re-growing. It requires a highly accurate application of radiation to minimize the damage to the surrounding cells. The development of a ‘radiation plan’ is a complicated process that involves the processing of many thousands of variables to arrive at an optimal therapy plan. A classical computer does the job today using a limited set of data points to generate the plan in a clinically feasible timeframe. However, quantum‐inspired algorithms will allow medical systems to run all possible permutations simultaneously, using many more data points and develop an optimal plan, faster. 

Accelerating drug development and material science
With the development of pharmaceuticals requiring lengthy and costly clinical trials, scientists and pharma companies are experimenting with using alternative methods to speed up the process and make it more cost effective whilst ensuring safety and efficacy.  Artificial intelligence, human Organ-On-Chip and ‘in-silico clinical trials’ have all been tested. Quantum computing may prove a game changer here. 

Today’s most powerful supercomputers only have the processing power to simulate the simplest of molecules, limiting their calculations to a small number of compounds present. For more complex molecules, researchers currently predict behaviour and then must test behaviour in trials. This is costly and inefficient, with most drugs failing the trial at this stage. 

In future we could be running algorithms and searches on quantum computers with the ability to review drugs at a molecular level with unimaginable speed and run drug trials with every possible permutation of compounds tested against cell models, all in a rapid timeframe. This would revolutionise drug discovery, making radical new treatments for Cancer and Alzheimer’s, amongst others, a real possibility.

Diagnostics

Artificial Intelligence
There is a growing trend to apply machine learning to patient diagnostics. Much of machine learning is about “pattern recognition”, with algorithms crunching large datasets of patient information to find patterns in the noise, the goal being to leverage comparisons leading to a diagnosis. Quantum computing promises a processing order of magnitude we have only been able to dream of thus far, for our healthcare systems, with doctors able to compare vast amounts of complex data, in parallel, with endless permutations. 

Genomic Medicine
Using quantum computers, we can more rapidly sequence DNA and solve other Big Data issues in healthcare. This opens up the possibility of personalised medicine based on an individuals’ unique genetic makeup.

Protein Folding
Proteins are the basic building blocks of life. Malfunction of a given protein is frequently due to its being wrongly folded. While the chemical composition of proteins is quite well known, their physical structure is much less understood. Obtaining more detailed knowledge of the way proteins are folded can lead to the development of new therapies and medicines.  

A quantum computer will, in theory, be able to simultaneously test a huge number of possible protein fold structures and identify the most promising ones.

Making Patients the Focus of Care
Soon we will see the application of health sensors, wearables and tiny medical gadgets that will collect vast amounts of data about patients that will be stored in cloud-based data lakes. Just for comparison: in 2020 the amount of digital data collected was roughly 10 times higher than it was in 2013. Given the amount of data requiring processing and the number of variables required to make sense of these datasets, quantum computers will play the pivotal role in patient surveillance through connected sensory systems.  This revolutionary technology will move us from a responsive to a predictive healthcare system. 

It would be remiss of me not to point out that these applications are still in their infancy and largely theoretical. However, there is in existence an ophthalmology app that demonstrates how a patient’s vision would change with a cataract over 5 years if they maintained their current lifestyle. Extrapolating this idea and by applying the principles of quantum computing, given huge amounts of health parameters, genetic information, sensory data, and other personal health information, an accurate prediction about a given person’s future health could be easily generated, providing insights and advice for future wellbeing. 

Nirosh Liyanawaduge
Chief Technology Officer

Conversational AI is the Voice of the Future

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

When a child learns to speak, they do so through interaction with parents and siblings. They mimic the sounds they hear; they find associations with those sounds, they learn what responses they get, they pick up accents and slang, short cuts and alternatives; in short, they acquire the language they hear spoken around them. When technology learns language, it has always started from a different place. In the past chatbots have translated all sounds to text, stumbling over unexpected language or accents, making the whole experience frustrating and often futile. But this is changing, the technology is evolving, the bots are growing up. 

Contextual understanding and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are just two of the components we at Mitra have brought together to develop our Conversational AI platform. We have elevated the conversational experience, through technological innovation, providing an engaging, more ‘human’ communication experience. We have also unlocked many digital services for those who struggle with accessibility, for example the elderly or visually impaired. Our Conversational AI understands what the customer is requesting without sending them into cycles of doom, drawing information from APIs to enhance the customer experience. By learning as it goes along, following the conversation history, or ‘remembering’ what has gone before, it also avoids tedious repetition, making the whole experience not only effective but also effortless for the customer. 

Applications for this technology abound, and the benefits are far reaching. Virtual Agents increase voice enabled productivity by providing information efficiently or by speeding up issue resolution, thus increasing customer satisfaction and retention. Virtual Agents are always available, share learning and can be replicated as needed, thus ensuring much reduced waiting times for customers, especially at peak times. Conversational AI also liberates highly trained, valuable staff from repetitive work, making them available to perform more interesting, demanding and complex tasks, increasing employee satisfaction and reducing churn. 

As an entrepreneur I can see the far-ranging benefits to both business and customers. You don’t need to imagine a world where you can have a digitised conversation and be understood, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Echo Dot are examples of the technology working effectively today.  But as the bots grow up, these conversations evolve and become more complex, the responses more appropriate, the outcomes more fruitful, no matter how you choose to articulate your needs. Mitra is currently negotiating with a large healthcare provider in the United States and is partnering with several companies, pooling our innovative and entrepreneurial drive and our technical expertise, and sharing product platforms to create the Conversational AI solutions required for this major project. 

Of particular interest to me are the many applications in Healthcare, meaning the benefits of this technology can be enjoyed by many. In Healthcare scenarios, patients or clients are often stressed and dealing with situations and procedures outside of their comfort zone. It is therefore vital that the virtual agent has the maturity to take an initial call from a patient, pass them through security to authenticate their identity, and check their level of cover. It can then offer a choice of Hospitals and Consultants, make appointments, order tests and send out supporting documentation. This must all be achieved with ease, instilling confidence and calm in the patient. Conversational AI can also seamlessly integrate with Dynamedics, Mitra’s innovative, lowcode platform which helps organisations deliver remote, high quality, digital health and wellbeing services. 

Few technologies alone increase job satisfaction, reduce wait times and costs, speed up issue resolution, have algorithms that ‘learn on the job’ getting more efficient over time, and transform the user experience for the better. It is not a leap to say Conversational AI is a technological revolution and the voice of the future.

Stay safe.

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

Dynamedics partners with The Suwodaya Program to help Communities across Sri Lanka

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

If the Covid-19 global pandemic has taught us anything it is how much we need our fellow humans. We are social creatures, at work and at play. We seek the company of others for comfort, for support, for fun, for achievement; to spark ideas and to share the load. 2020 has seen unprecedented isolation of individuals, families and workforces, and it is universally recognised that many have suffered as a result.

 I have long nurtured an interest in the health and wellbeing of my global team, from an academic as well as an empathetic viewpoint, so developing a platform that could enable remote consultations and assessments, and deliver digital wellbeing services for employees, was a project close to my heart.

With Dynamedics, Mitra used low-code technology allowing for rapid development of the required applications and workflows. Easy integration with existing systems also simplified the capture of comprehensive real time data. But it’s the analysis of that data, our alignment with clinical standards, and the ability to connect with third party systems and workflows that is at the heart of the system. Indeed, Mitra used Dynamedics to deliver a Covid-19 pre-screening tool for US based Plumb House, where daily data collection and analysis ensures employees or contractors are symptom free before entering a workplace, significantly reducing the risk of infections, and providing feedback for government and regulatory third parties.

In its simplest form, Dynamedics is a digital platform to measure the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. At Mitra, employees use an interface on their mobile phone to the Dynamedics platform, to answer daily and weekly questions, which are designed to flag health and wellbeing issues at an early stage. With many employees struggling with mental health due to isolation and fears around job security, the benefits of the daily survey are twofold. Employees assess their own mental health, receiving daily tips and expert reminders to help them self-manage their wellbeing, while managers can oversee their teams, providing support to employees if needed. Integrating with HR platforms and external specialists, we can refer employees beyond their team manager for health assessments with specialist consultants or refer them to testing centres or counsellors, and offer practical support with childcare providers, debt management services or specialist trainers; the possibilities are boundless.

 As an entrepreneur there is a profound sense of fulfilment when technology you have developed can be used to help people in your own community. The Suwodaya Program is a collaboration between Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a social regeneration and empowerment charity and the largest NGO in Sri Lanka, a team of senior medical professionals and of course Mitra Innovation. We are using Dynamedics to build a web-based questionnaire that is being rolled-out, initially to 10 districts, questioning between 2,000 and 5,000 people. The survey will seek to assess the health and wellbeing of those questioned and measure the impact that Covid-19 has had on their lives, including employment, social circumstances and mental health. A full analysis of the captured data will be undertaken by a team of medical professionals led by Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, General Secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, with all resulting findings and recommendations published in a White Paper. The objective is to use this information to highlight particular needs within these communities and apply for funding to run programs addressing those needs.

 I feel a keen responsibility for the wellbeing of my team, people are what make Mitra special and our business successful. By investing the time and technical resources to listen to each and every person, and help them address concerns and issues, we will emerge from the challenges of the global pandemic a stronger and more connected workforce. And with The Suwodaya Program giving the communities across Sri Lanka a voice, we can gain real insight and craft better outcomes for our citizens.

 

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group