Who needs Siri for the Enterprise?  Everybody, says iGenius CEO about his crystal.ai ‘virtual advisor' 

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles October 2, 2020
Imagine being able to access all of your company's complex and siloed data sources from one place by asking your smart phone. That's the iGenius promise.

Business man at laptop in conversation with AI chatbot on mobile phone © TippaPatt - shutterstock
(© TippaPatt - shutterstock)

There are some high-tech innovations that seem inevitable in retrospect and crystal.ai (lower case "c" please), a new "virtual advisor" from the Milan-based digital agency iGenius, just debuting in America, is one of them. Think Siri or Alexa for the enterprise, but actually useful for a lot of sales and marketing tasks. 

crystal.ai uses a conversational interface to provide strategic business advice to an enterprise's employees via mobile devices and modern web browsers that drive sales, traffic, and engagement.  It blends Natural Language Processing, machine learning and fast data retrieval, is guided by self-learning algorithms, and is stingy in its use of computing power. 

Its goal, the company says, is to provide an always-available coworker able to process vast amounts of data in a very short time and effectively support sales and marketing people in their day-to-day operations, tapping into the potential of conversational artificial intelligence that gets smarter the more it is used.

In an interview, founder and CEO Uljan Sharka explained where the inspiration came from:

I was working at Apple with a B2B team called the Apple Consultants Network which helps Fortune 500 companies leverage iOS devices to get access to information through iPhone and iPads to enable different tasks. One of the key problems that was identified during my job was the fact that while business users were very happy with the Apple devices, they were not so happy with the enterprise applications. I mean, you simply speak to your Alexa to turn on the lights or to turn on music. But when you go to deal with business data, you are confronted by 15 different tools that require different skills so you're not able to leverage that value for decision making. 

And so I decided to quit my job there in 2016 and start iGenius. We've been able to raise $20 million in angel investment and the company has grown to 100 people operating across nine countries. We were one of three startup products selected by Facebook for its first accelerator program.

Sharka says crystal is on a mission to revolutionize the user interface in the business software environment by democratizing data at a level where the non-technical users can easily access and benefit from it.  

The way we do it is by creating proprietary technology that is a visual layer that can integrate all of a company's infrastructure at zero impact. This means that you can basically create a crystal account, connect all of your tools, no matter if that is a database, or a business intelligence tool, or a solution built on forecasting models and crystal leverages that existing information to build a visual brain we call the business knowledge graph. 

The business knowledge graph is a metadata-based system that is able to create a multi-dimensional view of the data of the company that business users they can query via voice and chat the same way you do with Siri.  

The software is powered by iGenius' artificial intelligence engine built on Google Cloud and is available in six languages.

The idea of sustainable AI is to leverage everything that already exists and use metadata to build this virtual interface where people can actually make use of the existing interface. The benefits that come with that are extraordinary because, for example, you could use transfer learning and you don't need to change the existing infrastructure.  That means that when you create one use case, everything you learn there in terms of data sets, you can use it for another use case. You are using less energy computing and you are getting better time-to-value in terms of ease of use. Having humanized user experience at this level, you get better adoption. All of those things make it both accessible to everyone and sustainable.  

The company already has a number of prestigious customers including Allianz Italy, the insurance giant, which uses crystal for its agents to access data such as income monitoring, performance of a particular product and client profiles easily, with no need for specific training.  

A sales agent from Allianz or another of our users can take out his phone just before meeting with a customer and ask crystal conversational questions like "Have they bought from us before?  What did they buy?  How many sales calls have we made on this customer?" You can even ask crystal to recommend a product based on other customer profiles that are the same or similar. It can even give the agent a prediction of how likely a customer is to buy a particular product.  Basically, it can transform ab interaction into a data driven interaction rather than a just gut feeling.

For marketing campaigns, crystal's AI engine learns from the way your audience reacts and interacts with your content and makes predictions and recommendations based on the data.

My take

There are many well-entrenched players in the digital marketing SaaS services market and I have been singularly underwhelmed by consumer voice assistants like Siri and Alexa.  I generally find it's easier to just hurl a few obsenities at them and turn on the damned music myself. My expectations for crystal were, thus, pretty low.  

But I have to admit that this is one demo that blew me away. crystal is both super smart and super useful and has a dashboard that is as clear and beautifully designed as they get. I was also extremely impressed with founder and CEO Uljan Sharka. I haven't quite gotten a vibe this chill since interviewing Steve Jobs nearly 40 years. Am I slurping the Kool-Aid? You bet!

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