Building trust in blockchains
Artificial Intelligence. Natural language. Machine Learning
It’s time to use technology to transform the way businesses generate and share their vital data
Creating reports usually involves a lot of work – for a lot of people. It’s expensive, time-consuming and the final product is inevitably littered with the subjective inputs that spring from many minds. Reading them is the same all over again, with teams of people employed to process data and draw their conclusions.
Global business has embraced digital innovation in every sphere. Isn’t it time that the essential reports that define companies – sales reports, performance reports, market reports – do the same?
vPhrase makes processes smoother and increases efficiencies, without sacrificing the human element. This is a key aim of new technology at Barclays.
Ambitious FinTech disruptor
The Barclays India Finance team, through the Rise Mumbai ecosystem, partnered with vPhrase to support the development of Phrazor, an automated report generation technology.
Neerav Parekh, who founded vPhrase in 2015, explains the problem he was out to solve: “During the time I spent first at Citibank and then running my own marketing agency, I found teams spent ages creating reports, factchecking and rewriting. Then clients, on receiving the reports, took time and expended lots of effort interpreting them.
“Give the same data to three equally qualified and experienced people and you’ll get three interpretations and three different summaries of the information.”
His Eureka moment came when he realised he could develop a system to automate report writing.
He created Phrazor, an AI platform that trawls through complex data, identifying key points and describing them in straightforward language using simple words.
The outcome: an automated narrative-based report generated at a scale and speed beyond the capabilities of humans working alone.
“Using machine learning and natural language generation, Phrazor turns charts and tables into language that can quickly be understood by humans,” says Neerav. “It helps avoid different, potentially conflicting analyses.”
Artificial intelligence: real-life savings
A Barclays-led global pilot of 45 real-time reports was hugely successful, demonstrating that Phrazor worked 90% faster than the existing process, and saving 264 employee hours.
In large organisations, where whole teams of analysts are employed to write reports and analyse data, the potential savings are obvious.
For the Barclays India Finance team, the vPhrase pilot was a critical first step in establishing a sound business case of the benefits and efficiencies that an innovative natural language generation tool could bring to the table.
It laid the foundation for deeper interrogation and exploration of business tools and technologies that could transform the way financial reporting is done.
Phrazor links up seamlessly to most of the common reporting and dashboard systems to produce easy to read tables and charts from the data. It can be stored on business premises or in the cloud, be kept private or made public.
“We’re offering clients a really simple, self-service application,” says Neerav. “There’s no need for complex administrative tasks. Users simply log on with a user name and password and are able to start generating reports.”
Phrazor encourages report writers to clean up the data first, using user-friendly search-and-replace functions to make reports consistent.
But the human element is not lost. “It enables a dialogue between the writer and the report,” explains Neerav. “The tech we use is natural language processing, a chatbot if you like. You can ask the system questions like, ‘Why did my profits decrease last month?’ And be readily given a crisp answer.
“You can also ask broader questions such as ‘What’s this company like’ and be provided with natural-sounding insights
“Reports can be personalised if they need to be distributed to many individuals. For instance, branch managers might need to know only certain statistics. Phrazor supports this by allowing smaller reports to be honed down from larger ones.”
vPhrase, Rise and the Barclays India Finance team
Rise helps Barclays teams to accelerate their innovation journey and solve business problems by introducing them to the latest technological innovations, and enabling them to take the first step towards testing these cutting edge technologies.
The Barclays India Internal Reporting Finance Transaction Cycles team was keen to explore emerging technologies and new tools to bring in process efficiencies and reduce manual efforts, improving automation and service levels.
“Working with vPhrase, and the Rise Mumbai team, was an incredibly energising and rewarding experience for us,” says Kam Patel, Global Head of Internal Reporting, who led the project.
“The engagement was frequent and informal, which allowed us to be more creative in our brainstorming and vPhrase were great partners in being able to understand our requirements and showcase their capabilities.
“The drive across both teams meant we were able to turnaround outputs and proof-of-concepts in a much faster timeframe than we are used to, demonstrating the power and speed of engaging with Rise”.
Neerav also found the experience hugely rewarding: “Working with one of the largest banks in the world turned out to be nothing as we expected. We found the team to be extremely responsive, accommodating and helpful. We saw keenness to try out new technologies. We were very well supported throughout the engagement and are proud to have signed up Barclays Bank as a client.”
Coping through COVID-19
Before lockdown, teams would gather in physical conference rooms to discuss and interpret analyses in reports.
This has become difficult in a virtual environment. The value of a product that bridges this particular communication gap and adds simpler, quicker standardisation to interpretations is being recognised.
As a result of regulations across many territories, the company is seeing increased interest in Phrazor. Now, Phrazor is being used in various sectors ranging from financial services to media and pharmaceuticals.
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