What has been happening in recent years and what the future holds for us
The biggest changes we’re witnessing are in the areas of:
- Workforce + AI – a hybrid model
- AI in Cybersecurity – limiting human errors
- AI-driven vehicles – increasing the comfort of travel
- AI in creative industries – creating more ideas
- Ethics in AI
It seems like we can’t imagine a sector anymore where you won’t gain huge benefits from using AI.
Yet again, we lack the bigger picture directly from the trenches, especially from industry leaders
We’ve been talking about investments, new tools, technologies, and breakthroughs while keeping the focus away from important questions.
Like, how’s the AI field, in general, going to look like in years to come? What has led to progress in certain directions, while bringing stagnation in others? And more importantly – why is that so?
To fill out that gap, we invited the CEO of SmartCat, Nenad Bozic, who has been known in the industry as an information powerhouse, to an interview.
SmartCat is a Brain-Powered AI Company from Novi Sad that has been growing rapidly in the past 2 years. As their profiles state, they empower decision-makers around the globe to make a difference with their data.
By keeping three crucial departments under the same roof – Data Science, Data Engineering and DevOps, they’ve gathered a whole spectrum of valuable insights.
Today, we’re going to share those with you, in hopes to inspire more conceptual discussions in the AI industry.
Hi, Nenad, thanks for accepting the invitation to the interview!
“Thank you for having me! I always enjoy sharing personal insights whenever possible. I believe we all should do it, especially in an industry as dynamic as ours.”
What are the most important things that happened in the industry in the last year or two?
“SmartCat has been in the Data and AI industry for many years now and we’ve seen many changes. I’d put the emphasis on 3 crucial ones.
First of all, we have a shift from RnD to heavy adaptation, especially in the machine automation sector. The pandemic made it clear that repetitive tasks need to be automated in order to save time, money, and other resources.
Second, most companies now understand that digitalization and data-driven decision-making give you a decisive edge on the market. The pandemic hastened this change of mindset.
And third – these two massive changes cause ethical and workforce concerns.
Which jobs will be automated? What will happen to many professions? What about the people who are doing repetitive jobs? How will we regulate machines and AI?
These are exciting times, and we need to tackle not just business but societal challenges along with this shift toward the digital future.”
Where have you seen opportunities and how have you responded to them?
“We see opportunities all over the place. (laughing)
Everywhere where you can use data to smartly improve people’s lives, there’s a chance for an AI company to step in and make something.
Generally speaking, your solutions should address the biggest pains on the market – those gaps that no one is filling. That’s how you gain an advantage. Since the AI industry is so dynamic (and young), there’s a huge demand and low supply.
For example, we’ve been working a lot in PropTech and energy management sectors.
We developed strong PropTech expertise by working closely with clients from the sensing/smart building sector, wifi sensing and analytics, analytics of buildings using computer vision and security cameras to energy grid optimization in buildings with multiple energy sources.
As to the energy sector, our flagship solution, Optimus Power, aims to monitor and control energy appliances to lower CO2 emissions.
Investment in this solution opened up many interesting doors for us and we are talking with a lot of possible partners.”
AI is definitely growing fast as an industry. What are the benefits of that and what are possible challenges?
“The most obvious benefit is that AI is interesting, even intriguing thanks to the possibilities it creates. Creativity + AI… And you get movie-like inventions.
The biggest challenge is the fact that we still operate in a not that carefully crafted process.
We are all still in the RnD spectrum; expectation management is an additional challenge, deciding which problem to solve is not so obvious, etc.
As a new and hot topic field, not everyone has the same understanding of important things. Even semantics is a mess. For example, the difference between AI and ML – 90% of people use it interchangeably.
We have to work more on the general education of the public. There’s a huge knowledge gap.”
What are the predictions in the AI industry for the next year and how SmartCat will respond to them?
“AI will become more mature and stable technology. The industry will stabilize. That will enable engineers to focus more on the job to be done, less on experimenting. In 2022, we’ll all see more solutions and fewer questions.
And then ethics. That’s a huge topic currently in the AI world. We’ll have to take seriously all the benefits and challenges of the technology we are developing.
Apart from that, I’d expect to see companies narrowing down the focus, so we could better understand the industries we work in.
Combining industry expertise with strong tech makes the biggest impact. It’s ok not to be a jack of all trades. Strive to be highly competitive in fewer areas. Now, it’s not so tough to pick your sweet spot. Do it before anyone else.
In terms of working relationships, we will all need to grow so we could keep delivering the best solutions to our clients. The bar always gets higher.
Use the data and brain to drive your growth and navigate your actions. That’s SmartCat’s way of doing business and we’ve had a lot of success by doing so.”
What is the message that you want to send to all young programmers who are paving their career path? What are the key personal characteristics to be successful in this industry?
“This might come as a shock to many young people but… Whatever you think is technically viable today – might not be a year from now.
Learn tech skills but pay attention to non-technical skills as well because those are the ones that will make you stand out. By that, I mean empathy, communication, organizational skills, self-management, emotional literacy…
Companies like ours hire people first.”
Are you proud of the achievements of your company in the last year?
Yes, COVID has put a lot of stress on many businesses. When you find yourself in a situation like that, you have to be agile, smart, and perseverant.
But the last two years were the best years for SmartCat.
Numbers are going up in every segment of our company. We doubled the team, grew in profits and revenue in double digits.
We entered new industries with our solutions and strengthened our position in betting, marketing, green and proptech industries while developing new skills and sharing the knowledge with our community.
But it’s not just about numbers. It’s about the impact we are creating as a company. The most important challenge for me as a co-founder and a CEO was to continue leading smart growth.
We see people coming and staying at SmartCat: our clients, partners, and what makes me the proudest – our people.”
What are the next year’s plans for SmartCat?
“It’s definitely the execution of our trifold strategy.
Industry selection – Industry expertise – Industry mastery.
It’s a step-by-step path that will smartly bring us to the biggest goal we have – to make a difference with data.
As I’ve said earlier, by narrowing down the focus and better understanding certain verticals – we are in a good position to use both our technical expertise and domain expertise… Which improves our chances to make a real impact, position ourselves on the market as experts and get huge gains.
And for me personally… Learning new things is always giving me goosebumps and industry selection is giving me a chance to research a completely new industry.”
What kind of cooperation with clients do you wish for next year?
“I wish to continue working with clients who believe in us and who are ready to innovate.
We’ll keep the practice of rigidly selecting who to work with since bad cooperation is hard for everyone in my company. (thus, industry selection as a strategic goal!)
I want my people to feel good, to create meaningful things, and to keep the smiles on their faces. No money can match that.”
What are your NY resolutions (and suggestions for other companies)?
“Delegate more, and surround yourself with a team of bright people, so you’ll have time to learn and read.
That will make your next year even smarter. Becoming smarter year after year, step by step, is the only way to reach the smartest year of your career.
It’s a journey. Make it unforgettable and a journey worth living and working for.”
Thank you, Nenad, for sharing your thoughts with us. We’re sure that’ll help both people inside and outside of the AI industry to get a firm grasp on what’s currently happening and what awaits us, as well as how to continue building a smart and successful company.
If you liked the article, feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues on social media, secret Slack channels, in emails… And stay tuned for more news from the industry leaders!