Ramco Systems’ Virender Aggarwal on how AI, ML will drive returns for its customers

Ramco Systems’ Virender Aggarwal on how AI, ML will drive returns for its customers
Virender Aggarwal
10 Jan, 2019

Chennai-based enterprise software services provider Ramco Systems is on a drive to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in its offerings to make solutions smarter.

Part of the $1-billion diversified conglomerate Ramco Group, Ramco Systems started out nearly three decades ago as the group’s research and development division that was spun out as an independent company in 1997. The Bombay Stock Exchange-listed company operates across 24 offices globally and employs more than 1600 people.

In an interview with TechCircle, chief executive Virender Aggarwal spoke about why he believes that the demand for AI and ML-led solutions will explode in the next six months and will sound the death knell for companies focused on robotic process automation (RPA) and business process outsourcing (BPO) firms. Edited excerpts:

What are Ramco Systems’ major focus areas of business?

We focus on three categories of business -- HCM (human capital management), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO).

While our HCM solutions focus on core human resource functions including payroll, our ERP solutions are targeted towards the logistics and the services industry. We do so because we identified that these industry verticals are a better fit for us compared to the big boys such as SAP, Oracle and Workday.

On the aviation front, we are focused on helping MRO-based transactions or functions.

What core efficiencies or tools do you offer in each of these business verticals?

Our approach to all three verticals has been the same, to integrate more ML and AI into our solutions which are mainly driven by chatbots or voicebots so that customers can get maximum returns on their investment.

The point of difference would be the use cases in each vertical. We dub it the ‘zero UI concept’ or frictionless computing. To simplify the concept, our customers don’t need screens separately to get work done. The AI and ML-led solutions explosion will sound the death knell for RPA and BPO-led companies.

Which is the fastest growing vertical among the three and what percentage of revenue comes from India and other markets?

HCM is the fastest growing vertical for us and has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of over 40%. It also accounts for somewhere between 40 and 50% of our revenue. Most of our revenue, almost 80%, comes from outside India and the remaining from inside the country.

How do you integrate frictionless computing into HCM solutions?

Frictionless computing means that a customer’s user doesn’t need extra screens or a dashboard to complete operations, core to HR functions in the case of HCM. We use three kinds of bots for enablement of functions via platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Slack among others. The bots, namely employee service bots, policy bots and support bots, can offer text as well as voice-based interactions with the ability to sometimes work offline too. Our bots are also integrated with facial recognition technology for which we either use Microsoft Face API or HyperVerge, depending on the needs of the customer.

Could you share some examples?

Let’s assume that a customer is running the entire gamut of Ramco’s HCM offerings. Some core HR functions include applying for leave, checking leave balance, queries about company policies, booking tickets, etc. Most of these functions can be taken care of by employee self-service bots wherein the employee just asks the question and gets an answer. We have automated many of those processes. For example, if the bot knows that an employee often travels from Chennai to Mumbai, then it is not going to ask the employee for details but will show the best possible options to a command such as ‘Book a ticket’ either on voice or via text.

The policy bots are specifically used by employees to get answers to questions instead of reading a company’s policy manual. The support bot, which we are still working on but has been deployed, can take care of complex queries such as how tax is calculated or how salary is computed.

In another example, through our facial recognition technology, a camera detects an employee’s face at the office door, marks him or her present and opens the Internet of Things-enabled door and the does the same when the employee is leaving the building. Employees don’t need to sign in.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Let’s suppose that I am in the habit of coming to office everyday between 9 am to 10 am. If I am late on a particular day, one of the bots sends me a message asking me whether I would be able to make it in today (would say that I am missing you at work). If I say ‘no’, then the bot asks me if I want to apply for leave or ‘work from home’, then shows me my leave balance and applies for my leave on its own!

How are you building AI and ML into your ERP and aviation solutions?

We are more focused on the logistics and services business. We offer ERP solutions such as warehouse and fleet management. Instead of a customer searching for queries and checking for specific things at the operational level, our ML-led solution works proactively, ergo we call it proactive ERP. With this product, the customer no longer has to wait or search for anomalies in operations but the ERP solution itself will flag them making the customer more efficient in return.

In the aviation business, we are looking at MROs. What our solution does differently is to understand what kind of helicopter or aircraft is being used. It automatically reads the build of the aircraft and lists the five most commonly reported maintenance issues with that particular model and lines them up in a decreasing order of importance.

We have complete dominance in the helicopter market with seven out of ten helicopter operators using Ramco Systems. In the airlines segment, we have customers such as Indian Airlines and GoAir.

How are you building these AI and ML capabilities, especially natural language processing, and how many languages do you support?

We are building all our capabilities in-house. We have a 50-member R&D team that is focusing all its energies on AI and ML for now in order to create a new platform. For this platform, we use python libraries to run three to four algorithms which get the basic functions done. Examples of the algorithms would include isolation and auto-fill algorithms. While the isolation algorithm detects anomalies, the auto-fill algorithm fills information such as merchant code, item code, etc. for many of our customers, especially in the ERP vertical.

In terms of our NLP engine, we use Microsoft Luis Framework to develop contextualization for bots so that they can understand commands. The Luis Framework supports many languages including English, French (Canadian too), German, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese (Brazilian), Korean, Chinese and Turkish.

Which industries have deployed Ramco Systems’ products and how do they impact customer efficiency?

In almost every industry segment, at least one of the Top 10 Fortune companies trusts Ramco HCM. A leading construction, property and infrastructure group in Australia has deployed our solution to streamline operations for 11,000 employees across Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. A European banking and financial services giant is also using our solution to consolidate HR and payroll operations across 14 countries in Asia and the Middle East, covering over 8,500 employees.

More than 30,000 employees across eight client organisations across the Philippines, Australia and Singapore are live on Ramco CHIA (Ramco’s transactional chatbot) and over 1,700 employees of Ramco Systems itself use the transactional bot to carry out functions such as leave, travel, reimbursements and timesheet booking. The support bot has just been deployed at Ramco and is live in our Philippines and Singapore offices. It will go live at our other global offices as well and will be extended to clients too shortly.

Our most lucrative offering is the multi-country payroll with ESS and the time and attendance space. We cover payroll compliance for over 45 countries – east of Turkey we cover all – we have customers in Japan, China, East Timor, Australia, New Zealand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Kazakhstan.

Another focus area for us is third-party logistics. We also integrate with Workday HR to connect our payroll services. We are live for one client in India (40,000 employees), the Middle East (over 1,000 employees) and have ongoing implementations with over 10  clients, some of which have headcounts as large as 20,000 employees in Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Cyprus, and one in Sydney.

In terms of efficiency, the usage of our solutions can easily ensure a 30-40% rise in productivity as these solutions save time. For example, an Australian company where we are executing our solution, eight full-time resource people are responsible for keying in codes (account, cost centre or profit centre codes). If AI and ML are implemented, these resources can be channelised to do much more critical business transactions.

Tell us more about your blockchain and augmented reality-led solutions.

We have been experimenting with blockchain and AR in the ERP and HCM space. But we have now directed our energies more towards AI and ML. We will resume work on these technologies after six months.