If harnessing the power of AI has been shown to improve decision-making, resiliency, and the costs of running a business, then perhaps WatrHub Inc. is practicing what it preaches to its clients. The Toronto-based company has gained momentum in the past year, upgrading to a larger office in Liberty Village to accommodate its growing staff, and expanding its customer base to include water industry leaders such as SUEZ, Evoqua Water Technologies, MUELLER, and Xylem. Needless to say, the company is quickly gaining attention as one of Canada’s key tech firms supporting the global shift into a new digital water era.
According to Ahmed Badruddin, CEO, the company is currently exploring new markets and new data sets. “We’ve now amassed the largest public data warehouse in the water industry,” he says. “Our archive contains over half a billion public documents and web pages that are specifically related to the water infrastructure market.”
Targeting the industrial market
Focusing almost exclusively on the U.S. municipal market last year was a deliberate move. “Due to the massive amount of data available, you need to set scalable milestones,” Badruddin says. “Even with powerful AI tools and techniques, you can spread yourself too thin without a focused strategy.”
Having this treasure trove of data has made WatrHub confident about going beyond municipal water into the industrial space. “The industrial market was always in our sights, but we needed to align our resources and prove our solution,” he says. “This will be one our growth markets for 2019 and onwards.”
Why “rolling up your sleeves” is not antithesis to AI
Badruddin cites traditional client engagement as the complementary piece to the AI-data mining component.
“One of the key challenges in our field is that data can be very nebulous,” he says. “Many data companies focus on collecting data and presenting it with dashboards; however, the additional step of turning that data into actionable insights and solving a specific problem is really what clients ultimately require.”
“While computer-assisted algorithms may do most of the heavy lifting, you still need to roll up your sleeves and help clients remove barriers,” Badruddin says. “This mean helping the client identify specific problems they are having, as well as helping them integrate the data into their workflows and business processes.”
As a result, many of WatrHub’s clients have been able to gain access to new water utility customers much faster. “We have been able to show that they can increase their sales pipeline conversion by 300 percent and increase market visibility by 233 percent,” he says. “This outcome was achieved, in part by working with the clients directly, focusing on client success, and having a very targeted set of customers.”
Filling in the gaps with actionable insight reports
This groundwork informed a lot of the tweaks that WatrHub has made to its business model to encourage future growth.
“One of the most important lessons learned from an AI-company perspective is that the advanced technologies on the data side need to be balanced out by the same amount of focus on the customer business processes to create a full picture,” Badruddin says.
“On the one hand, data mining identified not only new customers, but also the optimal time to make contact,” he says. “Even more impressive is that the unearthed insights provided specific talking points that enabled our clients to in turn have more engaging conversations with their end customers. This meant faster relationship-building, and less field work required to canvas new potential water utility clients.”
To relay this actionable insights, WatrHub typically delivers custom curated reports on a one-time basis, or a regular subscription service. “We quickly realized that each company in the water industry is very nuanced and unique,” Badruddin says. “As a result, we do custom reports and data sets that are specifically tailored to our clients so that they transform insights into sales opportunities.”
In early 2019, WatrHub released a geo-focused Client Data Viewer that lets clients visually understand their insights and opportunities.
Clearing up misconceptions about AI
At this point, Badruddin and his team have gained plenty of insights about AI itself, and are happy to dispel any misconceptions.
“In the race to commercialize AI, one of the key yet perhaps understated ingredients to succeeding is a multidisciplinary team that can work together on a customer problem,” he says. “These data technologies are just one part of the process. You need a team that can see the full picture, yet isolate the customer problem that needs to be solved.”
Similarly, AI will not replacing subject matter experts anytime soon. “Disruptive companies are typically run by experts who know their niche market really well, but who obviously lack AI skills,” Badruddin says. “There is the common misconception that AI displaces these experts, which simply is not true because AI does not have that kind of deep domain expertise. Rather, we figure out how to work with these leaders to leverage their expertise, and co-design the AI to make it even better than before.
“This dialectic is critical because if the algorithms are not close to one hundred percent accurate, then it gets discredited very quickly,” he says. “Instead, we work to both utilize the expert’s knowledge as well as educate them about how AI works. We then work together to co-leverage AI to solve the company’s pressing issues.”
“The amount of data that is available right now is exploding,” Badruddin says. “The companies that figure out how to use the data to their advantage are going to be the ones that win in the future, and we’re excited to be playing a role in that digital transformation.”
Josh Chong is a communications coordinator at WaterTAP.