We talked to Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk, founder & CEO at Unit8 about the use of big data to provide digital solutions and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: Thank you for asking. Fortunately, everybody is in a good shape and I do hope to keep it this way. I also do hope our little daughter will be able to come back to her normal routines soon. Overall so far, I’m grateful to say that the virus did not affect us beyond what is experienced by millions of families all over the globe.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Unit8.
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: I’m an engineer by education and an entrepreneur at heart. I’ve been working in the domain of analytics & AI for nearly 15 years now. I started my career as a scientist and then worked through various ranks of the corporate world up to leading a data & analytics team of nearly 200 people for a large Swiss telecom provider. Being at the forefront of innovation in a large enterprise helped me realize that there’s a market gap – a limited number of highly specialized companies focusing on data, analytics, and AI services.
In 2017, driven by the mission of helping non-digital native industries become competitive in the digital age, together with Michal, our CTO we decided to create Unit8. We wanted to help the traditional businesses which are the fundaments of our economic leverage the power of data and help them accelerate the adoption of data-driven decision making. Being European, born in Poland, having lived in Spain & France, and having spent the last 10 years in Switzerland – I’ve realized that Switzerland and overall Europe is far behind the US or China with regards to the adoption of AI technologies – I wanted to make our humble contribution to the effort of bringing Europe back on the map of the AI race – ensuring that Swiss and European companies are creating competitive advantages thanks to the impact AI brings.
How does Unit8 innovate?
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: We help the largest global brands turn their data into value. We work for some of the global leaders in the chemical, pharma, banking, insurance, automotive, or watchmaking industries. We enable them and accelerate their journey to harvest the capabilities data science and AI bring.
What does this mean in practice? It turns out that you can create perfumes faster and more efficiently by using AI, you can get a 15% more efficient manufacturing process in pharma thanks to using advanced data analytics, you can improve risk management in the insurance space by modeling climate changes, you can automatically spot fraud transactions in banking using machine learning or you can achieve near-zero time on the ground for aircrafts fleet using data. These are just a few examples of real-life AI implementations out of 50+ cases we have delivered in the last three years. The data revolution is in full swing and we are lucky to be at its forefront.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: We have been very fortunate so far.
If I look at the people aspect – as a digital native organization, we were quickly able to turn on the remote working approach for most of our employees. Obviously, it isn’t the ideal approach as our core values at Unit8 are about collaboration, creativity, and working as a team, but we were able to leverage the digital tools & technologies to compensate that we are not able to meet in person as often as we would like to.
On the business side, we did experience around March 2020 things like our work being put on hold or contract cancelations from the most touched branches of the economy like aviation or automotive. Nevertheless, those have been quickly compensated by our other customers.
We actually believe Covid-19 is acting as an ultimate driving force of digitization, the companies who were lagging behind the digital transformation were pushed to transform fast. The services that we provide often help our clients get efficiency gains, remove costs or find new revenue streams thanks to data-driven products – so paradoxically pandemic gave a strong boost to our business. To illustrate with an example, we’ve increased the size of our team by over 60% last year (and we’re not slowing down). Obviously, the pandemic continues to give us a headache with regards to topics like virtual onboarding of employees, maintaining Unit8 culture, ensuring high morale of the team but we’re finding creative ways to keep the team together (recently we introduced online peer cooking classes, joint yoga sessions or board games competitions).
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: We have been so far spared really painful choices, but a few situations come to mind.
As an example, part of our team was working with very sensitive data and they had to work from customer premises during the most difficult times of the pandemic while the rest of Unit8 was already working from home. This has been a painful moment for us as we decided to expose part of our crew to additional risk (yet we offered to rotate some of the team members out of the project in case they were not fine with the situation).
Luckily nobody got seriously sick, and I’m grateful to the team for this extra effort made to ensure we did not leave our clients and partners alone during these challenging times.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: Unit8 is a digitally native company, so for us, modern communication tools, cloud or online collaboration software has been part of the daily business since inception so in terms of tools not much has changed. Given that the team is also spread around Switzerland – we always had to rely on digital tools to keep the team together.
As mentioned, we’re trying to go the extra mile with the team to make sure we keep human connections in good shape despite the isolation. We also believe in our team’s creativity and we’re trying to unleash and support a lot of ideas the team has – you’d be positively surprised with the ideas a motivated team can come up with 🙂 This being said we all can’t wait until we will be able again to meet all together over a joined meal.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: We typically compete with large IT vendors and top consulting firms. Those companies often have a global scale and breadth of the portfolio but lack focus and they are not digitally native themselves. This puts Unit8 in the pole position – we have high specialization and only one focus – data & AI for non-digital native companies. As the time of pandemic is acting as the driving force of digitization – we’re helping firms either embark on the AI journey or help them accelerate. Unfortunately, we also often compete with the ‘do nothing’ approach, this is, fortunately, less and less visible, but there are still companies who do not see data & AI as a disruptive force and they are not leveraging the impact it can bring. To address this we’re doing our best to educate the market on the benefits of AI via our blog posts, webinars, sharing our experiences, and best practices all the way to open-sourcing some of our products.
Your final thoughts?
Dr. Marcin Pietrzyk: Stay healthy.
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