We talked to Ricardo Herranz, founder and, CEO at Nommon, about the future of artificial intelligence and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ricardo Herranz: Fortunately, we are all good. We can’t see each other as much as we’d like to, but technology is allowing us to keep in touch with friends and family. The important thing now is to stay safe and healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Nommon.
Ricardo Herranz: I founded Nommon along with Manuel Álvarez in 2012. We met at the University while studying Industrial Engineering together in Madrid. We both had long professional careers in technological innovation projects when we decided to start Nommon to explore the opportunities offered by digital transformation and look at how technologies like artificial intelligence and big data could help face challenges such as sustainable mobility. In 2015, Luis (Pilo) Willumsen, a very well-known professional in the field of transport planning and modeling, joined Nommon as a third shareholder. We are very proud of the work we have done so far. Since the very beginning, Nommon has financed its growth entirely with its own resources and we have focused on developing a sustainable and resilient business model. During the last 12 months, we have grown from a 15 people team to 40 employees distributed in 4 different countries: Spain, UK, Brazil, and Colombia. To date, the company reinvests 100% of its profits in the continuous improvement of its products and services and in the development of new international markets.
How does Nommon innovate?
Ricardo Herranz: Nommon is a technology company and as such, we value knowledge and innovation as our main source of competitiveness. Since the creation of the company, we have put significant effort into R&D activities and have developed a wide network of research partners, including world-leading universities and research centers as well as other research-intensive companies. This intensive R&D activity is at the heart of our solution portfolio. We develop decision support tools based on big data analysis and artificial intelligence to assist our clients in making better-informed decisions in these uncertain and changing times. We have organized Nommon in four business units:
- Mobility Analytics, which specializes in the analysis of anonymized geolocation data from mobile devices to provide meaningful and actionable information about people’s activity and mobility patterns.
- Transport & Mobility, which develops decision support tools for the transportation sector, with a particular focus on emerging mobility concepts and technologies.
- Aviation, which provides data analytics services, predictive modeling, and decision support tools for the planning and management of airports, airlines, and air traffic management systems.
- Analytics Accelerator, which consists of a team of data scientists that develop solutions for other markets such as smart cities & urban planning, retail & geo-marketing, logistics & supply chain, energy & environment, and more generally in any domain where geospatial data plays a relevant role.
Big data and artificial intelligence have a crucial role in shaping the future of these industries. This is a vibrant field of research, and innovation is a must for any company working in this area.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Ricardo Herranz: The coronavirus pandemic has had dramatic health and economic consequences and has brought an uncertain future. However, for Nommon it has also brought a positive collateral effect: the pandemic has highlighted how quickly the sectors we work for change and the value of updated information and predictive models that allow our clients to navigate such an uncertain future. This has opened new opportunities for us. The most relevant one is probably the project we are developing for the Spanish Ministry of Transport since the beginning of the pandemic. The purpose of this project is to analyze mobility patterns at the national, provincial, and local levels, in order to monitor the effectiveness of the mobility restriction measures and support decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Transport is publishing the results daily as open data, so many other organizations have used the information, for instance, the Carlos III Health Institute used the data we produced in an analysis of the COVID-19 diffusion factors in Spain, and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center made the COVID-19 flow maps, a geographic tool that shows the risk of spread of coronavirus. The mobility analytics industry is at the core of many studies and policy assessment processes during the pandemic and Nommon is playing a prominent role in this field.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Ricardo Herranz: We didn’t have to; in fact, we have been actively recruiting throughout the year. In 2020 we hired nine new employees, and we have kicked off 2021 with five more, two of them based in Colombia, where we have recently opened a new office. Right now, we have several open vacancies, mainly to expand our Technology and Software Engineering team. We expect to have around 45 people on staff by mid-year. This rapid growth has been very stimulating but also challenging, not only because we had to adapt our hiring and onboarding processes to make them fully online, but also because our teams had to put in an extra effort to keep efficient communication flows and maintain the sense of community. We are extremely proud of all of them. We have a fantastic team that has done— and continues doing— an amazing job.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Ricardo Herranz: It has been challenging since we sell a complex, highly sophisticated product, which made us reflect on two particular issues: first, how to display our experience and credibility in an efficient online manner, and second, how to gain the client’s trust without face-to-face meetings. These considerations made us explore new platforms and communication channels, like webinars, that we had not used so much before. They proved to be very useful for us and we were able to effectively reach different audiences and explore new markets in countries like Colombia and Brazil. This would have been much more expensive if we had settled for our traditional way of doing business.
Before the pandemic, we already used different collaborative tools, such as our corporate wiki, which we use to collaborate both internally and with many different international research partners, but during this time we have made more intensive use of these tools and learned to use them more efficiently.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Ricardo Herranz: We did not benefit from any COVID-related grant. We have a healthy financial situation and the sector we work in is not so directly affected as other industries, so even if some help would have been welcome, we understand that other sectors had to be prioritized.
Your final thoughts?
Ricardo Herranz: 2020 left us with mixed feelings. It has been a very sad and difficult period for many people around the world, and we really need 2021 to be a better year for all. At the same time, the Nommon team and our closer environment were lucky to stay healthy, and the company has experienced an incredible development of which we are very proud. The mobility industry has occupied a pivotal role during the crisis and this has helped us make a huge leap ahead in our technology and launch some of our most ambitious projects to date. We can only hope that 2021 brings the end of the pandemic and that we recover higher levels of face-to-face personal interaction, which we all at Nommon begin to miss by now.
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