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Infosys board: Time for bot with a vote?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 21-08-2017 Leslie D'Monte

N.R. Narayana Murthy says he is raising corporate governance issues at Infosys Ltd. Chief executive Vishal Sikka quits saying he can’t take baseless and personal attacks anymore.

Perhaps it’s time for artificial intelligence (AI) to step in. Software services providers such as Infosys could begin to eat their own digital dog food and consider appointing AI-powered bots on their boards for more objective and data-driven decisions as opposed to emotive responses.

The idea, though a bit radical to imagine, is not entirely new to the corporate world.

On 13 May, 2104, Deep Knowledge Ventures (DKV)—a Hong Kong based venture capital fund focused on companies developing therapies for age-related disease and regenerative medicine—appointed a machine learning program capable of making investment recommendations in the life science sector, to its board of directors.

A machine learning system, an artificial intelligence tool, does not need explicit programming and can teach itself from mountains of data.

Validating Investment Tool for Advancing Life Sciences, or VITAL, uses machine learning to analyze financing trends in databases of life science companies and predict successful investments. Aging Analytics, a UK research agency providing life science market intelligence to pension funds, insurers and governments licensed the machine learning software VITAL to Deep Knowledge Ventures (DKV) on 5 May, 2014.

Citing the reasons for appointing an algorithm to the board, Deep Knowledge Ventures senior partner Dmitry Kaminskiy had, then, explained that since the variables involved in the long-term success of a biotechnology company are “many and complex”, the firm was “attracted to a software tool that could in large part automate due diligence and use historical data-sets to uncover trends that are not immediately obvious to humans surveying top-line data”.

Deep Knowledge Ventures has given VITAL an equal vote on the board. Of course, there are also humans on board who could outvote VITAL.

Even a cursory glance at Infosys’s latest annual report will reveal its sharp focus on AI and automation. According to the 2016-17 annual report, Infosys’ Nia—its “next-gen AI platform” (formerly called ‘Mana’), is “playing a big role in bringing significant automation-led productivity improvements to the company’s delivery efficiencies across service lines”. For example, Nia is helping Infosys automate extraction, classification and resolution of incidents.

“AI and automation are fundamental to the innovation we bring to our clients...,” the annual report says. As a case it point, it cites the example of a “leading CPG (consumer packaged goods) client” that was facing challenges in closing end-of-the-month financial reconciliations on time, “owing to upstream issues in data, IT systems, business processes and synchronization”. It was, then, that Infosys exported all relevant data to Nia, “and continuously analyzed failure points based on 300+ rules in order to alert global finance heads and enable them to take timely action”.

It also states that the “Panaya offering” is another driver of automation in the area of enterprise application testing. The annual report explains that many enterprise application-testing teams still manually support user acceptance testing using Office tools like Microsoft Word and Excel. “To these clients, Panaya offers a significantly more capable, agile and usable alternative to automate verification support for digital projects,” the annual report adds.

Ironically, it is this very $200 million Panaya acquisition that is at the heart of the current impasse at Infosys—the other “distractions” include public disclosure of the investigation report on the whistleblowers’ allegations.

Will it help if an algorithm, like VITAL, is appointed to the board?

Aging Analytics, the company that developed VITAL, explains that due to exponential advancements in computer processing power and state-of-the-art analytics, the process of making investment decisions happens today at high speed. “This (the AI bot, VITAL) allows companies to spend more time on the research that is fundamental to their technology, products and services, rather than on market research,” the company says. The ultimate goal is to “is to create a piece of software that is capable of making autonomous investment decisions through iterative releases and updates.”

By automating the activities of human review, research and decision-making, AI can improve compliance effectiveness and reduce costs without sacrificing operational efficiency. By embedding AI-powered robots, organizations don’t have to modify or replace existing gatekeepers and controls buy, instead, empower humans to make the right decisions--both from a business and compliance point of view.

VITAL has already helped Deep Knowledge Ventures make two major investment decisions in life science companies—Pathway Pharmaceuticals and InSilico Medicine.

Would it have helped if Infosys were to have an AI bot like VITAL on board? The answer is anyone’s guess.

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