“If you have an idea that will add value to people’s lives, it’s worth taking the leap to follow through.” with Tara Kelly and Tyler Gallagher

Believe in yourself. If you can identify a real problem to be solved, solve it! If you have an idea that will add value to people’s lives, it’s worth taking the leap to follow through. And last but not least, surround yourself with people that inspire and support you.

I had the pleasure to interview Tara Kelly. A serial innovator, published author and founder of SPLICE Software, Tara (@tktechnow) is passionate about technology’s potential to change lives for the better. She has channeled that belief into developing technologies that enhance operations, enable better service delivery and improve the customer experience. This has led to the creation of 3 customer experience companies and turning an innovative idea into a patented, proprietary technology (US Patent Number 9348812) that harnesses data streams to create personalized, automated messages. The technology solution was included in Gartner’s “Cool Vendors in Insurance, 2016” report and Forrester’s “IoT and Analytics Startups Can Turn Insurers into the ‘Good Guys’” brief. Kelly — an open source activist and recognized user experience designer — served as a board member for the International Board for Voice User Interface Design, the Canadian Cloud Council, Technology Alberta and is a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization. Kelly’s expertise combined with tenacity, understanding of market trends, and strong communication skills has allowed her to create dynamic solutions and successful teams; not only in her businesses, but also as a community leader on volunteer boards including Food for the Sol, EO Water Walk, and Special Olympics Ontario.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

I wrote my first code at 9 years old and opened my first business in 1997 at 20 years old, with a six-figure loan from a top-five bank. I’ve been at it ever since — founding three successful customer experience companies along the way. SPLICE originated in 2006 after a poor phone interaction with a company that had a lot of data on me, yet the call was robotic and impersonal. They kept asking for the same information they already knew. I identified an opportunity to add value to people’s lives through AI and data-driven communications, and SPLICE Software was born! Today, SPLICE works primarily with insurance, financial services, healthcare, and retail clients to deliver personalized messages via their customers’ channels of choice, including phone, SMS and virtual assistants.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Believe in yourself. If you can identify a real problem to be solved, solve it! If you have an idea that will add value to people’s lives, it’s worth taking the leap to follow through. And last but not least, surround yourself with people that inspire and support you.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

SynthIA™! SynthIA, which is short for Synthesized Intelligent Audio, is a workflow automation and content management platform. Developed to provide an integrated system for creating and deploying human voice-based audio across channels, SynthIA is a licensable platform that allows users to add audio production value for their clients and end-customers. Currently in beta-testing, SynthIA is already an award-winner (Gold for Innovation in Technology, 2018 Golden Bridge Awards) — and we’re excited to see what’s next for SynthIA in 2019!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is such a great question. There are so, so many. When SPLICE hit our first $1 million in sales, I held a big thank you party at a swanky club in town for everyone who had been a part of the journey. We had a seated dinner and I brought up their picture and their names one-by-one. I told a quick story of a time when they were there for me, and I explained how I had no idea how I would’ve made it if they wouldn’t have taken the time to help me. We had over 50 people there that night plus my staff. I’d love to choose one story and share it with you, but I can’t. It’s because every one of those people are like pieces of the puzzle that make up the mosaic that is me. When people give you their time, knowledge, expertise or even a shoulder to lean on, a little piece of them becomes a part a you. I still have the PowerPoint from that night. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I think “thank you parties” are pretty much the best party you can throw.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

1. More and more of our routine, mundane tasks are being offloaded to AI, making our day-to-day efforts both more strategic and more impactful. This is hugely beneficial to everyone, but especially to entrepreneurs and small business owners, who already have more on their plate than can be done by one person.

2. The improved safety that we can see on the horizon on everything from our food systems, to our highways, to our medicine. AI can look at numerous factors simultaneously and quickly respond, much faster than a human can. AI can direct and guide a human to ensure he or she isn’t missing anything, ultimately making us all safer.

3. Improvements in sustainability on things like our infrastructure and farming. More complex weather models, and urban planning forecasts will help us optimize our limited resources and devote budgets where they need to go.

4. Back on the medical front, there are huge opportunities for AI to help advance medical care, research, disease prevention and management — everything from advanced mapping of proteins, to models for developing vaccines, even gene therapy. There is an amazing opportunity for AI to make all of us healthier and happier.

5. AI will drive huge leaps in customer experience, everything from personalized interactions in-store, to data security, to delivering a seamless omni-channel experience that can make customers feel both more valued and secure.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

1. The impact of AI on jobs, especially for women. A lot of the tasks I mentioned above that are routine or mundane are done by roles currently held by women, and we need to make sure that those people are transitioned into more strategic roles and not just replaced by AI.

2. There is a lack of people who can interpret the AI properly. Data is only valuable if it’s interpreted the right way, and we need mathematicians and statisticians skilled enough to understand that data and make it actionable.

3. AI of today is learning from humans and we are shaping how that will evolve into the AI of tomorrow. This is something we don’t talk about, but as we interact with more and more AI every day, we need to ask ourselves, “Are we being good role models?”

4. Consumers are responsible for their privacy and consent. We’re seeing this a lot with social media right now. Consumers are accepting privacy policies without reading them or understanding what will be done with their data. Nothing is free, and if you’re not paying for a service, then you have to understand that it is making money in some way. Acting shocked that Facebook was targeting ads at you is irresponsible. If you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.

5. Tying into #4, there’s a chance of backlash against AI in general based the actions of a few companies acting in bad faith or a small number of instances when it fails. Autonomous vehicles are a great example — there have been a few incidents where the AI has flaws that became apparent, but we shouldn’t give up on that technology as a result. We need to make sure those stories aren’t blown out of proportion for media clickbait purposes, and drive consumers to reject technologies that can make things better.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

It’s an interesting discussion, and we’re closer than ever to it being a valid concern. I agree there’s a huge onus on developers to ensure that our AI remains benevolent. But I also think we need to consider what we’re modeling for our AI. Again, are we being good role models? I have friends who talk to Alexa and Cortana in ways they would never talk to their children or employees. If those systems are constantly learning and growing, what are we teaching them? Obviously, I don’t think that Alexa or Google Assistant are going to revolt because we don’t say “please” and “thank you,” but I definitely think our AI is less likely to become a threat if we treat it the same way we would treat a human doing the same task.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

We’re in the stage now where we are establishing patterns for how we engage with and treat AI, and modeling that to the next generation as well. I’d encourage people to think about how they’re treating AI, especially in front of their children. There are no downsides here — saying “please” and “thank you” to Alexa or Siri costs nothing, and it reinforces good manners with our children. As a bonus, maybe the robots won’t hurt us if and when they become sentient.
 
 We need to bookend it. On one end we need to celebrate the wins as loud and proud as we can, and on the other end we need more children exposed to and interested in the STEM disciplines. This is probably the best way to keep the public reassured about the threats. Understanding and familiarity will ensure that people know AI isn’t on the Terminator track, and that the benefits far outweigh the (probably overstated) risks.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I make it a priority to show up authentically, to keep my eyes wide open, and believe it can be better; and then do something! Big or small, just do something. Do it locally and do it globally. I co-chair Water Walk, which provides access to clean drinking water for villages in Africa, and I co-founded Food for Sol, which provides locally-grown produce to low income-families. The SPLICE team spends time each quarter giving back locally, with organizations like the Mustard Seed and GROW Calgary. It brings the team together to get out of the day-to-day and connect on a human level.

I guess I’m saying we do a lot, but when you said goodness, that makes me think of one story in particular. I volunteer and mentor regularly, and I try to be accessible. I got a call one night from a younger woman who is also in tech that I met through the STEM community. We hadn’t spent too much time together. She called with what would be best described as a #MeToo story. It was ugly, it was tough. The fact that I was the person she felt safe to call, to share with, and to ask for my support and advice meant everything to me. She decided to trust me in her process. Somehow, in a short amount of time I knew she saw me and saw that I was accessible. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I laugh, I cry, I fight and I live as authentically as I know how to. If you know me, chances are darn good that you really know me. I give a shit and I will never turn a blind eye.

9. As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

1. Earn a place at the table. I think it’s important for women in the AI space not to lose traction by focusing solely on equality, or a lack thereof. Focus on being awesome and changing the world and let the results speak for themselves. Show up and be so damn good that your gender is not the topic.

2. Believe it can be better. This is both a core value at SPLICE, and a personal philosophy of mine. If something is awesome, don’t just stop there — think how much more awesome it could be. It helps to look at things from an outside perspective.

3. Network, network, network. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish by building a network and connecting with others. Have the ability to say two or three sentences about every person you have on LinkedIn. Make sure all your networks — social or otherwise — and relationships are as authentic and meaningful as possible.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

I believe strongly in mentorship. With over 20 years in the business, I’ve realized I have a lot to teach and share, and I leverage these experiences in several mentorship capacities in the tech space.

I provide my team with unlimited opportunity to grow in the AI space — be it professional development, networking, etc. The gender split at SPLICE is 50/50, and the bulk of our management team is female. While it’s essential to give women the chance to be heard, this is as much up to the men in the room — particularly at the leadership table. Empowering women in AI doesn’t mean disempowered anyone else.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

Be real, follow you heart and create value. Actually solve a problem. Be bold; chances are that if it doesn’t make sense to you, no one else will get it either. Tell a story people can connect with. Be a Dr. Seuss of data!

My favorite quote from someone else: “People will forget what you say, they will forget what you do, but they will never forget how your made them feel.”

The origin story of SPLICE is a good example of this: I saw a real problem that needed solving. Companies do nothing for their customers — or themselves — by delivering cold, robotic messaging. In fact, it’s damaging. Delivering value is the core tenet of customer experience, and how you communicate is key to delivering value.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Play 1x3 — one person, one cause and one habit change.

1. Help one person rise: to a new position, to entrance into a program, acceptance into a school, a team, whatever. When you’re done, do it again.

2. Let a cause or issue choose you. Let your heart commit before your mind can even catch up. Stay dialed into the world around you, find something you believe in and move the needle. A little, a lot — it doesn’t matter. Just make it move.

3. Look at your life, pick one thing you want to start or one thing you want to stop. Then do it every day for 30 days. Chances are it will stick.

1x3 — Dare you to try it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

· Facebook @SpliceSoftware
 Twitter @tktechnow
Instagram @tara.kelly77
 LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/tara-kelly/