In the lead to the EdTechX Online Summit, EdTechX spoke with Chibeza Agely, Co-Founder and CEO of OBRIZUM® Group, to discuss the relationship with AI and learning amidst the covid-19 pandemic, building their company and skill development in the workplace.
What drew you to launch Obrizum?
OBRIZUM® Group was founded, and remains, a ‘profit-with-purpose’ enterprise aimed at providing faster and more efficient learning. In 2016 I noticed that conventional methods of learning and training in businesses lagged behind the pace of change, discovery, and innovation. Although it would appear that knowledge, skills and information are much more accessible today than in past years, they are also much more difficult to harness because arranging these epic volumes of information into useful parts is a gargantuan task; moreover, what’s considered useful to one person may not be relevant for another! To myself and my co-founders, who at that time were already entrepreneurs, this disparity cried out for new technology capable of automatically organising information from expert and trusted sources and delivering a more personalised learning experience. We decided that we would take on the challenge and invested into the development of a cloud platform which could bring automation and personalisation of learning tasks to fast moving industries. Our first hire to the business was our ‘Head of Artificial Intelligence and Innovation’ and so machine learning and data science are very much part of our heritage. We chose the name OBRIZUM® which is Latin for ‘fine gold’ because in Roman times the word became synonymous with the concept of ‘assessment’ owing to the way in which gold used to be tested for its purity using fire. Today the company is a provider of outsourced digital learning and development and customer training for large corporates.
Tell us a little more about what Obrizum is trying to solve?
If I needed to sum it all up in just one word, I would say that we are solving the issue of efficiency. There is less and less time available for people to create programmes of learning, and more and more information to be taught. Companies working in fast moving areas often can’t create learning programmes quickly enough to match their skills development needs. In today’s world workers are no longer bringing 10–20 years of institutional knowledge to an organization or role; they are moving between company’s and roles more than ever before. Though this movement can bring fresh insights, onboarding times are longer and the potential for costly knowledge gaps to creep in is greater. Just providing stock training material won’t cut it because everyone has different background knowledge and experience and learns at different rates. All of these inefficiencies mean that businesses are losing money. Given that human capital costs are almost always one of the highest outgoing expenses in any business, not having a highly trained workforce who knows what they are doing can run up a bill into the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
At OBRIZUM® Group, we are heavily focused on bringing new efficiencies and greater agility to the creation, delivery and measurement of online learning. We achieve these new efficiencies by focusing on our three A’s: Automation (automatic creation of new learning programmes), Adaptability (precision personalisation) & Analytics (using data-driven insights to forecast issues and actions). The whole team at OBRIZUM® view everything through the lens of our three A’s. These central pillars are our mantra, our mission, our code and our culture. OBRIZUM® uses its AI to build and organise knowledge at unprecedented speed, fulfilling a role that would previously require weeks to months of manual human effort. After creating programmes of knowledge from both structured and unstructured data OBRIZUM®’s AI can offer easily accessible and precision personalised learning experience which optimise the flow of the available information to great numbers of employees or customers in real-time. As learning proceeds OBRIZUM® is able to analyse the incoming data streams and to decipher trends and relationships, without the need for human oversight. This frees time for learning leaders to focus on strategy, content and taking actions based on the data driven insights. The purpose of all of this is to make, measure, and predict improvements in learning, memory, self-efficacy, engagement, motivation, collaboration, and aptitude.
What are you looking to achieve next?
At present we are focused on expanding our customer base in the major markets we are currently serving which are Europe, U.S. and South Korea. We are also very excited about releasing the next series of platform features which will improve ease-of-use which is almost as important to us as our three A’s! More often than not business software is clunky, expensive, hard to setup and frustrating to use, sometime requiring full-time employees to manage and maintain it. It doesn’t need to be this way! We want to deliver sophisticated technology, that feels intoxicatingly simple to use. Apart from this we are also investigating the potential for setting up an office in the U.S. where there are lots of large businesses that could benefit from our technology and a large appetite for engaging with digital learning.
What has been the hardest thing about getting Obrizum off the ground?
Building a start-up is not for the faint hearted; although deeply fulfilling, the whole process has been hands down the most difficult thing I have ever done! One of the most challenging things was not a single moment as such, it was the process of learning how to build and strengthen the necessary management structures to ensure that we could make real commercial progress. Taking the business from an innovative technology product to a working company with departments, deliverables and targets is tricky. Doing this whilst fulfilling multiple roles like CEO, business development lead, salesman, account manager and fundraiser helps add to the pressure! What keeps me going is the fact the whole Obrizum Group team are committed to our vision of building a world-class product that the world finds useful; and we have never been afraid to challenge the status quo on behalf of innovation.
Looking back to the day you started Obrizum, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I would remind myself to focus on the big goals and don’t sweat the small stuff! If you are not careful, it’s very easy to get tied up in the day-to-day worries of running a company, but don’t let this distract you from focusing on the critical milestones which will make the difference between hit and miss. It’s about setting very harsh priorities and sticking to them.
How has starting the company in the UK helped you? What separates this ecosystem from others?
I think the UK is actually very supportive of entrepreneurship. In the UK setting up a business is a fairly straightforward process and the rules and regulations that govern business are mostly sensible and fair. The UK also has some of the best investment incentive schemes in the world, such as the ‘Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme’ and later stage ‘Enterprise Investment Scheme’ which make it more attractive for investors to consider early-stage businesses. The UK is also home to technology hubs like Cambridge where Obrizum Group Ltd. was founded. We have benefitted from the exciting tech start-up culture and community of entrepreneurship in Cambridge; it is a truly inspiring place to begin building a fast-growth tech company. London too is consistently coming out on top in terms of venture funding and has created some of the world’s fastest-growing and most successful start-ups. Other major cities in the UK continue to have success in spinning out hugely successful business and not just in tech, so overall the UK is performing exceptionally well.
What do you think is the next big thing that is going to happen in EdTech?
This is a particularly poignant question in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has turned the spotlight on to EdTech as billions of people now need to conduct work, learning, hiring, onboarding and assessments remotely. The next big thing in EdTech is happening right now! The increased investment in education technology and remote learning which is coming off the back of the outbreak could not only help to mitigate the immediate disruption caused by COVID-19 but will almost certainly also open the door to new more innovative and flexible approaches to education and credentialing from here onwards. It has been predicted that circa $90bn is likely to be invested in the sector over the next decade but this is probably a conservative number if you include corporate involvement. Personally, I think the future of EdTech is a blended one with online learning taking over large parts of the knowledge transfer process and face-to-face and hands-on sessions filling the tactile, social, and physical practice elements of learning.
How do you think technologies like AI will alter the way we view the world of learning and work?
AI has been around a very long time (many decades in fact), and whilst it’s not the first time this technology is making an entrance, it seems to be the first time that is has ready access to enough of the right kind of data to get its teeth into! There is a concern for some that AI and automation, alongside demographic changes like an ageing population, will lead to dramatic changes in the structure of the workforce and the nature of work itself. Reports show that in the UK alone more than six million people in the UK are currently employed in occupations that are likely to profoundly change or disappear entirely in the next decade. I temper these worries with the knowledge that, for now at least, the most complex, brilliant and priceless form of intelligence still sits between our ears! Hence, I think of AI as a great tool to augment and accelerate human capability by sharing some of the computational ‘heavy lifting’ so that humans can realise the full potential of our creative intellect, problem solving and critical thinking abilities which still far outstrip that of current AI. Artificial Intelligence allows systems to continuously learn from volumes of data that no human could ever retain or process, but it still can’t do causal reasoning quite like us; so, ultimately, it’s not about technology doing all the work, it’s about technology augmenting the work of people. Using machines to target human challenges and applying AI in creative ways is the road to the future. Learning has always been required in the world of work but in an AI future, it can now assist us is learning faster and in a more flexible and cost-effective way that will more closely respond to the needs of our fast-changing, complex modern environment.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humans and machines have been working in tandem and the COVID-19 crisis presents another opportunity to deepen this partnership; keeping human workers safe and productive so that they can keep the global economy moving
Dr. Chibeza C. Agley will be speaking at the EdTechX Online Summit on: COVID19: Pressing Fast-Forward on the Future of Digital Learning. Join us on 12–13 May to learn more about how COVID-19 has become The disrupter in education and work.