AI is about to play a critical role in project management thanks to the efforts of a young Galway company called Chatspace.

Galway start-up Chatspace has developed an artificial intelligence answers and insights platform that keeps projects on track and prevents costly failures.

Chatspace works with the world’s largest companies unleashing new insights for company strategy that traditional teams can’t reach, automating repeatable tasks and scaling capabilities across the enterprise.

“By 2030, 80pc of today’s project management tasks will be eliminated as AI is leveraged more and more”

The company believes that the future of work is engaged and connected employees taking advantage of the capabilities that technology provides. Its clients to date include ATOS, Nestle and Medtronic. 

“Project Management is integral to Enterprise,” explains Chatspace CEO and founder John Clancy. “The vast majority of work is and will continue to be project-based. Studies show that half of all projects underperform and one third fail and it is estimated that failed IT projects cost enterprises €250bn a year across the US and Europe.

“Management is often limited to the subjective optimism or pessimism of project managers which can result in unnecessary and costly micromanagement.”

Clancy explained that Chatspace AI not only automates mundane tasks and answers queries but also allows management to identify potential issues before they happen across the entire portfolio.  Essentially we can find the needle in a haystack of data.

“AI is growing exponentially and changing the world we live in. By 2030, 80pc of today’s project management tasks will be eliminated as AI is leveraged more and more (Gartner 2019). It is just a tool and one we all need to get right in this new ‘world balance’ of technology and human relationship.”

The world’s most experienced virtual Project Manager

Clancy said that Chatspace is building the world’s most experienced virtual Project Manager, an artificial intelligence that empowers enterprise leaders to focus on growth instead of micro-management and gives project managers more time to focus on clients and new opportunities by having previously unreachable data driven insights at their fingertips.

“Time is a luxury that most start-ups do not have.  You have to narrow your focus on solving a real problem, double down if you get traction but be quick to drop anything that is not working.”

“Simply put, Chatspace does the heavy lifting giving our clients more time to focus on new opportunities, more revenue through increased project success.

“Over the last three years we have been honing and applying our Conversational AI, Machine Learning & Intelligent Search skills for some of the worlds largest companies including Nestlé and ATOS.  

“Now we are narrowing our focus and applying this experience and in-depth customer understanding to build a product that can forward think and increase project success.

“We do this by analysing large volumes of complex enterprise data to autonomously build predictive models that extract deep insights. This allows us to proactively alert Senior Managers to risks before they happen across the wider portfolio. In essence it will inform strategy.

“With each client our goal is to build a suite of autonomous predictive learning algorithms that can automatically learn from data, improve with new information, provide insights from its learning & can be directly interrogated with a conversational interface to provide relevant answers.”

Clancy said the next 12 months for Chatspace is about productising its AI for scale across Europe and the United States and exploring new opportunities with innovative global partners: both in the channel and technology partners.

Self starter

Man with glasses and a blue shirt.

John Clancy, CEO and founder of Chatspace

Recalling his motivation to be an entrepreneur, Clancy said that he always envisaged working for himself.

“Fresh out of college I set up my first startup, Celtel, which marketed phonecards. Within two years we had an annual turnover of €2.6m and I was named Young Entrepreneur of the Year (2000) and Irish Young Entrepreneur for Innovation and Technology.

“Probably one of the highlights of my life was my working in the South Pacific as a CEO for Digicel Vanuatu, Denis O’Brien’s telecommunications company. I was just newly married to my wife Madeline, who came with me so it was like an extended very busy honeymoon! I learnt so much and enjoyed the diversity of the challenge from working with local governments to building relations with high chiefs across the Pacific Islands.

“Before co-founding Chatspace I was managing director at the digital health start-up iMedDoc and I consulted at Jinga Life, another digital health platform.”

The Irish start-up ecosystem

Chatspace is a HPSU (High Potential Start Up) with Enterprise Ireland and according to Clancy has a great development adviser always looking for ways to support and promote the business.

“I am in a Founders Forum with nine other startups and the peer to peer sharing and support is great, especially for feedback and ideas.

“As a tech startup we are probably one of the lucky ones who have seen new opportunities come out of this pandemic. This crisis has been a catalyst for technological innovation and the appetite for AI is high. We repurposed some technology for Covid-19 crisis management for one of our client’s and there’s some market interest in that actually which we weren’t expecting.

“Of course the pandemic has brought its challenges too. I’m working from home with three children under the age of nine so it’s definitely a noisier work environment than I’m used to! My wife kindly takes the kids on long walks while I do investor meetings or webinars but even then that is not always possible when you are living on the west coast of Ireland!”

Clancy believes that Chatspace has to scale and scale fast. “In order to scale we need cash beyond existing working capital, to put petrol in the tank and grow quickly. We are in the middle of a €2.5m funding round with our corporate financiers Focus Capital Partners which is due to close in August. This new capital will give us the ability to scale the technical and marketing teams, put petrol in the tank and really go after this opportunity.”

Learning fast

Clancy realised early in the Chatspace journey that the large enterprise customers it is targeting rarely do business with small start-ups on the west coast of Ireland.

“So we found channel partners already doing business with these global companies. We work with Atos, DXC Technology and Damovo, all large European software integration companies and we are starting talks with more. For us, it’s a perfect marriage because they are specialists in Customer Success and provide the client services, while we are free to focus on technology and improving our product experience.

“Relationships are key. When Chatspace got our first client, Nestlé, I had never worked with Swiss people and many of them spoke French at key points in our meetings. So I downloaded Duolingo and revised my leaving cert French by studying an hour a day. Without telling anyone, I started to understand more and more what they were saying. A year into the relationship we were laughing about it over coffee.

“Building relationships is obviously more challenging now as we are all working through zoom but really technology is just a support. We have to use it to make real connections.”

Cogent advice

In terms of start-up advice, Clancy tuned into Collision from Home a couple of weeks ago and said he really connected with Greg Peters, CPO Netflix who said: “Ask yourself what is the one thing your company does better than the rest and stay focused on that.”

“Time is a luxury that most start-ups do not have.  You have to narrow your focus on solving a real problem, double down if you get traction but be quick to drop anything that is not working.

“And if this pandemic has taught us anything, being able to pivot, repurpose your product is key and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

“Personally I’m an optimist and I see a bright technological future ahead of us. There will be so many new opportunities coming with the next 5G wave. AI is here to help us live and work better and we can expect AI to become part of our everyday lives. Rather than “robots taking over jobs” I think there will be new roles created and an upskilling of the workforce.”

People over process

Clancy said technology and culture are key to how Chatspace moves fast and scales. “We use Agile methodology to manage not only our technology and product development but really our whole business. It allows for a much more flexible collaborative approach to our work and prioritises people over process. Perfect for today’s conditions!

“We also use Trello, Slack and Google Meets for our daily stand ups. Microsoft Teams incorporates all of these elements and we are investigating for the team.

“Culture is also very important to us. We all need to collaborate on almost everything we are doing so we encourage an open respectful space and being bold in our work.

“We take pride in extending those values to our partners and customers. We have a very international team which keeps things interesting.”

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 20 July, 2020

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