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Moving up the talent value chain

last updated 12 June 2017

IMDA-accredited data analytics firm DC Frontiers chose to disrupt internally to re-skill its workers to stay ahead of their own Artificial Intelligence platform.

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Co-founder Charles Poon (above) and Daryl Neo were hobby programmers when they built the first prototype of Handshakes in 2011. (Image credit: DC Frontiers)

By Linda Lim

Analysts hired to develop and ‘train’ an artificial intelligence (AI) solution thought they had a grim future once the job was done. But Singapore-based company DC Frontiers is leveraging the opportunity to re-skill its workers for other positions.

The company offers an AI solution known as Handshakes, which analyses networks of connections between people and companies to give users insights into, among other things, legal ownership, conflicts of interest and possible fraud. Users such as lawyers and accountants can use the system to determine the owners of a business within seconds.

After the analysts responsible for developing and training the AI system had completed their job, DC Frontiers retrained the eight employees over a period of more than six months in order to redeploy them to roles in sales, training and management. Some were also redeployed as consultants to validate the accuracy of the AI machine's outputs, as well as work on special projects and product development internally.

The company has a staff strength of 22 in total.

20170511 handshakes 2"The employees involved knew from the start that their jobs would eventually be taken over by the AI. But we came up with a talent development plan for the analysts to reskill, and take on supervisory roles of validating the accuracy of output from the AI machines and looking into product development as the company scales up," said Daryl Neo (right), co-founder of DC Frontiers.

He noted that while AI and other technologies may take over certain jobs, companies and workers can adapt to the changing landscape by learning new skills such as coding or design.

Overcoming a pain point

This mindset of flexibility and adaptability was present early on in the startup process, when Daryl and his co-founder Charles Poon first came up with the idea for Handshakes a few years ago.

Then, the duo were working full-time as regulators at the Singapore Exchange, which operates the local bourse.

Their role required them to spend immense amounts of time looking through various documents to source for and verify information, a process they found to be extremely tedious. This sparked the idea for an automated solution to the problem.

"It was very time consuming to read everything as there could be different variations of a person’s name. At the time there was no solution for automating information," said Daryl.

The pair of hobby programmers built the first prototype of Handshakes using their limited coding skills in 2011, before roping in more experienced developers a year later.

In 2015, DC Frontiers launched its Handshakes product and acquired its first paying customer. It also raised S$2 million in seed funding from Singapore Press Holdings that year.

As its product gained traction in the market, DC Frontiers closed its pre-series A funding, raising funds from high net worth individuals in Asia. It was also accredited by the Infocomm Media Development Authority, which helped the company acquire new business leads from government agencies, revealed Daryl.

"Accreditation status provides assurance to government agencies that our products are bona fide – tested and proven. This significantly speeds up the process of establishing trust, and has helped us shorten the sales cycle," he said.

Today, the company's customers come mainly from the internal audit, procurement and enforcement related departments of government agencies, and the compliance and investigation departments of private companies. Another customer group are salespeople who use the system to find potential leads.

Growing in Asia

Going forward, DC Frontiers is looking to improve its platform's core AI technology and extend its solution to cover information contained within a company.

“We can combine and analyse private information within a company such as email traces and internal files. So the biggest application is to help people combine internal information,” said Daryl.

DC Frontiers plans to grow in the region; it is already operating in Malaysia and at an early stage of expanding into Hong Kong. 

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