AI’s Answer to CRM
Peak’s Plan to Become the Salesforce of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence adoption is growing, but for many businesses it remains a challenge. Is it time for a complete technology platform for AI? Lucy Ingham speaks to Peak CEO Richard Potter about how the company is planning to transform the business landscape
Once in a while, the technology industry witnesses the rise of a company destined to transform the business landscape. And just as Salesforce did so with the customer relationship management (CRM) system, Peak could do the same with artificial intelligence.
Richard Potter, CEO, Peak
“We're the company that has recognised that businesses now need to deploy AI in a centralised system and that businesses need a dedicated system for AI and machine learning within their IT landscape,” explains Richard Potter, Peak CEO.
“So in the same way that everyone kind of accepts that they need a CRM system or a finance package, those systems of record, they’re going to need a system of intelligence, a brain that learns from all their data and allows them to do all the things that are going to keep them competitive.”
Founded in late 2014 and having launched its AI platform subscription service just two years ago, Peak is a young yet fast-growing company. With the support of Amazon Web Services, the company is gaining serious attention, and already counts the likes of Morrisons, AstraZeneca and The Economist among its clients.
The reason for this rapid growth is, according to Potter, the fact that the company is the only one meeting the growing need for a simple-to-use yet comprehensive AI platform.
“Your alternative to buying that from Peak at the moment is pretty much to build it yourself, but obviously a lot of companies don't have the skills, expertise and resources to do that,” he says.
“So, in buying it from Peak, they're then getting our team to set it up for them. We accelerate their journey with AI basically.”
The Peak AI system
In a world where data is the new oil, Peak is looking to become the leader in handling and making use of it.
“We're working quite hard to drive the awareness of what we think is a new category of product,” explains Potter.
“We think that it's a fairly obvious concept that if data is the most important thing, it's the asset that enables everything, then companies need to concentrate on building their own unique proprietary first-party datasets, then they need to look after it.
“So looking after it in a centralised system that is designed specifically for deploying AI solutions on top of that dataset is what companies are going to need to do, instead of distributing machine learning in point solutions around the business, they should have it centralised, have a central brain that learns from all their data and then allows them to do all that kind of stuff.”
“We think this is a new category of product.”
For companies, this means paying a monthly subscription not only for a technology platform, but all installation and integration, management and support.
“That subscription covers full access to the Peak AI system, but it also covers the service. So we set it up for them, we integrate it into their IT infrastructure and then we continue to monitor it,” he says.
“Our data science and customer success teams provide our customers with continuous insight and reports on what the algorithms are doing, what they're saying that they should do and effectively, also, how well they're doing out of using the technologies, so we report back the value its creating.”
This not only removes the need for in-house AI experts, who are in notoriously short supply, but also ensures the solution is deployed quickly without spiralling costs.
Making the case for an AI platform
For Potter, a key part of getting businesses to understand the value of the system is in overcoming the bluster of big data that has infected business jargon in the last few years.
“A lot of what we do is trying to make it simple for executives to understand the possibilities and how it can change their business,” he says.
“It's not always easy, because a lot of them are bored with data projects now; they've had enough of them after ten years of big data and terrible failed implementations of X, Y and Z. So we have to kind of work to get them excited again.”
“There's shifting sands in industries everywhere.”
However, he is finding a lot of interest in artificial intelligence, which helps considerably in getting businesses to invest in the approach Peak is taking.
“We're going through this technology revolution that's going to be faster and create more change quicker than at any other point the history of technology really, and companies are worried about that,” he says.
“And business leaders know that their company is – it's not under threat, but there's shifting sands in industries everywhere.”
He cites the rise of Airbnb and Uber, companies that have become leaders in their field without owning hotels or taxis.
“If that can happen overnight, then any industry is going to be touched by it at some point. So therefore, I think that our customers, and when we educate business leaders, they totally get it,” he explains.
The team behind Peak
Knowing what you don’t know
One of the key benefits of Peak, argues Potter, is the ability to provide insight into approaches a company may not know are possible. And it is this, rather than the technological capabilities, that he sees as the biggest barrier to AI for many businesses.
“I think people are pretty receptive and they get the concept, but fundamentally they don't have the skills or the expertise to pull it off, and one of the things they struggle with misunderstanding the possibilities,” says Potter.
“It's not just having the engineering resources or data science resources, it's actually having those people in a business that can say: 'this is how your business works, the mechanics of your business and how you make money, and therefore if you could do X, Y, or Z that would dramatically enhance the performance of your business'.
“But they might not have thought that X, Y or Z were even possible, and that's the key bit of education we need to go through.”
The industries already using Peak
As Peak is such a young company, it is early on its journey to AI domination, and has focused primarily on a small number of industries to grow its customer case and hone the technology.
“60% of our customers are in retail, so a large part of our go-to-market focus is with retail or consumer-facing businesses at the moment,” explains Potter.
“A large part of the reason for that is we're building up a critical mass of customers there, but their businesses move quickly, they're able to gather data and so it's suits us really.
“But we do have a number of clients in a number different sectors, so it won't be long before we expand out.”
“We're building up a critical mass of customers in retail.”
How Peak is used varies by industry, but in retail, it has proved vital to personalisation.
“In the retail space our AI powers a lot of what we call hyper-personalisation of communications and touchpoints with our customers' customers, so that obviously works very well when you've got hundreds of thousands of customers and you're maybe a multi-product or a multi-brand retailer,” he explains.
Potter with co-founders David Leitch, COO (left), and Atul Sharma, CTO
The Salesforce of AI
In the long run, however, Peak has very ambitious goals.
“Over time, the Peak AI system and the brain that we've built will hopefully start powering most businesses in the world, that becomes this sort of autonomous business machine,” explains Potter.
“I don't know whether that will take us one, two, five, ten years, but we know that we need to grow in a smart way, so we're focused very much on specific solutions for specific sectors at the moment.
“Once we've nailed that, we can expand out and eventually get to the point where hopefully the Peak system is seen in the same way as Salesforce is for CRM systems.
“People say: do you run on Salesforce? They'll say: do you run on Peak? That's kind of our long-term vision, but we're miles away.”
“People say: do you run on Salesforce? They'll say: do you run on Peak?”
From a technology point of view, this means an aggressive approach to development and a strong focus on innovative research.
“We've got a pretty aggressive roadmap of things that we're trying to build,” says Potter.
“We want to stay at the forefront of the field that we're in, so we do invest a lot in research, we sponsor university students and we have partnerships with several universities, so I think for us I anticipate that it'll continue to develop, really.
“AWS themselves help a lot with that because they're always launching new services and new products that we can integrate into our system to help speed-up or automate a particular part of our process, because effectively the Peak system is a big data processing system.
“So fundamental IP for us is all around our own algorithms trained on data, but outside of that, we try to adopt the latest and greatest technologies to make sure that we're right at the leading edge.”