Founder and CEO, George Frangou, explains the great potential, and potential pitfalls, of taking Artificial Precognition to the Chinese market.
Artificial intelligence is no longer the stuff of sci-fi. From retail chatbots to automated financial investing it’s making waves in nearly every industry – and as quickly as the demand is increasing, so is the sophistication of the technology.
One company leading the way with its unique AI capabilities is Massive Analytic. The UK tech company has developed a range of innovative “precognition machines”, which use its patented Artificial Precognition technology, created by Massive Analytic founder and CEO, George Frangou, to analyse big data and accurately predict outcomes. Oscar:DataScience, the original product, automates the extraction of insights through machine learning, Nethra:VideoAnalytics uses deep-learning algorithms to analyse patterns, and Aftos:Robotics controls robotic systems.
Through automation, these products give Massive Analytic’s customers the tools once only accessible to data scientists, enabling better control and decision making, and reducing uncertainty for businesses, markets and economies. The precognition machines can “make predictions that are several per cent better than anything else in the world”, Frangou says.
The China opportunity
For any technology company aspiring to become a market leader, global vision is key. So, for Massive Analytic, the Chinese market presented a tremendous opportunity for expansion and influence.
Not only does China offer huge potential to UK tech businesses due to its scale and population density, but there is also a real demand for the technologies that the UK has particular expertise in, especially AI and big data. Frangou explains, “even though China has a reputation for AI, they've not necessarily got everything right about it, and we have a unique capability that's being recognised all over the world.” For Massive Analytic, expansion into China was also a vital step towards making an impact in the rest of Asia. “There was this push into the Far East. The vision for Massive Analytic is to be a worldwide company, a global player, and there was a lot going on in China at the time. And so we took advantage of that opportunity,” Frangou says. Massive Analytic’s Shenzhen office is now an essential hub and point of access in the Far East.
As well working to bring Massive Analytic to China through his personal contacts, Frangou was invited to join a trade mission in China by The China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) and the Department of International Trade (DIT). The trade mission was designed to encourage collaboration between British and Chinese companies, and gave Massive Analytic a great opportunity to pitch its products.
Now up and running in Shenzhen, Massive Analytic is seeing a particular focus on FinTech and the medical sector, specifically care for the elderly and regenerative medicine. The company is working with several leading research organisations with the view to improve the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s. Another key area of investment is retirement homes, where the company is “looking at sensors and video and all those things to make sure that people are okay and they’re protected,” says Frangou. FinTech is another important market, and Frangou predicts that agriculture could be the next big growth area, specifically the improvement of crop yield with imaging from satellites.
Navigating the complexities and challenges
It’s easy to get caught up in what can look like endless opportunity, but businesses need to tread carefully in some areas, and not every business path is necessarily advisable or possible. Due diligence is incredibly important to ensure companies are navigating the ethical, commercial and legal complexities of the Chinese market. “The detail is really important”, notes Frangou. “[Having] the vision is great, but you need to be able to execute it.”
For Massive Analytic, an important part of that execution was local presence. When Frangou first went to China in 2018, there was a big focus on building relationships. Frangou explains: “You have to fund locally, you have to find the right people, and those people must be part of your organisation. They can't be completely separate from you. They have to buy into the global vision. It's got to look like a local company.”
Local integration is important for a number of reasons. The first is that people simply like to buy locally and want products tailored to them – developing product interfaces in the local language, rather than English, for instance, was crucial to build demand for Massive Analytic’s offering. Secondly, in order to navigate the vast cultural differences – business culture, customer needs and local sensitivities – you need local support from those who have a much deeper understanding of the market. For example, one of Massive Analytic’s projects originally shared the nickname of the last governor of Hong Kong, an oversight soon corrected on the advice of local colleagues.
But local backing is also an issue of brand protection, Frangou points out. “We're very conscious of the fact there's a lot of unauthorised IP transfer in China, and also how we firewall China is really key. So we have patents in China granted [...] but it doesn't necessarily protect us because how do we stop people looking at source code and reverse engineering? It’s one of the reasons why the way to do this is you find a Chinese national who has as much ownership in your company, your vision, as you do, and then they're going to fight to make sure that they get the best out of it.”
One particular surprise for Massive Analytic was the problems it ran into with its very first business in China, a Beijing underground video analytics project with the Chinese government. After conversations with the Ministry of Defence, which it was already working closely with, the company soon realised it was not possible to do work for both the Chinese and British government in surveillance and defence. Massive Analytic had to cancel the project and now steers clear of any work with China in this area.
In order to avoid any mishaps, companies entering the Chinese market must have a thorough, detailed plan. That means enlisting the help of experts in the legal, commercial and ethical complexities of the Chinese market. “It’s fraught, doing business with other countries is fraught. So, you have to take advice. We're members of CBBC, so we have resources there. We've met with them several times, we've met with their commercial leads as well,” says Frangou. “We have a whole basis of how we operate, which is free trade agreements based in Shenzhen. Also, we've had communications with export finance, part of the Department of International Trade.” The company works with a lawyer based in Hong Kong, who has the in-depth knowledge of Chinese law that’s crucial for business success. “It's important that you look at things like governance,” adds Frangou. “It's important also that you have somebody that understands all the issues around taxation in different provinces.”
In addition to understanding legal, commercial and ethical complexities, technology businesses can also avoid common mistakes by positioning their innovations competitively in new markets. This is where the support offered to UK businesses by organisations such as techUK and the CBBC, as well as resources such as the UK government Digital and Tech China website, can provide relevant guidance.
With so many complexities to navigate and project delays brought about by Covid-19, Massive Analytic’s journey has not always been easy. However, strong local support and a well-advised and detailed plan put the company in the best possible position for success in China. With patents granted all over the world, including China, the United States, Japan, Israel and several EU countries, Massive Analytic is now bringing artificial precognition to a global stage.