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Creating new value through Artificial Intelligence (AI)

SparkBeyond partners with Microsoft to help clients unleash AI through its problem-solving platform and the Azure platform

Needing a new approach

Zabka, the largest convenience store chain in Europe, realized it needed to be more deliberate in how it approached its next phase of growth. It wanted an analytical, data-backed transformation.

Using AI to crunch data

SparkBeyond used its problem-solving platform to analyze a variety of structured, disparate, first and third-party data to generate millions of hypotheses and identify the patterns.

Forecasting using the results

Using SparkBeyond’s problem-solving platform, Zabka was able to pinpoint optimal locations and get more accurate predictions on financial forecasts.

SparkBeyond is a company on a mission—to help clients discover powerful insights, solve problems, and reach better decisions through AI-powered ideation and data analysis. Founded in 2013, the company has partnered with large Fortune 500 clients across a range of industries to drive higher business impact through technology. SparkBeyond believes its platform has the power to change the world—to improve businesses and help create a better society as well. To date, they’ve pioneered several innovations—from finding earlier and novel ways to identify cancer, to supporting demand for social housing, and reducing violence in prisons—to improving quality of life around the world.

The company was created in recognition that in a world driven by increasing flows of data, AI has become an indispensable tool to uncover value and solve problems that seem out of reach today. “Clients realize that AI today is not a nice-to-have, but a must-have,” says Solomon Alkhasov, SparkBeyond GM of Partnerships. With companies amassing vast stores of complex data, every minute of the day, it has become imperative to get more value from it. Solomon continues, “The challenge for our clients becomes, how do we decipher all that data into patterns that let us understand why certain events or phenomena are taking place.”

Augmented thinking

That’s where SparkBeyond comes in. Through its AI platform, the company wants to help clients get more from their data. “The human brain is arguably the best tool in the world, but unfortunately, it has limitations. We are limited in the amount of data we can compute, and we also bring a cognitive bias to how we generate ideas,“ says SparkBeyond Chief Commercial Officer Amir Haramaty. That bias is inherent to how people think—we’re designed to make sense of the world by simplifying what we see and experience, accelerating our understanding by using patterns built through prior experiences. Machines, however, do not have this bias and can explore ideas in a variety of directions.

This type of flexibility is what SparkBeyond captured when they created their problem-solving platform. The Azure-based machine functions like a hypothesis generator, generating and testing tens of millions of ideas for clients in very short timeframes. And because its ideations run in a multitude of directions, it can provide a variety of ideas, including many that clients would never have considered on their own. What’s more, the problem-solving platform augments its knowledge by integrating the vast repositories of collective human knowledge. Sources like Wikipedia, news, Census, weather, social, or other domain-specific sources of data are all routinely used to extend the platform’s analyses.

“Many AI solutions are generated in a black box. But SparkBeyond operates like a glass box. Any domain expert in their field, whether in marketing or finance or another business function, can go look inside our platform and be empowered to interact with the data and to be able to act upon it.”

—Amir Haramaty, Chief Commercial Officer, SparkBeyond

Accessible AI

SparkBeyond’s problem-solving platform is not just for data scientists. An important goal for the company has been to democratize AI and make it more accessible. Traditionally, working with complex data sets has been the domain of scientists or engineers. But SparkBeyond wants to empower everyone to be able to work with data—whether a data scientist or business user.

Doubling down on value with Microsoft

The ease-of-use and overall value of the SparkBeyond platform has attracted many big brands, including a number of Fortune 100 companies, who came to the company for help with their AI projects. It also caught the attention of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who became very interested in the Azure-based machine learning platform after hearing about it via a joint customer in the spring of 2018.

That interest led to the forging of a strategic partnership between Microsoft and SparkBeyond, to expand the AI value to their joint customers. “Over the last twelve months, we’ve combined the amazing value of the Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure and cognitive services with SparkBeyond’s platform to bring clients something really unique,” says Solomon. Customers who wish to deploy specific Azure cognitive services can automatically stitch those services together using the SparkBeyond platform, accelerating the business impact from those solutions. That combination opens Azure cognitive services for access by both business and technical roles.

“SparkBeyond has done an amazing job illustrating the power of business impact to our joint customers. We are in a time of great transformation, with many of our customers struggling with how to achieve digital transformation in a way that drives real business impact. SparkBeyond’s approach has made those goals both accessible and actionable,” says Peter Martin, Partner Development Manager, Microsoft. The partnership was celebrated at Microsoft Inspire 2018.

Getting real on transformation at Zabka

Making digital transformation tangible is top of mind for many of SparkBeyond’s customers. One example is the Polish convenience store retailer Zabka, who is the largest pure-play convenience store in Europe. Having steadily increased its market share year over year, Zabka realized it needed to be more deliberate in how it approached its next phase of growth. It wanted an analytical, data-backed transformation, and turned to SparkBeyond for help getting there.

Zabka’s goal was to double their footprint by opening 600 new stores in the next year. To maximize success, they wanted to optimize revenue per store, which required having a clear picture of revenue forecasts, more efficient management of stock, and optimizing new store locations. SparkBeyond used its problem-solving platform to analyze a variety of structured, disparate, first- and third-party data to generate millions of hypotheses and identify the patterns with the most actionable impact. Through this effort, they were able to pinpoint optimal locations and get more accurate predictions on financial forecasts.

“Being able to forecast revenue accurately months in advance adds not only great strategic value but also improves Zabka’s overall supply chain.” said Tomasz Blicharski, CFO, Zabka.

“SparkBeyond’s focus on solving business problems through AI and ML aligns with the Microsoft customer-centric approach to Data and AI. I am really excited about the potential in the partnership, where we are bringing business, technology, and ethical aspects of AI to create broader business, social, and economic impact,” says Simran Sachar, AI Partner Lead and Sr. Strategy Manager, Microsoft.

Pushing further with Microsoft on AI

In the past year, SparkBeyond has helped its clients generate over USD1 billion in impact through AI-powered ideation. But for SparkBeyond, that success is only the beginning of its AI journey—the possibilities are limitless.

Looking ahead, SparkBeyond’s suite of solutions will extend beyond data to knowledge, equipping global strategy leaders with next-generation decision support systems for whitespace innovation. And as the company continues to work with Microsoft, they will continue to broaden the reach of their front solutions, making their vision of empowering everyone to be able to do more with data, closer to reality.

“SparkBeyond is emerging as a strategic AI and Machine Learning partner. Together we are bringing our joint value proposition to solve customer business problems across industries.”

—Gavriella Schuster, CVP, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft

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