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Manu Kumar, chief data officer, BUPA Healthcare Customer Lab

Manu Kumar

Path to power

When I was growing up in India, we lived in several cities across the country, as my dad moved for work. Adapting to new cities, schools, friends, languages and cultures was a necessary survival skill. These experiences have also shaped my career, full of diverse challenges and constant change. I have enjoyed setting up and scaling technology teams in the US, India, Germany, UK, Spain, Hungary, Turkey, and Singapore etc. Along with Silicon Valley start-ups, I have also worked for larger companies like Vodafone, HP, Albertsons and Microsoft. My master’s in applied mathematics was from UC Berkeley and I balanced out my inner geek with a management of technology from the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley.

 

I currently lead AI for BUPA’s Customer Lab, where the focus is on leveraging technology to help customers live longer, healthier, happier lives. The Lab applies AI, machine and deep learning techniques to a variety of problems, eg designing algorithms that can analyse scans to diagnose diseases, predicting customer demand, resource optimisation engines, chatbots, attrition, and fraud etc.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

I started my career in a Silicon Valley start-up, where you learned to roll up your sleeves, build products and bootstrap. I didn’t make any money with my start-up but that work ethic has paid me dividends. Looking back at my career, my proudest moments have always come when creating solutions, these could be simple analytic tools, marketing decision engines or complex enterprise applications.

 

The joy of creating a solution where none existed before and (hopefully) making someone’s life easier is super rewarding. We recently created a deep learning based system that can detect human falls via CCTV cameras, called ‘Catcher’.

 

Imagine a technology that can ‘see’ if a patient in a hospital or care home has suffered a fall and gets them help as soon as possible. That’s an important problem to tackle and an example of how AI can be used in the real world. While the Catcher project did not have a commercial angle, just working on it was a great experience. That’s why I love this field, we get to be creative problem solvers in every single project, that makes work feel very much like play.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

For the last couple of years, I have been very inspired by Yuval Harari (famous for books like Sapiens and 21 lessons for the 21st century). He is vegan, meditates two hours a day and excels in showing us reality “just the way it is”, helping cut through the spin, propaganda and fake news. Sapiens was in my top 10 books of the past decade, absolutely remarkable clarity of thought.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

I see three trends for 2020: hyper-personalisation continues with consumer and enterprise apps; increased outsourcing of human decision making to algorithms; and a cooling off of the hype around AI, which has built up over the past five years.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

I am most bullish on Green AI tech, which should see lots of opportunities as societies innovate to address climate change. Some examples that come to mind, deep learning algorithms that can sort plastic, green tech that can grow crops, lab grown meat etc, make me hopeful.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge you face in ensuring data is at the heart of your digital transformation strategy?

As tech has matured and machines have scaled and flexed massively, I believe the biggest challenges are not technological but cultural and organisational. Silo mentality, fear of change and lack of alignment across organisations are bigger blockers to my projects than technology.

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