Soon after it was founded, Rotterdam based software company Ciphix managed to capture the attention of the AI community. In 2019, founders Mathijs Gast, Marcus Groeneveld and Bas van der Pol won the MT/Sprout award for the most promising young entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. Since that time, Ciphix has grown rapidly. ‘We are now approaching fifty employees’, managing director Marijn van de Poel says.
RPA and AI
Marijn, responsible for RPA and AI strategy talks enthusiastically about the development, the plans and the mission of the company. ‘At the time of the MT/Sprout award, the focus was still on RPA, or Robotic Process Automation. Our proposition is now much more based on AI. This means we not only use AI complementary to RPA but also on its own. So we are really developing as an AI organization’, Marijn says.
Act, communicate and think
Ciphix develops virtual employees, or software robots, who are able to act, communicate and think. Marijn: ‘Within the acting, we use RPA technology. With thinking we use AI. And when communicating we use chat. The latter two are related to each other. Many chat solutions nowadays also have integrated AI technology.’
By means of these solutions, Ciphix wants to ‘bring the robot out of the human being’, a slogan that resonates with many people. Marijn explains: ‘Today there are a lot of intelligent people who have to do boring work all day long. Together with our customers, we want to ensure that these people can again develop value-adding activities. For example, they no longer have to spend all day filling out Excel sheets.’
The ‘how and why’ of these intelligent automation solutions has clearly been well thought out. The Ciphix philosophy rests on three main pillars. Marijn: ‘Within our vision, we focus on three major topics that are challenging on a global level. It’s our goal to solve those problems together.’
Global Workforce Crisis
The first pillar concerns the Global Workforce Crisis. This means that there are too few people to do all the work and make the economy grow. ‘Instead of a lot of unemployment, we actually have the opposite, namely millions of vacancies that we cannot fill,’ Marijn says. “We want to solve this by developing software robots that are able to take over repetitive and administrative work. This frees up people’s capacity, so they can invest their time in value-adding activities.’
Concerning the second pillar, he says: ‘Many people of my generation get bored easily if they have to do more and more of the same. Because they aren’t challenged enough, they decide to go job hopping. This isn’t called a burn-out, but a bore-out. By removing that boring and repetitive work, companies keep their employees engaged.’
Thirdly, there is the fact that organizations want to become more data driven. They want decisions to be based on data, not gut feeling. Marijn: ‘With our technologies we can ensure that they generate transparant data and make better decisions.’
In this regard, Marijn expresses some concerns. He notices that AI is still too much of a buzzword: ‘Every boardroom is talking about it, but people often have no idea what it actually entails. Many organizations come to a point where they start a proof of concept. But then they find it difficult to scale up, to actually take it into production. Yes, I find that worrisome. It has so much potential, but there are still very few who really prioritize it as a strategic theme and are willing to go full throttle. We see it as our responspility to demystify AI.’
Digital Workforce Journey
To make it easier for organizations to step in, Ciphix has developed the Digital Workforce Journey. As mentioned, most organizations succeed in getting started with a technology, whether that is RPA or AI. They start with something small and prove its worth. Scaling this to an entire department or business unit then poses a problem. ‘Yes, there are quite some challenges. Also consider non-technical elements, such as governance, stakeholder management, etc. We have therefore developed a framework with which companies gradually can become more professional and mature in their technologies. Whether this is a company that is just starting or an organization that is already well on its way.’
The Ciphix Academy also plays a role in this. It allows Ciphix to bring organizations up to speed faster. Marijn: ‘Our philosophy is that we first show the people how something is done. Then the customers imitate it and after that they can do it themselves. The academy is part of this philosophy. In this way people can see how we do things and start doing it themselves. We guide them through the entire process.’
Asked about what really makes Ciphix unique, Marijn says: ‘What makes us unique is the integrated approach of the three technologies, RPA, chat and AI. This combination results in a virtual employee. For this we literally use a picture in which people see, for example, the hands going back and forth. That integration is really what makes us unique in our proposition.’
Regarding the combination of RPA and AI he explains: ‘Ciphix started with RPA, which can handle low complexity really well. It is rule based and can handle high volumes. AI on the other hand is heading in the opposite direction, more towards cognitive decisions. We realized that AI can take over where RPA stops. That’s why we started integrating it. But it doesn’t always have to be a total package. We regularly build AI solutions for customers that do not involve RPA.’
Of course, Ciphix has more strong points. Examples are the fast delivery and feedback loops. Marijn: ‘We set up first versions very quickly. A new product is often ready within two to six weeks. Subsequently, the first user experiences are gained. From there, new functionalities are continuously added to make the systems better and more mature.’
According to Marijn, the fact that almost all employees and customers of Cipix are Dutch provides an additional advantage: ‘Because of this, we really understand the context in which the organizations operate. No translations are necessary. This ensures that we can get started very quickly. Also, we bring a good business sense.’
Ciphix does not focus on a particular departments when developing and offering solutions. Marijn, laughing: ‘I always say that if you don’t need robots, you’ve got it right. But that’s often not the case, so we are actually needed everywhere. For example, almost every organization has to deal with a mountain of paperwork and administrative burdens.’
Intelligent Mail Automation
A few examples of Dutch clients are building Dura Vermeer, asset manager Robeco, and Dienst Justitiële Inrichtingen (DJI or Judicial Institutions Agency). At Dura Vermeer, Ciphix has developed a model that automatically recognizes and categorizes incoming mails. ‘This is called Intelligent Mail Automation’, Marijn explains. ‘A lot of company emails get sent to a group mailbox. There is often literally one person who has to drag those emails to the right tray. So you can imagine our IMA model takes a lot of time and work off those person’s hands.’
At DJI, Ciphix is developing a search engine employees can use to retrieve articles from their knowledge base. ‘It’s a kind of Google functionality’, Marijn says. ‘Instead of scrolling through your knowledge base looking for the right article, you just type in what you need, just like in Google. The correct document will then pop up immediately.’
Ciphix is partner of ai.nl and is helping to accelerate the adoption of data and AI within organizations by sharing knowledge, network and insights.