While artificial intelligence (AI) underpins many of the applications and the software we use today, many organisations remain slow to make it a part of their operations.
“What is missing right now is the wider understanding among industries or domains of what AI can do,” says Svetlana Sicular, an analyst focused on AI at Gartner, a technology research and consulting firm.
Within this context companies are expanding to fill the knowledge gap. Among them is Altada, an Ireland-based provider of AI solutions to the financial services, travel, security and healthcare sectors.
In 2021, Altada was the world’s most active cross-border investor into new AI operations, announcing eight foreign direct investment (FDI) projects globally, according to fDi Markets, a greenfield investment tracker.
“The expansion was to democratise and globalise AI,” Allan Beechinor, the co-founder and CEO of Altada tells fDi. “Ultimately there is a lot of general conversation about [it] ... but in my opinion AI needs to be deployed for specific use cases.”
Altada decided to first focus on deploying AI in financial services, which Mr Beechinor says is “more open to evolution and investment into technologies” than other industries.
While its use in organisations involves “a cultural shift” that takes time, Mr Beechinor estimates that global AI adoption will increase by 20% to 30% by 2025.
“AI is the new internet. It’s going to be fundamental for the digital era,” he says. Mr Beechinor adds that it will “be next to impossible” to manage increasing amounts of data in organisations without deploying AI and machine learning.
Irish tech base
Altada was co-founded back in 2017 by Mr Beechinor and his wife Niamh Parker, who serves as the company’s chief legal and compliance officer. Since November 2019, the homegrown Irish tech scale-up has grown from a team of just 11 people to more than 40 employees today.
“We want to be a global company headquartered in Cork, Ireland, that is exporting [globally],” says Mr Beechinor. He adds that he and his wife are “native Corkonians”, with a desire to expand out of the city.
Altada’s ultimate goal is to grow and become Ireland’s equivalent to US tech behemoths such as Facebook, Amazon and Google. By the end of June 2022, Altada expects to have 150 staff across its 15 offices — three of which are in Ireland.
Years of concerted FDI-oriented economic policy, including favourable corporation taxes, helped Ireland attract the European headquarters of several tech giants, such as Apple and Google. Development agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, which is an investor in Altada, offer services to help Irish businesses grow, innovate and export within this context.
Mr Beechinor, who also advises the Irish government on digital transformation, says that this focus on promoting the technology sector, coupled with inward investment, has helped create a “very fruitful skill set” in Ireland.
Through its focus on “conscious capitalism”, Mr Beechinor says that Altada always looks to proactively engage with AI ecosystems at home and abroad. One example of this is Alsessor AI, an accelerator programme Altada runs in conjunction with Trinity College Dublin.
Mr Beechinor says Altada aims to promote ethical AI and address the negative perceptions of the technology: “We’re trying to educate, inform and bring transparency to technology and remove any concerns or reservations that there is a bad element to AI.”
Beyond its Irish roots, Altada decided to first expand in the US, opening offices in San Francisco, Miami and New York. Mr Beechinor explains that this was due to AI being adopted in the US financial services industry quicker than in other countries. He adds that Altada’s international expansion strategy rests on building “localisation in terms of support and resources” in the markets where its clients are deploying AI and undergoing digital transformation.
But with the increased appetite for remote working created by the Covid-19 pandemic, Altada has had to analyse other factors in its location decisions. Mr Beechinor says that on top of local skills, curriculum and academic research, Altada considers factors such as migration of tech talent and globalisation trends.
“There be a huge talent base of people in a location, but they may be just living there and working remotely for a different entity,” he explains.
Many companies often fail to complete the process of implementing AI into their operations due to a lack of resources, says Mr Beechinor.
“AI talent is becoming a challenge,” he says, highlighting that Altada has been able to attract talent that wants to actively deploy the technology in specific use cases.
As part of Altada’s plan to develop its diverse global team of data scientists, it opened its 12th office in Delhi, India in March 2022 and plans to open two other Indian locations. fDi Benchmark ranks the Indian cities of Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai as the most competitive global locations to set up an AI office.
Mr Beechinor says that the talent in India is “phenomenal”, but cautions that the war for talent is very competitive: “There’s a huge risk of poaching and hunting at every level.”
He continues that despite the cost of setting up a new AI office, it ends up being “a hell of a lot more costly in the long term” to miss top talent. Altada also actively consults with its employees, regardless of department or seniority, to shape its global strategy.
“We used our team as a resource internally to give us feedback in terms of where they think we should have an office strategically, and where they would like to work from,” he explains.
Altada is also opening offices in Australia and Singapore and is looking for suitable locations in central Europe. Mr Beechinor says that to develop its UK presence beyond its office in London, Altada will open offices in Cardiff and Manchester this year, too.
“Manchester is absolutely cranking it up in terms of AI,” he says, noting that the city’s heritage as the birthplace of the world’s first stored-program computer gives it “a close place” in the hearts of technologists.
This rapid expansion is pinned on Mr Beechinor’s belief that the use of AI today is the tip of the iceberg. He believes the convergence of other technologies, such as quantum computing, is set to accelerate adoption across industries.
“[It] is essentially as disruptive as the industrial revolution,” he says. “We’re now heading into the vertical curve of AI deployments.”
This article first appeared in the June/July 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence. Read the online edition of the magazine here.