conversational AI

DRUID Talks Season 2 Ep#9: Selecting a Trusted AI Tech Partner: Unveiling Industry Insights

In this journey we will talk with Alan Giles about the expert strategies on AI integration and business success.

Tune in to the riveting Episode 9 of DRUID Talks, where Alan Giles, CEO and a proponent of simplicity in business outcomes, shares invaluable insights on selecting the right AI tech partner. Discover strategies for maximizing your AI investment and the crucial role of people in technological integration.

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Kieran Gilmurray:

How do you pick a partner you can trust to select and deliver the technology your business needs in a world where everyone is telling you that theirs is the best?

Well, today, we have an answer. Hello, everyone. Today, we have a special guest on DRUID Talks. Alan is the CEO who believes in simplicity and business outcomes.

Alan, how are you?

Alan Giles:

I'm very well, thank you, Kieran, yourself?

Kieran Gilmurray:

Really good, really good. We're nearly at the weekend, so let's see how we can get through today to get there and earn the rewards of rest and no email. Or, as you and I were saying earlier on, no rest and even more email. Alan, for those who don't know you, would you mind telling the audience a little bit more about you and a little bit more about fractional execs as well, please?

Alan Giles:

Sure. So, I'm Alan Giles. I'm the senior CEO and founder of a small company called Fractional Execs. I've been working fractionally for a little while, and for those who don't really know what fractional is, it's more of a portfolio-type way of working where you give small amounts of time. Lots of companies really become part of their part of their company.

It's a bit different from consulting, where you go in and give advice. A fractional goes in and actually executes on the advice given, so you really get under the covers of the company. When I came to market as a Fractional Execs, I was looking for a multidiscipline group of fractional that I could work with, and I couldn't find one. So, I started the UK's first multidiscipline fractional organization.

Today, we have 35 Fractional Execs from disciplines across the C suite. We have 25 partner companies offering both solutions and services, one of which is DRUID. We've been around for a couple of years, and I like to describe us as a startup for startups.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Fantastic. I love that. And I love what you're saying there about being a Fraction Execs and having to deliver what they're proposed, which is very often what consultants do not do, which can lead to the odd query at times.

Alan Giles:

I think it does. And really, in a nutshell, to describe the difference between a Fractional Execs and a traditional type of consultant. A consultant will arrive and do all the great things that they do, but they leave having added to your to-do list, whereas a Fractional Execs comes in and does all the great things that they do and they add to, they tick off the things that have been done because they actually execute on the plan that they agree with you. So there's quite a distinct difference.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Okay, well, let's dive straight in and ask some more questions to see where we can learn from some of that advice and some of the work that you have done.

Alan, what's the best strategy that you would recommend to others to get value from investment in AI or, indeed, any technology?

Alan Giles:

That's an interesting question. That's something that's quite close to my heart. We work almost exclusively with technology companies, whether we're helping build their business or whether we're making recommendations on how they can get their next period of growth. And quite often, technology is part of the answer. We see lots of companies where they've implemented tech or they're suggesting that they're going to implement tech, but they're not quite sure why.

There's a lot of shiny magpie-type behavior out there, and I always encourage people to focus on the business outcomes. What is it that you actually want the tech to do? How is it going to affect what your strategy is? And will it support your business goals and strategies that you hope companies are constantly updating and keeping on top of? So there's a lot of hype, particularly around AI, at the moment, everybody believes they know what AI is, and I think the number of people that know a to z of AI are, you know, you can count them or put them in a very small room.

The exposure most people have to AI is by playing with chat GPT and then they become an expert. But I think tech is part of the answer, as I said. You need to understand what it's going to help you with, how it's going to help support your strategy, and how you're going to combine that tech with other things that are happening across your business. Personally, when I'm looking to implement tech in my business, this might give you a clue as to why I'm quite frugal by nature. I like to get the most bang for my buck.

So, I look at tech that's going to affect more than one area of the business. Thankfully, in the market today, there's lots of tech that supports multiple parts of your business, and you see lots of interesting bundles being put together. So yeah, I would always look to support your business outcomes, support as many people as possible with enabling technology, not just point solutions, and constantly look at what it's delivering for you.

Kieran Gilmurray:

I really like what you're saying. They're not buying a point solution and buying something that can fit on top of everything else and allow you to navigate particularly in a conversational way these days.

Alan Giles:


Kieran Gilmurray:

How would you build a business strategy these days? With all of the technology, change, and things happening in the world, it's getting harder and harder. 

What would you do to build a business in 2024? What advice are you giving people back to that?

Alan Giles:

Being at Fractional Execs, we actually did build a business in 2023. One of our clients is a company that we built from the ground up and took to market, and they're doing very well. Now, for me, it starts with the people. You need to have a good team to start with. And when you look at the people you've got and the people that are executing for you, I think what starts to happen is the culture of your company starts to leak out of those people.

And I think getting your values, your vision, and your mission nailed early on will help you set the culture that you want to hire into. And as you grow your business, inevitably tech becomes part of that. But the people come first, and it's growing. A business today is pretty difficult. Things are very, very fluid.

There's so much advice you can get, and there's so many pitfalls that you can stumble across along the way. And I think I always try to advise people when you're looking at the people you want to surround yourself with to build your business, shoot for the top. Try and get the most experienced, the most energetic. Those that have been there, seen it, done it before, and you won't go too far wrong. Now, a lot of small businesses, think that they can't afford real high-level excellence, but actually, that's where the fractional way of working comes in.

By hiring a Fractional Execs, you get access to expertise and experience. But the very word fractional means you get them for a fraction of the time, which means you get them for a fraction of the cost. And actually, you don't have that additional social cost of hiring people. You don't get the fringe that comes along with it. You don't pay their healthcare, you don't have to pay their NI; they take care of that all themselves.

But it does mean, and because they're very flexible, you get them for the amount of time you need them. If I use a good example, is the CFO role. Not many people can convince me that small and medium-sized companies need a full-time CFO, but they will inevitably need the expertise that the CFO brings for part of their corporate journey, whether it be funding or mergers and acquisitions. You really do need a CFO type profile. So why not go to the market and get the type of profile you need for the time you need it rather than having a full-time hire?

And that's really how I advise people to build their business, is look at what they need and when they need it and go and get it. Now, Fractionals are not too sniffy. You know, you take a fractional on for three, four months and then say you've served your purpose, I want somebody else now. They'll help you find them, you know, and then they'll back out gracefully, and everybody's happy. And so I think you can do it.

You can build a business quickly. We grew a big business in a little under six months and then helped them get their first client, Google, which is amazing. And, yeah, along the way, there are obviously investments in technology to help support the people that you put in place. But for me, the starting block is always good for people.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Well, you mentioned a moment ago some of the attributes you wanted in people, but let's elaborate on that a little bit more. 

How do you pick great people and technology and then put them together?

Rakesh Sangani:

Yeah, look, I think a few things. I think we recognize that this area, this space of leveraging AI to deal with queries, has matured significantly over the last ten years. With large language models, with the ability to answer like a human, with a range of questions that can be answered. The technology has definitely matured, and I think DRUID worked as a good partner for us because of being functionally quite effective around that technology, but also integrating with some of our other partners in the toolkit. So we work with the likes of UiPath in RPA and Celonis in-process mining with some other tools and technologies across that whole ecosystem.

DRUID actually fits well within that to help you not only resolve that problem statement around how to automate your queries but also integrate with that ecosystem of other tools and technologies that allow you to deliver end-to-end automation across your process. So, and to add to that, they work with us quite flexibly. They're young, hungry, and fit our culture quite well.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Sounds like us at the end there, Rakesh. Young and hungry. So that's definitely, that's an. Rakesh, what's the best piece of advice just to finish off today?

What is the best business or technology advice you have ever received?

Alan Giles:

In my experience, great people are users of technology anyway. They see the benefits that technology brings to the party, but they don't totally rely on the tech. So technology—for me, I use it every day—we all do. But it's an enabler. It doesn't replace what I do; it just enables me to do more of what I do quicker, more efficiently, and possibly more accurately. But it's people that are used to tech typically end up becoming. Sorry, I'll take that back. People who are very good at what they do in their function typically have embraced technology along the way. So I think there's a nice meeting of the experience that you get from somebody alongside knowing which tools are going to enable them to be excellent.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Well, if we take one of those tools and we talk about generative, AI infused, conversational AI.

How do people or businesses get value out of that?

Alan Giles:

Alan, I think this comes back from the consumer, and I use the word consumer deliberately. The consumers of our services, we are, as employees and employers, we're acting far more like we do in a consumer area. We're expecting that technology is there to assist us with everything we do. If you think about what we do in our personal lives, the way we shop, the way we bank, the way we travel, we expect technology to lead us, and we just interface with technology, all parts of that. Who would have thought that ten years ago, the shopping experience would not involve another person?

You go shopping, and you only interface with tech. I'm happy to go shopping in the middle of the night and not see a soul. And that's become the norm. That's how we live our lives now. Being able to get access to services any time of day or night and understanding that we really live in a global village now, our customers, whether it be customers of druid or customers of fractional, customers of the shell garage over the road, they expect to be able to get what they want, when they want it, and when it's convenient to them.

So I think generative and conversational AI really, really does help by extending the business outside of what is a traditional time of work, and allowing people to consume your services and your solutions when they want. And the customer is key. It doesn't matter what sector you're in. The lifeblood of our businesses is the customers that we sell to, and so we should enable them to consume our services and solutions when it's convenient for them. And that means, and I think AI, generative and conversational AI are key to that.

Particularly when I, as a user of that tech, until around about maybe a year, 18 months ago, one of my biggest frustrations was chatbots, as a user of tech, was really, really frustrated. I would come off many websites and then choose not to fulfill what I went to that website for because of the experience of chatbots. And a lot of companies, I think, were suffering from that apathy that the customer base was feeling. My heart would sink when the little thing would open on the right-hand side because I'd be like, oh, okay, what's this going to be like? But it's got better.

As the tech has got better, the experience has become better, whether it be interfacing with my bank. I haven't been to my bank branch for years now. I feel like I'm talking to a human because the bank has embraced decent technology rather than giving me a computer. Says, no experience.

Kieran Gilmurray:

It's interesting if we just pick apart some of the things you said there. I think people have the word chatbot in their heads, but they maybe haven't realized that chatbots then got AI, which made them far, far better than when they were given generative AI. Now, all of a sudden, it is a human-like experience.

Alan Giles:


Kieran Gilmurray:

And then, as you described there a moment ago on, I don't know if there is such a thing as traditional working hours anymore because everything is blurred so dramatically that to actually put traditional hours into a business, I think that would cause people probably to react violently to your service. As opposed to what you were saying, which is seamlessly being there when the customer wants to engage with you, no matter the day, time, night, or again, the device or medium.

Alan Giles:

Right? But it happens. And why shouldn't it now? AI tools are helping with that. And the way that we work has changed. I think, personally, I feel for the better. I've embraced the change. I'm not sitting at my desk all day, every day. However, I am working more and more effectively than I ever have. And that's down to using tech. And the way that tech has improved exponentially over the last two to three years, it races forward so quickly.

Kieran Gilmurray:

As someone once said, it's as exciting as it is scary talking about tech. 

Why did you choose DRUID as your tech partner?

Alan Giles:

Oh, so about a year ago, actually, I had a customer, a client, who was asking me what we were doing in AI. Very common question that lots of business owners kind of flounder around with. And I asked them what was the root of the question? And they said, well, we'd be interested in doing XYZ. Actually, it was a customer service use case.

They had the old traditional chatbot issue experience, and they were looking for more of a virtual assistant, more of a human-like experience. So I explored the use case with them and went out to market, almost partnered with another company. And when we really got down to the nuts and bolts of what they were doing, it wasn't as, it wasn't as mature as I had hoped. And actually, I didn't want to put my name and my company's name on that piece of tech. The customers I've known personally for 15 years, and in the past, they've relied on my ability to go and find innovative tech to help them do things differently.

I felt that I'd be failing them and actually failing our company if I had supported the use of this other tech. So I went back to the market and started looking again. An old business colleague of mine had just landed at Druid, and I started looking at DRUID, the more I looked, and I had a fantastic demo. I wasn't quite sure what use case I wanted to be shown to me, but Andrea gave me an amazing demo and covered more things in an hour than questions I could have thought up in three. And it was terrific.

And I got off that call, and I thought, that's a company that I think we want to work with. And all the way through the tech just, it just screams out that it's professional, is enterprise ready, it's something you can rely on. So, you know, at the back end of last year, we managed to get a partnership agreement in place and delighted about it. We are fantastic.

Kieran Gilmurray:

It's funny, you and I probably have seen lots of technologies over the years, and we've probably seen more technologies that don't work than do work. So when you land on something that truly makes a difference in a business, and you're right, it is about your reputation. Not really. You know, if you want to put your name to something that genuinely benefits the client and their clients, then it really matters what you actually pick.

Alan Giles:

You don't get many, many chances if you get things wrong in a small business because it hurts. So before you place your bets, you really want to do your research. And that's what we did with DRUID, and it's been great. Fantastic.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Alan, to finish off.

What's the best business or career advice you were given that you would now share with other businesses or other business leaders?

Alan Giles:

I was going to share something else, but I won't. I'll do that for another day. A couple of things that have always followed me, one that resonated from very early on in my career, was the whole keep it simple, stupid kiss. And I think a lot of people can be guilty of overthinking. And I think that you need to give yourself time to think.

And I personally make sure I do this. I carve out time to just think about where we are. What's the current state of my business, and where are we going? And that latter part, that where are we going is obviously quite dynamic because the market's quite dynamic. But rather than just blindly following a path because I said that I would do that last month or last year, I think it's really important to give yourself the opportunity to think and actually be able to pivot.

The beauty of being in a small company is that you can make changes quickly. And so I always think that if you can give yourself that time and don't be scared to change, it's not a failure to turn around and say, okay, well, I did make that decision, but actually, things have changed, and that's proven to be wrong. Change it. You're in charge, you're the boss, and you can make change. And so that's one of the key things for me, is keep it simple.

Don't overthink, but give yourself time to think. The other things that I think are really important are partnerships, collaboration, and working with others. It can be quite lonely working in a small business and thinking that you've got to do everything on your own. I see very few small businesses that make a roaring success without collaborating with others. And I'm very much a believer in the one plus one equals three approaches to collaboration.

It's rare that you put two companies together, and you don't see better things happening unless ego gets in the way. One of my favorite testimonials that I've had from a client is at the end of they did a video testimony like this, and they said with Fractional Execs, what you get is you get expertise without ego. And that I never prompted it. I was delighted with it. I'm using it a lot now, by the way.

But for me, I think if senior people sometimes can get out of their own way and actually look at how they can help others, that comes back to them. And then you start to see the collaborative effect of working in parts.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Well, building on that, then one of me and one of you let me try and do a very simple close, which is to say, thank you, Alan, for an amazing podcast. And if I'm taking anything away today, it's that if you do keep it simple if you do keep it honest, if you put your reputation quite rightly on the line in front of your clients and remove your own eagle, you pick the right people and you pick the right technology, then you will succeed as long as you're willing to change. Alan, thank you so much indeed.

That is fantastic. I wish you and Fractional Execs all the best and thank you to everyone who listened to this edition of DRUID Talks. Have a wonderful day.

Alan Giles:

Thank you. Bye.


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