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Driving the world via data analytics, AI
HAVING a system predict whether a first-year student will, at the end of his time in school, graduate at the top of his class or in the lower percentile may seem eerily prescient, but that is precisely what Azendian Solutions is trying to do.
The five-year-old data analytics company, which currently focuses on the education and built environment sectors, aims to provide "data driven AI (artificial intelligence) enabled smart cities in Asia", said Bill Lee, Azendian's group managing director.
Simply put, the company leverages machine learning to deliver "solutions" that improve the performance of educational institutions as well as buildings and estates.
In the case of the education sector, Azendian's solution - which comprises various modules - helps schools to "enhance and focus the use of their resources", and to "progress every single student or learner to the maximum of their ability", said Mr Lee.
For instance, one of its modules, known as the Learner Progression module, predicts a student's performance during graduation at the point of matriculation and throughout the student's time at the institution. The module calculates the student's performance propensity and average grade point average (GPA), and identifies factors which may improve the student's performance and behaviour.
In doing so, this allows schools to understand how to tailor their resources to suit the needs of individual students. This, in turn, eventually ensures that students graduate on time as well as reduces the dropout rate.
The modules are currently used by the faculties and administrators of six institutes of higher learning (IHLs) in Singapore. However, plans to expand into enterprises and other organisations that conduct training and education are underway.
As for Azendian's solution in the built environment sector, its goal is simple: to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings and estates, as well as to enhance productivity.
Mr Lee said that the solution has three main functions, which is to visualise - in real time - all building related data to provide a holistic view of a single building or portfolio of assets; to provide predictive maintenance and fault detection capabilities; and to optimise energy use in the building through the use of fully automated AI-driven functions.
At present, its clients in the sector consist of resorts and hotel owners, educational institutions, office buildings and manufacturing plants.
On what inspired him and his team to start the company, Mr Lee said he saw a gap in the market for data analytics or AI product solutions that can help solve business problems faced in different sectors, yet do not require the relevant expertise in data science to implement them.
"Our product focus is that it's an AI data science product for a non-data science user," he added.
While there are "many players in the market today in the domain of AI and data analytics", Mr Lee said, he believes that Azendian is unique in its offerings for solutions that allow clients to implement them quickly without the need of bringing in a systems integrator, as well as the use of hybrid systems for its AI processes.
Resilience amid a pandemic
Due to the nature of its business, Azendian is now busier than ever, even as Singapore and the rest of the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The acceleration in adoption of digitalisation to enhance productivity and promote safe practices business workflows and operations - in line with the company's solutions - has "enhanced a part of (the business)", said Mr Lee, adding that there has been a 25-30 per cent increase in customers since the pandemic hit.
But interestingly, the biggest change that the company has seen during this period is not from its clients, but from the team itself, in terms of how productive and efficient it continues to be despite telecommuting arrangements.
"The nature of our work and software development helps, that it doesn't really matter whether our colleagues sit in the office or sit at home. Our solutions sit on the cloud," said Mr Lee.
Given the increase in productivity, Azendian is now exploring a "physical-virtual workforce".
This means that it is considering employing people located in other parts of the world, such as in Taiwan or Vietnam, as part of its efforts to enlarge its pool of skilled resources.
"(It is) very hard to find if we just focus in Singapore, and it helps us to manage our costs more effectively, by having a workforce continuing to work where they are at, while at the same time offering them opportunities which they may not get," he said.
Since its inception, Azendian has received the support of ST Engineering Ventures which, based on a press statement by the latter in 2018, said it has invested S$4 million in the startup.
The company is currently in the midst of its Series A-plus fundraising, and is in talks with "a couple of PEs (private equities) and venture capitals". Mr Lee said the response has been "very positive", and that the company is currently going through "hopefully the last bit of due diligence" - with the round targeted to close no later than January 2021.
It also plans to hold its Series B fundraising round in about 18 months' time, and is targeting an initial public offering in the next five years to fund its expansion activities.
Azendian has plans to enter markets in South-east Asia and beyond, such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, in the near future.
While it will continue to focus on the built environment and education sectors, it also intends to expand into other areas and eventually provide "a host of domains whereby we can slowly move towards becoming a smart city solutions provider", said Mr Lee.
Fuelling such aspirations is the vision that the world will eventually be driven by applications and software.
"We believe that what we do matters, because the work which we do has a positive impact on the environment and also the community which we serve," he said.
"This motivated us to leave the security of large technology MNCs (multinational corporations) and risk being in this very uncomfortable, very uncertain world of a startup."