4 years ago

Endeavours to proliferate AI in retail market

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It was the summer of the year 1993. Mohammad Oli Ahad, just another boy from Dhaka was bracing up for his SSC result to come out. At that time, he took a stiff decision that was quiet unlikely for a boy of his age. The decision was not to continue his academic education. It did not come out being carried away by fancy stories of great men leaving behind academic career but being truly motivated by a deep rooted desire to get plunged into the unfathomable ocean of knowledge that lies outside the academic world. He started to go to the public library every morning and retire to study for whole day long. No wonder his family could not support him to his path to uncertainty leaving behind the academic world that is more likely to establish him in future. Did they succeeded in persuading him to return to traditional studies?

About Oli Ahad

In recent times, countless entrepreneurs have emerged with their unique startups in Bangladesh gradually making ground for investment in the country. Oli Ahad is one of the finest among these fearless new breeds who show no sign of fatigue to gain what they aim to gain. This man with far-sighted vision has founded Intelligent Machines, an AI (artificial intelligence) company based in Bangladesh that provides AI solution for retails, FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), trade finance, banking and many more. The tech startup that began its journey just two years earlier has come such far that it is already reaching to foreign clients. And the man behind this success Oli Ahad, when asked about the potential of his company to go big, simply replied, "Way to go with long term planning."

Back in mid-2000s and the years onwards, when Oli was working for British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) and quickly climbing up the ladders of success, he had to travel around the world for many projects. During this period, he had some interesting observations. While foreign companies create solutions from scratch with fundamental ideas, he saw the trend missing in Bangladesh. Penchant for easy solution and tendency to follow what the foreign players doing have been an obstacle for manifestation of creativity here. While numerous Bangladeshi talents are working for global tech giants and creating solutions with fundamental ideas, talent has never been an issue here. "Only thing we need is to let the talents work with freedom," said Oli.

Oli's determination to do something by his own was actually rooted in his decision to leave schools to explore greater realms of knowledge back in his juvenile age. He eventually returned to his academic career after about four and a half years. He completed a diploma course in architecture from an experimental programme of Ahsania Mission and got selected to do MSc in the same subject at MIT later. However, he could not go abroad because of financial difficulties. This hurdle made him extremely industrious as he continued his higher education from IBA, University of Dhaka.

Building Intelligent Machines

Oli was very much logic driven since beginning. He used to read everything that crossed his path. During this process, he learnt to read subtle and abstract art and how to put delicate elements deliberately in arts to make it look beautiful. That is the lesson he brought to Intelligent Machines. Whatever product or service is produced here has to be presented in a tasteful manner, yet with deliberate attempt to make people learn through it.

Intelligent Machines, in Oli's words is nothing but a platform where talented and skilled youths flock together and work to create things totally at their own will. No rule, no supervision, no dictation- Intelligent Machines gives one total freedom to showcase his/her creativity. And the company's vision is to reach to every section of small to big entrepreneurship or business and provide them with the tech support that is till now only accessed by the bigger players of the market. It aims to introduce deep technologies like AI, big data analysis, blockchain-- to a wider section.

Though the demand for such advanced technology here is still small, it is because people are not aware of the benefits. But the estimated two billion dollar local market of deep tech has immense potential to grow. Oli believes, "Market has to be made, trend has to be set," and hopes that Intelligent Machines becomes the trend setter. Indeed the company is well on course of setting a trend for universal tech support.

bKash, the most popular mobile financial transaction service in the country, was the first customer of Intelligent Machines and is still working together. The company has no official website or has not made any campaign. Still it is receiving enormous responses from the local clients. Apart from bKash, the Intelligent Machines is currently working with big names like Unilever, Arla foods and Akij.

Intelligent Machines wants to be a global player in the field of data science. That said, the company's core vision isn't totally confined to data science. Although the company is currently focused on software and AI only, its name suggests rather something else. "Intelligent Machines will make intelligent robots one day. Micro, nano, large, mobile, e-mobile- all kinds of robots will be produced here in Bangladesh when we reach on a strong base," explained Oli. He wants his company to stand on its feet with data science and gradually extend its activities to machineries. The company is doing fine in this regard as it is already getting assignments from foreign companies. Apart from two projects in Myanmar which are underway, they had proposals from Singapore and Mexico based companies. However, these projects could not take shape due to financial hurdles.

There are countless number of retail shops in Bangladesh. But, the lack of a proper transportation and maintenance system cause products price go high by the time they reach to the outlets, which are produced rather cheaply. Data science can be applied in this regard to save huge amount of time, money and effort. Oli is the first man to realise this potential and act accordingly.

From being a highly paid officer at BAT to some other prestigious jobs-- Oli had always the dream to do something that could bring change. So he founded Intelligent Machines and it is already making an impact. If he ultimately succeeds on his mission to introduce AI in the local retail market, there will be a revolutionary change in the whole market system and new grounds for application of technology locally will be unfolded-- letting the indigenous talents find a healthy environment to prosper. And if the company comes to a point to begin working with machines, Bangladesh might enter a whole new level of technology riding the back of company that is totally based in the country.

Only time will decide where Intelligent Machines might reach. For now, Oli the dreamer will continue to paddle his dreams which will keep materialising through technology and intelligence.

The writer is currently doing his MSS in Journalism at University of Dhaka. He can be reached by- [email protected]

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