Partner Spotlight: Using Data for Good with AI
Published Apr 17 2024 11:02 AM 1,120 Views
Microsoft

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As part of the Microsoft #BuildFor2030 Initiative, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we are committed to showcasing solutions that drive meaningful societal impact and spotlighting our partners' growth stories on the marketplace. In this edition of our Partner Spotlight series, we continue highlighting partners at the forefront of app innovation on the commercial marketplace. Throughout the series, we will be telling the unique stories of partners who are leading the way with AI in app development, who are building using multiple Microsoft products, and who are publishing transactable applications on the marketplace. In this article, Microsoft's @iva_kolanovic sat down with Simpson Associates' Giles Horwood to learn more about their story and partner journey.

 

About Giles:  Giles Horwood is the Managing Director and co-owner of Simpson Associates and in 2018 he led the MBO of the business. Giles has spent his career working in and around data, business intelligence, analytics and more recently AI, previously having spent time at IBM and some early startup businesses.  Giles can also be found in the mountains as a volunteer for a mountain rescue team.

 

About Iva: Iva is a Senior Partner Development Manager with the Global Partner Solutions team at Microsoft. In this role, she is responsible for fostering and enhancing relationships with strategic partners to drive mutual business growth that is sustainable, ethical, and socially impactful. She works towards empowering partners to create innovative solutions utilizing Microsoft technologies and publishing them on the Azure Marketplace. Iva is also an active member of the Garage Ireland site committee at Microsoft, supporting hackathons and promoting a culture of innovation and creativity among employees and the wider community of customers, partners, and non-profit organizations.

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[IK]: Tell us about Simpson Associates and your mission. What inspired the founding?

[GH]: Simpson Associates is a Microsoft-focused Data Transformation and AI business that helps organizations maximize the value of their data, unlocking the power of data for good. 

 

Our mission is to help purpose-led organizations from within the public and private sectors to harness data as a lever for change and enable them to realize business value more quickly. Simpson Associates provides the full range of services to support organizations on their data transformation journey, from an advisory role looking at data strategy, right through to providing managed services and capabilities as a service, and everything in between. With today’s organizations handling increasing amounts of data, often from disparate sources, we help our clients gain valuable insights to help make better informed decisions.

 

To our customers we are trusted advisors, building long term partnerships that challenge the status quo of traditional business relationships. And at the heart of those successful client partnerships are the Simpson Associates team. We employ great people. Simple.

 

[IK]: Can you tell us a bit about the application(s) you have available on the marketplace? How does it work?

[GH]: Many of the entries available on the marketplace are designed to work together to bring a customer’s full data transformation solution to life. These include Data Platform Accelerators that are both generic and sector specific. Examples include Data Analytics Accelerator, plus a Police specific version, ETL Framework Accelerator, Fabric Accelerator, and Predictive Forecasting of Maintenance. These are all customizable offerings designed to accelerate a customers’ adoption of a certain Microsoft technology or solution. Our sector specific offerings on the marketplace address common use cases within that particular sector – often utilizing sector specific elements that have been custom built initially, but enabling repeatable scalable solutions, allowing for speedier and more cost effective adoption.

 

One particular application we have on the marketplace, RedactXpert, is an AI-powered document auto-redaction tool. Utilizing Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services, it is designed to improve accuracy, efficiency and speed of redacting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) within documents.

 

[IK]: What Microsoft cloud products did you use in your app development? What value is this enabling with your customers?

[GH]: Looking at RedactXpert specifically, this auto-redaction tool uses Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services and takes advantage of the powerful AI engine ensuring optimum accuracy. Developed in conjunction with Microsoft and the only auto-redaction tool that has been developed using MS Azure Cognitive Services, the fully web-based application enables users to login with their existing secure authentication.  The tool improves accuracy, efficiency, and speed of redacting PII within documents. Huge amounts of time spent on labor intensive redaction administration can be allocated to other tasks, and in the case of police, more time on serving the community.

 

[IK]: How has Microsoft supported you along your journey? 

[GH]: Working in partnership with Microsoft is a key part of Simpson Associates success and we are proud of our evolving partnership. Regular catch ups with account teams across Microsoft, ensures our messaging is aligned and enables a joined up approach to servicing our customers’ needs.

 

We work closely with the Microsoft partner and marketing teams to amplify our messaging and reach to prospective customers, plus this has also unlocked funding pots that we can offer out to eligible customers to accelerate their data transformation journey.

 

Another particular benefit of our close partnership has been the ability to take advantage of the CSA support on customer engagements which supports and enhances the skills we already have. In addition, access to the product groups and fast-track teams is of huge benefit to our customers.

 

[IK]: With these solutions, Simpson Associates has played a valuable role that can help contribute to the UN SDGs. Can you share how you have leveraged these applications to support nonprofits and communities? Why is this important? 

[GH]: As an organization whose mission is to help purpose-led organizations harness data for good, we are passionate about providing solutions that make a difference to communities and ultimately people’s lives, whilst ensuring our clients get the best value from their data in the most cost efficient way. Our work with Alzheimer’s Society and Tackling Organized Exploitation Programme (TOEX) are just 2 examples where this can be illustrated.

 

TOEX: Simpson Associates have been the key delivery partner for TOEX for 2 areas of the technical enablers within the program – the TOEX Data Platform and the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) Capabilities Environment. Our partnership with TOEX aligns and supports UN SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

 

TOEX Data Platform: The TOEX Data Platform is the first data solution to combine force, regional and national data sets from UK law enforcement agencies to create an enhanced intelligence picture of organized exploitation. Previously, officers had to manually search multiple datasets to build intelligence to inform decision-making.

 

Built by Simpson Associates in collaboration with TOEX, it comprises two key elements; an Azure data platform, enabling extraction of data from 9 police forces into a central repository, and a data analytics portal that uses Power BI and custom-built applications to visualize the data.

 

NPCC Capabilities Environment: Fighting crimes such as human trafficking and child sexual abuse requires tackling vast amounts of data, often in multiple languages. Manual processing of evidence slows investigations, hindering action and endangering victims. TOEX needed a solution. Together, we built the TOEX Capabilities Environment (CE), a secure cloud platform powered by Microsoft Azure that empowers officers with cutting-edge AI tools, provided by Microsoft Cognitive Services that streamline investigations and empower public safety and justice.  The first application available on the CE is the TOEX Translation App.

 

Alzheimer’s Society: The Alzheimer’s Society, a leading charity supporting people living with dementia, faced a common challenge: siloed data across multiple systems. This fragmented approach hindered their ability to gain a holistic understanding of data and people connected with the charity, including Volunteers, Service Users, Employees, Fundraisers and Patrons.

 

To address this challenge, the Alzheimer’s Society partnered with Simpson Associates to build a modern data and analytics platform using Microsoft Azure and Civica MultiVue. The platform included a Synapse Data Warehouse for joining and preparing all their data, a Master Data Management capability for matching records to produce a Single View and analysis provided by the Azure Synapse tools and Power BI. 

 

By ensuring a robust and scalable data platform has been built, it is fully scalable for future-proofed insights and a springboard for exploring the use of AI for such things as fundraising trends, with the ability to evolve alongside their needs.

 

Our partnership with Alzheimer’s Society helps contribute to their mission and aligns with UN SDG 3: Good Health & Well Being.

 

[IK]: AI is top of mind for all of us. How is Simpson Associates leveraging or planning to leverage AI in app development? 

[GH]: AI is an integral part of our solution offerings, and is always considered in the roadmap planning with our customers working on long term initiatives with us.

There are probably 2 key areas for AI that we focus on:

  • AI to help in decision making, where an importance is placed on getting the data right in the first instance. For example, working with Alzheimer’s Society, Simpson Associates built a modern data and analytics platform using Microsoft Azure, enabling the integration of disparate data sources to create a single view – initially of their volunteers. By ensuring a robust and scalable data platform has been built, it is fully scalable for future-proofed insights and a springboard for exploring such things as fundraising trends, with the ability to evolve alongside their needs.

In the case of using AI to help in decision making, whilst AI might not necessarily be a current project for some, we ensure we guide customers to make sure it is considered and in their future plans so that we can plan and advise accordingly. Much focus is given to ensuring a customer’s data is in a good place before we embark on such AI implementations.

 

We also work on tactical AI solutions for a number of customers – one recent example being a solution a customer required for delivering efficiencies in operations through a searchable custom GPT interface on their own set of data. Utilising the ChatGPT engine in Azure AI Studio, we have produced a custom ChatGPT solution that provides the ability to ask questions of the client’s custom knowledge base.

 

[IK]: How are you integrating customer/ user/ community feedback into the solutions you develop? How are you ensuring this is an inclusive process?

[GH]: Simpson Associates have a strong track record of working closely with our customers to ensure we are constantly ensuring our offerings are meeting the needs of our clients.

 

We regularly host sector specific forums in order to facilitate a platform for organizations to share their common challenges, enabling Simpsons to provide best practice guidance to overcoming them.

 

One particular platform is our monthly data forum, hosted online, where we provide content on a particular topic and then an open forum to allow our customer peers to discuss their challenges, with the support of particular subject/technical experts in order to offer guidance and solutions. This forum is often used to drive feedback on solutions we’re developing, ensuring our customers' needs are kept front of mind.

 

Throughout the development of RedactXpert we engaged with particular customers to help with testing the solution at preview stage, ensuring it was robustly test driven using real life scenarios, and updated based on their feedback.

 

And for many of our customers we co-develop solutions in partnership – meaning that the customer’s technical teams are fully engaged in the process leading to increased user adoption and are then empowered to help with future developments.

 

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