More Indonesian businesses are interested in going digital by transitioning from paper forms and records to online ones, storing data in the cloud and even tapping into AI and machine learning. However, complete digital transformation can be costly and complicated. Large companies often have decades’ worth of data that had not been prepared for digital processes, thus limiting what they can do with such valuable resources. Even when data was prepared, setting up an integrated platform to process all the data requires a great deal of expertise and can take a very long time.
Volantis Technology is a local company that helps enterprise clients build AI-ready data management platforms. The company was spun off from Kofera Technology, which provides AI-powered, digital marketing automation services. Over the last two years, Volantis has helped various universities and government agencies develop their digital transformation strategies.
CompassList spoke to Volantis's Business Director Albert Nicolaas about what the company offers businesses and the growing interest in big data among Indonesian companies.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What product(s) does Volantis offer?
Volantis provides an end-to-end data platform with multiple features, including connector, data warehouse, pipelines for data processing and cleansing as well as visualization. Everything is provided on one platform. So far, it's the only such platform that has been developed locally in Indonesia. We don't replace the existing data storage and processing pathways that clients might already be using. If they are using SAP, we build a layer on top of that.
Most of our clients are at the stage where they are trying to compile all of their data in one place, connect the various data sources on one platform and visualize the data via a dashboard interface. More advanced clients would use AI or machine learning for more specific purposes, such as supply/demand forecasting, production yield forecasting for agricultural purposes, etc. Volantis provides basic algorithms to get our users started with AI and machine learning. The drag-and-drop interface can be used for everything, from data connectors to visualization.
Many companies are interested in machine learning and related technology. Are they ready to adopt such technology, or do they usually need help to prepare?
Most of the time we need to help them with data processing and cleansing. Sometimes clients say they have a big database, but their data is still in Excel sheets and other formats. They need to go through a process to prepare and cleanse the data, and that's one of the separate, add-on service we provide.
Many companies in Indonesia are still not ready for the so-called "Industry 4.0" transformation. We're not even done with the previous phase – the basic digitization of processes and data. Overseas, big data and AI are regarded as a really big "cake" and everyone's trying to get a slice; in Indonesia, we're only just getting there.
Overseas, big data and AI are regarded as a really big "cake" and everyone's trying to get a slice; in Indonesia, we're only just getting there
Can you tell us more about Volantis Cloud, the cloud product mentioned on your website?
It’s still in beta phase and we plan to launch it in March this year. It’s targeted at companies that are still growing but do not have the budget to invest in big servers yet. These companies may want to start reaping the benefits of big data and AI but are not processing a lot of data, relatively speaking. The cloud service can also be used by individuals who want to analyze data sets for short projects. Individuals can subscribe for just one month or as long as their project requires the service.
What's the price range for Volantis' service?
For the cloud service, our prices start at $125 per month for one hedron, or 1 GB of data processed. The end-to-end platform is priced at $180,000.
Is the latter product meant for bigger clients?
Yes, we're aiming for big enterprise clients. We don't just provide the platform and let them run it. We also help them [prepare their data]. We also have collaborations with universities and experts.
To give an example, we don't have any expertise in agriculture ourselves, so when we worked on a plantation-related project, we partnered with an expert from Thailand, who provided us with the parameters needed to create the algorithm. We can process the data and create the algorithm, but it takes domain expertise to define how the algorithms should work.
What is the relationship between Volantis and Kofera?
In 2015, we founded Kofera to provide digital marketing automation services. At the time, 80% of e-commerce businesses in Indonesia used our service. However, the e-commerce companies eventually shut down one after another and we had fewer clients.
We decided to take the engine we had developed for Kofera, which handled various marketing-related data, and adapt it to various use cases and verticals. With this general-purpose engine, we established Volantis. [Kofera is still running and shares a building with Volantis. The two companies operate under the same parent company, PT Tri Digital Perkasa.]
What misconceptions do people have about what AI can do?
A lot of movies and pop culture about AI create the impression that the systems can run without human intervention. That's not the case at all. That's the big fear right now – AI replacing humans at work, but that's not how it works. AI still needs human input, from labeling data to defining the goals. AI cannot completely replace humans.
We work with Innovesia's Human-Centered AI program as part of our onboarding project, in which we introduce other organizations to how AI works. Through the tie-up, we introduce how human employees and AI work together to increase productivity, and how companies should move towards "big insight" instead of just "big data".
"Big data" is about storing and organizing massive amounts of data, [while "big insight" is about making inferences and decisions based on the data you have.]
We try to dispel the notion that this will replace humans in the workplace; these things are meant to help humans achieve their business goals. We can help workers move away from data input drudgery towards more valuable, analytical tasks.
We can help workers move away from data input drudgery towards more valuable, analytical tasks.
What's the biggest challenge in running the business so far?
The biggest challenge is education, specifically for our potential customers. We want to tell everyone that data should not just be collected and left as is – you can get a lot of insights from that data. Right now, there're many companies throwing around jargon, like “digital transformation” and “big data,” but they don't know how to implement these concepts. We have to educate the market first; selling comes later.
What is Volantis's biggest company milestone?
To us, it is already a great success to have Volantis run so well and efficiently. So far, no other Indonesian company can provide the service that we do; the other companies usually provide the different components separately. Right now, we're the only one providing everything in one platform, and all of it can be provided on their premises.
We feel it's also an achievement that we can work with clients in different industries and implementation projects so far. One of our government clients, for example, has a lot of data sources, and we successfully processed and visualized their data in real time using a dashboard interface, which is actually a kind of command center. We can even measure the trend of an event happening throughout the city.
Is Volantis currently raising new funding?
I don't think we're actively seeking right now, but it depends on whether the right offer comes along. Right now, we're focusing on improving market penetration and increasing revenue.
So is Volantis profitable right now?
We're definitely revenue-generating, but we're not yet profitable. We're getting there though. I think we can get there this year. Our clients are B2B enterprise clients, and each sale is already worth $180,000. That's just for the basic platform. We do provide other solutions and products, for which prices change accordingly.
If Volantis gets $10m that it can use for anything, what would you use this funding for?
We'll definitely prioritize market penetration. We do have plans to go abroad, maybe open an office in Singapore to market to overseas clients. Our products look very expensive in the Indonesian context, but it's very affordable compared to existing solutions in the global market. The cloud product is a sampler that anyone from anywhere can try, as an introduction to our services.
Beyond that, we'd definitely use the funds to continue developing our product. The field of AI and machine learning continues to develop and maybe the algorithms we have now will be outdated in a year or even six months.
What are your plans for 2020?
Besides launching Volantis Cloud in March, our business will continue as usual. We're approaching various government ministries to see if they want to work with us.
Are you specifically aiming for government work right now?
It's a very attractive market, for sure. Recently there was the presidential decree mandating a centralized data platform for government agencies, but they probably don't know how they can implement that yet. In response to this problem, we developed Volantis OneData, which agencies can easily procure and implement.
Everyone is talking about digital transformation now, but they still do not know what concrete steps they need to take toward that. That gap is what we're aiming for.