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Microsoft, MultiChoice drive AI to entertain Africa

By , ITWeb Africa editor.
Africa , 18 Mar 2020
MultiChoice, Microsoft announce the planned roll out of several AI-driven projects.
MultiChoice, Microsoft announce the planned roll out of several AI-driven projects.

MultiChoice is working on a project, currently in proof of concept stage, to apply AI and machine learning in the dubbing and subtitling of content for various markets.

This is just one of the projects in the pipeline, stemming from an ongoing relationship between the digital broadcast company and Microsoft, which began four years ago.

Back then MultiChoice began exploring the use of Azure as a platform.

According to the company initial explorations began with light loads within its IT division “looking at the migration of tape libraries to the cloud.”

Since then, the relationship has grown and MultiChoice is now running test and production workloads across the business.

Brad Eliot, Group Chief Information Officer at MultiChoice says: “We produce a lot of our own local content and there’s a drive to see if we can use speech recognition to dub and subtitle that content. With the volume of media assets, we have literally thousands and thousands of hours of content, so doing this in a non-automated fashion would just be impossible and inefficient.”

Another significant development, to be launched in 2021, is automated highlights packages for sport.

Using Azure, MultiChoice will be able to produce highlights packages in near real-time for use – not only in live broadcasts, but also on social media platforms… “meaning MultiChoice can still deliver live, easy-to-consume content to customers who are on-the-go but still want access to their favourite sporting content.”

The company is looking to capitalise on the ability to capture data, analyse it and then do more with it.

In its statement MultiChoice adds that the cloud will allow it to store enormous amounts of data and overlay data analytics in order to develop valuable insights on how to better serve its customers.

This insight then allows MultiChoice to shift from being a blanked content provider to being able to personalise the delivery of its services to its subscribers based on better knowledge of local audiences, ultimately placing it on an even footing with content providers who offer similar services.

“We are moving towards a data and analytics driven organisation,” says Eliot. “Our data warehouses have content that facilitates understanding of our subscriber preferences. We are modernising our data warehouses and Microsoft is helping us with their existing technologies. At the same time, we are looking to see how we can modernise our data structures by looking at Azure data services. We are currently looking at proof of concepts for technologies such as sim apps and hyperscale.”

Trust a key factor

Eliot believes that working with Microsoft has opened up opportunities that MultiChoice would never have been able to pursue without the access to cloud computing.

He says: “The volume of data that we have and hundreds of petabytes of media assets – to do subtitling or to do content discovery across those volumes would be impossible and inefficient with on-premises compute. You have to have the scale of the cloud, and that’s where these new kinds of opportunities are being opened up and are becoming quite real for the first time. The machine learning that we can do and the artificial intelligence that we’re working on really wouldn’t be possible without access to big cloud compute.”

Overall, trust has been the key factor that drove MultiChoice to partner with Microsoft on its digital transformation journey. “Microsoft is in the business of collaborating with and helping organisations digitally transform, with their technologies and tools enabling their customers’ success in a seamless way,” he says.

Challenge in transformation

More than 40% of organisations will be deploying artificial intelligence (AI) solutions by the end of this year, according to Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa.

This does not come without its challenges as the complexities involved in moving from a pilot phase to enterprise-wide adoption are significant. Fundamental to this is ensuring the corporate network can effectively handle the growth required for such innovations, the company states.

“Decision-makers must carefully scrutinise the infrastructure at their disposal. Fortunately, with many making the move to cloud environments, this is something that has been on the corporate agenda for the past several months. However, it goes beyond identifying areas where the network must be upgraded. Instead, companies must assess how their future growth requirements align to what they have in place and how it can be used to create an enabling environment for innovative technologies such as AI,” says Donovan Couve, Comstor Pre-Sales Manager, Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa.

Gartner has also said that by 2024 AI and emerging technologies such as virtual personal assistants and chatbots will replace almost 69% of the manager’s workload.

"The role of manager will see a complete overhaul in the next four years," said Helen Poitevin, research vice-president at Gartner. "Currently, managers often need to spend time filling in forms, updating information and approving workflows. By using AI to automate these tasks, they can spend less time managing transactions and can invest more time on learning, performance management and goal setting.

The global research and market analysis firm said these technologies "will undeniably change the role of the manager and will allow employees to extend their degree of responsibility and influence, without taking on management tasks."

Application leaders focused on innovation and AI are now accountable for improving worker experience, developing worker skills and building organisational competency in responsible use of AI.

More recently the firm added that over the past four years, the strongest demand for talent with AI skills has not come from the IT department, but rather, from other business units in the organisation.

Gartner Talent Neuron data shows that although the IT department’s need for AI talent has tripled between 2015 and 2019, the number of AI jobs posted by IT is still less than half of that stemming from other business units

“High demand and tight labour markets have made candidates with AI skills highly competitive, but hiring techniques and strategies have not kept up,” said Peter Krensky, research director at Gartner. “In the recent Gartner AI and Machine Learning Development Strategies Study, respondents ranked “skills of staff” as the No. 1 challenge or barrier to the adoption of AI and machine learning (ML).”

Departments recruiting AI talent in high volumes include marketing, sales, customer service, finance, and research and development. These business units are using AI talent for customer churn modelling, customer profitability analysis, customer segmentation, cross-sell and upsell recommendations, demand planning, and risk management.

“Given the complexity, novelty, multidisciplinary nature and potentially profound impact of AI, CIOs are well-placed to help HR in the hiring of AI talent in all business units,” said Krensky. “Together, CIOs and HR leaders should rethink what skills are truly necessary for an AI-focused employee to have on Day 1 and explore candidate criteria adjacent to hiring specifications. CIOs should also think creatively about IT’s role in governing and supporting diverse AI initiatives and the evolving teams driving this activity.”

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