The cloud has allowed us to be more responsive and move quickly into new markets: Bill Heffelfinger, Digital CTO and VP Cloud Engineering, EXL

EXL is leveraging the cloud to integrate data-driven insights and analytics directly into client workflows, supporting real-time decisioning at multiple points in that workflow and driving everything from front-office business strategy to product development, says Bill Heffelfinger, Digital CTO and VP Cloud Engineering, EXL

Some edited excerpts from the interview:

Please give us a brief description of your company?
EXL is a leading data analytics and digital operations and solutions company that partners with clients to improve business outcomes and unlock growth. By bringing together deep domain expertise with robust data, powerful analytics, cloud, artificial intelligence (“AI”) and machine learning (“ML”), we create agile, scalable solutions and execute complex operations for the world’s leading corporations in industries including insurance, healthcare, banking and financial services, media, and retail, among others. Focused on driving faster decision-making and transforming operating models, EXL was founded on the core values of innovation, collaboration, excellence, integrity and respect. Headquartered in New York, our team is over 39,000 strong, with more than 50 offices spanning six continents.

As a company, what is your core area of specialization and differentiator over other IT services companies?
At EXL, we’re helping businesses drive end-to-end business model transformation by focusing on the following three areas:

* Advanced analytics that combine publicly available data, proprietary data sets and our clients’ own data power faster, more strategic decision making.

* AI-driven NLP solutions to streamline manual, labor-intensive workflows and improve end-customer engagement and experience.

* AI-powered operating models that integrate AI capabilities and data upstream on the cloud to leapfrog legacy models and get to market faster.

While many companies have invested in data, digital, AI and cloud over the past several years, few are able to combine that technology with the deep level of domain expertise we’ve developed in the core industries we serve: insurance, healthcare, banking and financial services, media, and retail, among others. Because our company’s heritage is rooted in complex operations management and automation projects, we bring a granular understanding of the inner workings of our clients’ businesses to every project we tackle.

How is EXL using the power of the cloud in its business? Please give us some examples?
Businesses of all sizes across all industries are striving to build end-to-end digital business models aiming to consistently deliver differentiated customer experiences and drive breakthrough performance. Many of them struggle, however, when it comes to operationalizing that technology, due to a combination of siloed data, legacy technologies and process design and data flow issues.

At EXL, we are leveraging the cloud to integrate data-driven insights and analytics directly into client workflows, supporting real-time decisioning at multiple points in that workflow and driving everything from front-office business strategy to product development. EXL delivers this functionality through our powerful AI Operating System architecture, known as EXL AI:OSTM. EXL AI:OSTM offerings integrate cutting-edge cloud-native AI solutions with deep domain expertise and process transition experience to deliver a cloud receiving center for business processes that has the following four attributes:

* Access to clean data by locating AI solutions upstream of legacy environments
* Redesigned data-driven process workflow with embedded analytics
* Improved scalability and access through cloud-native architecture
* Enabling employees to operate at the “top of their license”

Following are two examples:

Point-of-sale financing: EXL has developed a next generation ‘buy now pay later’ solution that seamlessly integrates with partner lending platforms and brick-and-mortar stores to transform the retail experience for customers. The solution orchestrates credit analytics, pre-approvals, fraud prevention, and know-your-customer (KYC) support with loan servicing functions including digital payment assistance.

Modernizing workflow with machine learning and cloud: EXL designed a cloud-native “receiving center” for a leading title insurance company to automate time-consuming, manual data ingestion processes shared across several vendors. With a combination of AI, machine learning and advanced analytics, EXL has migrated the client to a cloud-based process that automates searches and information.

How has the cloud played a role in improving the competitive ability of EXL? Can you give us some measurable benefits?
The cloud has allowed us to be more responsive, move quickly into new markets and expedite engineering and deployment of existing and new solutions. Many of our clients that have trusted us for years to deliver reliable operations management expertise are now relying on us to align those skills along with new tech to also be more responsive and agile when it comes to entering new markets and serving existing clients. Across our global client base, we typically shorten the time to value in our projects from years to months because we have shifted to delivering digital solutions that leverage AI and analytics using cloud-native solution designs.

As an IT services firm, where the quality of talent plays a huge role in influencing current and future revenue streams, how crucial is it for EXL to have engineers trained on cloud-based technologies? Can you describe some of your efforts and initiatives and the impact it has made on your organization?

The quality of tech talent is always foremost in my mind as I set out to build new teams or take existing teams to the next level. When it comes to cloud-savvy infrastructure, services and solution engineers, the need for quality and current cloud skills becomes amplified. Cloud has been around for 15 or so years in some form or fashion. Uptake in public cloud was accelerating pre-pandemic thanks largely to rich cloud service offerings such as those provided by AWS. The arrival of a global pandemic accelerated the shift to public cloud even faster. It was simply required to survive by small as well as large companies. The talent gap expanded quickly with these dynamics at play.

When I joined EXL in November 2020, the first thing I did was assess where we were in terms of cloud-native, cloud-skilled talent. We had/have some amazing cloud talent at EXL but to fully leverage the power of cloud, we needed more. I presented the business case for sponsoring an AWS cloud certification drive with the goal of generating 50 additional AWS Cloud Certified individuals at the “Practitioner” level then a subset at Associate and Professional levels in Architecture and Developer certification paths. I was blown away when 82 people volunteered to pursue Practitioner and 79 of them achieved this level of certification. Out of those, 12 have achieved Associate level and 5 Professional. I couldn’t be prouder of our EXL Digital team for this accomplishment.

We’re repeating this certification drive in 2022 and expect similar results. I’m eager to see where we land this time around. Our team continually impresses me, so I’m certain I’ll see great results (but I won’t be as surprised this time).

How has AWS changed the way EXL designs and builds solutions? Can you give us some examples, and the benefits derived?
We have a great partnership with AWS. When I first started working with the EXL Digital team, I would do architecture reviews and see a lot of legacy thinking represented in our solution designs. The plans were 100% valid – just not cloud-native. We spent a bit of time together over the last 18 months discussing why moving from VMs, or even containerized solution designs, to solutions that leverage serverless offerings when possible is important. Today, when I am asked to participate in architecture reviews, I see a major transformation that often includes a leapfrog from VM-based solutions directly to serverless (which to me is cloud-native and the true value of cloud realized). This wouldn’t have been possible without the expertise and help from AWS – especially the training group. We’ve partnered closely and this has led to great outcomes.

We continue to evolve our designs and build new processes. Part of our approach is to work closely with the other groups at AWS to ensure we’re following best practices across the board – infra, code, deployment and operations. We’ll continue to stay on top of or just ahead of the talent, cloud, and tech curves so we can ensure we continue our tradition of bringing deep domain expertise combined with compelling, relevant, and effective technical solutions to drive outsized outcomes for our clients.

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