Two recent graduates of the Naveen Jindal School of Management took home a bronze medal from Paris in a global competition to improve customer service with artificial intelligence and chatbots.
Vishal Kamble and Aman Mulkalwar won third place on July 3 in the Atos IT Challenge for their entry Electra for the Utilities, a cloud-based chatbot that can reduce costs and provide better customer service in the utilities industry. The pair received a cash award of 3,000 euros. (Kamble’s presentation about Electra begins at 48:48 in the event video.)
“It’s very exciting,” Kamble said. “This was all new to us, and we really had to struggle to get this project done.”
The annual contest is sponsored by Atos, a European IT company with offices around the world. The competition is open to any student enrolled in a college, university or engineering school.
This year, Atos challenged students to come up with an idea and build a prototype using artificial intelligence (AI) and conversational interfaces — or chatbots — that could help customers and businesses alike.
Working with Amazon’s web cloud services, Kamble and Mulkalwar devised Electra to provide immediate answers to utilities customers, 24 hours a day, via text message, Amazon’s Alexa, Facebook Messenger and virtual reality.
“All companies compete to have top-quality products or services, but customer service is what gives them an edge,” Mulkalwar said. “Our idea gives customers a smooth, great experience: Basically, you’re talking to a virtual person who knows the answers to pre-set questions.”
The gold medal went to Columbia University students for “BTM Solutions,” which unlocks automated demand response by using real-time electricity prices. The silver medal was awarded to students from Russia’s Voronezh State University who designed “Masterpiece,” a mobile app that lets you discuss art with a chatbot.
The contest started last fall, and in December, judges from Atos chose Electra from 200 entries from several countries and put it on a shortlist of 20. After that, each shortlisted team met with a coach to provide technical and business insights: Kamble and Mulkalwar joined forces with Dr. Prakash Shrivastava, an Atos employee who also serves as a JSOM lecturer in the Systems Engineering and Management program.
“Their idea required a lot of patience, hard work and testing,” said Shrivastava, who joined Kamble in Paris for the awards ceremony. “The fact that Vishal and Aman’s entry made it so far in a global competition is a great accomplishment.”
Kamble said Shrivastava’s mentorship and guidance was the key to their success.
“As students, our habit is to push everything until the last moment, but he motivated us to follow the timelines, plan everything, and keep this six-month project on track,” Kamble said.
Both Kamble and Mulkalwar graduated in May. Kamble, an MS in Business Analytics alumnus, already has been hired as a full-time analytics consultant at Atos, where he had previously interned. He said there was no conflict of interest in entering the Atos IT Challenge because the contest is based in France and involves tech innovation, while his Atos internship was in the U.S. and focused on marketing.
An MS in Information Technology and Management graduate, Mulkalwar was so busy with his job search he could not attend the awards ceremony in Paris. His focus paid off: He just landed a job with Dell in Austin.
But he said he is still savoring his success in the Atos IT Challenge, which would not have been possible without the Jindal School of Management.
“JSOM gave us the resources and the inspiration to implement the idea in real life,’’ he said. “The diverse and comprehensive coursework definitely contributed towards the fruition of this idea.”