Closing Remarks from 2020 and insights of our practice

Over the last two years, we have been working intensively to create a reliable ecosystem for developing AI projects. Our long-term objective is to become an incubator for AI projects, ensuring higher levels of success than the industry standards. In our consulting practice, we face each and every project with the following mindset: how can we create a walkable path to successful validation of an AI challenge, given the high uncertainties that typically involve such projects.

With our ultimate goal of becoming an AI-project incubator, we have been working on multiple initiatives to accelerate the development of such projects. Examples of these initiatives are Data Ignite and our internal AI Library. Data Ignite aims to create a reproducible approach to AI consulting, helping us to move from discovering where AI can be applied in our client context to building and validating the solution. NILG.AI’s Library contains hundreds of methods and models that have been successfully validated on our previous projects, accelerating the time to market of our solutions.

I think it’s safe to say that 2020 has shaken us all, regardless of our industry and stage. High-tech consulting was not the exception, we had to adapt our value proposition, shifting the way we conceive the needs of each industry and the format of our projects. In spite of the multiple challenges that arose from this situation, we pride ourselves in being able to quickly shift to an equally-efficient remote practice, growing our team and our customer base. In such shaky times, we would like to cite Andy Groove’s famous quote:

Bad companies are destroyed by crisis; good companies survive them; great companies are improved by them

We believe we became a better company as a result of this pandemic. For instance, while many companies were forced to do layoffs and cutting-off investments, we were able to grow our team. This is relatively easy when you rely on external funding, but in our case, it was the effect of intensive efforts on increasing our customer base, diversification of customer acquisition channels and generating company awareness. We managed to open multiple positions for Data Scientists, where our latest job opening attracted +350 submissions which, considering the small size of our company, reflects our positioning as a relevant player in our market, and as an ecosystem to learn, grow, and work on innovative projects. Between 2018 and 2019, we covered mainly three industries: Healthcare, Telecommunications, and Market Research. In 2020, we expanded our areas of proven impact to fintech, real estate, travel and hospitality, SaaS, multimedia, hardware, and e-Commerce.

From our Porto offices (and homes after COVID), we were able to work with clients all over the world, including the Americas (USA, Canada, and Peru), Europe (Portugal, UK, France, Switzerland, and Croatia), and Middle East & Asia (Israel, Turkey, and India).

This year, we covered several core areas of AI, including Machine Learning (and Deep Learning if you are into using the trendy words), Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing, Audio Analysis, Forecasting, Recommender Systems, and Operational Research.

How did we manage to achieve such a reach in so many areas? By placing learning and innovation as our north star. We believe it’s the only way to deliver top-notch results to our clients. We invest a lot of time learning. On average, we promoted +70 learning sessions in 2020 (about 10-15% of our time) where we discuss recently published papers, how to tackle an AI problem, review code from peers, among others. As a result, besides delivering state-of-the-art results to our clients, we achieved multiple recognitions in the form of published research papers (some of which awarded) ([1], [2]), patents with our clients ([3]), and prizes to our team members (2nd place at Fraunhofer Challenge 2020, Honorary Mention at ERCIM Cor Baayen Young Researcher Award [4]).

To give back to the community, we sponsored and supported multiple events (VISUM, DSIE) and joined efforts with DSSG PT and other associations to hold webinars and competitions on multiple topics related to AI (Cervical cancer, Fairness in AI, Geospatial Data, Optimizing keyboards for ALS patient,and here).

In 2021, we will strengthen these initiatives, expanding our range of action, and increasing our impact on the community. We will keep walking the walk to become the right ecosystem for supporting any AI initiative. We are thankful for all the trust you have placed in us, either by reading our content and keeping up with our news or by partnering with us to accelerate your business. Let’s keep delivering high-quality work, that impacts the world for good, and that helps others navigate beyond the AI hype and into the actual solutions that boost industries in such challenging times.

Finally, I would like to thank all NILG.AI members (current and former) for the hard work this year. These results are evidence of the passion you put into your daily practice.

Wishes of a successful 2021,
Kelwin Fernandes

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