statworx at Big Data & AI World
From media to politics, and from large corporations to small businesses, artificial intelligence has finally gained mainstream recognition in 2023. As AI specialists, we were delighted to represent statworx at one of the largest AI expos in the DACH region, “Big Data & AI World,” held in our hometown of Frankfurt. This event centered around the themes of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, making it an ideal environment for our team of AI experts. However, our purpose went beyond mere exploration and networking. Visitors had the opportunity to engage in an enthralling Pac-Man game with a unique twist at our booth. In this post, we aim to provide you with a comprehensive overview of this exhilarating expo.
Fig. 1: our exhibition stand
Tangible AI Experience
Our Pac-Man challenge, where we provided booth visitors with an up-close encounter of the captivating world of artificial intelligence, emerged as a clear crowd favorite. Through our arcade machine, attendees not only immersed themselves in the timeless retro game but also witnessed the remarkable capabilities of modern technology. Leveraging AI, we analyzed players’ real-time facial expressions to discern their emotions. This fusion of cutting-edge technology and an interactive gaming experience was met with exceptional enthusiasm.
Our AI solution for emotion analysis of players ran seamlessly on a powerful M1-chip-equipped MacBook, enabling real-time image processing and fluid graphics display. The facial recognition of the players was made possible by a smart algorithm that instantly detected all the faces in the video. Subsequently, the face closest to the camera was selected and focused on, ensuring precise analysis even amidst long queues. Further processing involved a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), specifically the ResNet18 model, which accurately detected players’ emotions.
Functioning as a multimedia server, our backend processed the webcam stream, facial recognition algorithms, and emotion detection. It could be operated either on-site using a MacBook or remotely in the cloud. Thanks to this versatility, we developed an appealing frontend to vividly present the real-time analysis results. Additionally, after each game, the results were sent to the players via email by linking the model with our CRM system. For the email, we created a digital postcard that provides not only screenshots of the most intense emotions but also a comprehensive evaluation.
Fig. 2: Visitor at Pac-Man game machine
Artificial Intelligence – Real Emotions
Our Pac-Man challenge sparked excitement among expo visitors. Alongside the unique gaming experience on our retro arcade machine, participants gained insights into their own emotional states during gameplay. They were able to meticulously observe the prevailing emotions at different points in the game. Often, a slight surge of anger or sadness could be measured when Pac-Man met an untimely digital demise.
However, players exhibited varying reactions to the game. While some seemed to experience a rollercoaster of emotions, others maintained an unwavering poker face that even the AI could only elicit a neutral expression from. This led to intriguing conversations about how the measured emotions corresponded with the players’ experiences. It was evident, without the need for AI, that visitors left our booth with positive emotions, driven in part by the prospect of winning the original NES console we raffled among all participants.
Fig. 3: digital post card
The AI Community on the Move
The “Big Data & AI World” served not only as a valuable experience for our company but also as a reflection of the burgeoning growth in the AI industry. The expo offered a platform for professionals, innovators, and enthusiasts to exchange ideas and collectively shape the future of artificial intelligence.
The energy and enthusiasm emanating from the diverse companies and startups were palpable throughout the aisles and exhibition areas. Witnessing the application of AI technologies across various fields, including medicine, logistics, automotive, and entertainment, was truly inspiring. At statworx, we have already accumulated extensive project experience in these domains, fostering engaging discussions with fellow exhibitors.
Participating in the “Big Data & AI World” was a major success for us. The Pac-Man Challenge with emotion analysis attracted numerous visitors and brought joy to all participants. It was evident that it wasn’t just AI itself but particularly its integration into a stimulating gaming experience that left a lasting impression on many.
Overall, the expo was not only an opportunity to showcase our AI solutions but also a meeting point for the entire AI community. The sense of growth and energy in the industry was palpable. The exchange of ideas, discussions about challenges, and the establishment of new connections were inspiring and promising for the future of the German AI industry.
As anyone who works at statworx knows, a party always comes at the right time for us. After our exhilarating summer party high above the rooftops of Fankfurt in August 2022, we invited everyone to a big Christmas party at the end of the year – and opened our huge and beloved kitchen on the conference floor for the entire team and all partners. And as always, it was a great party. But first things first.
This year, besides the drinks at the bar, there were also some nice, contemplative items on the program agenda. As part of the micro-event “Decorate the Christmas Tree”, employees had the opportunity to decorate our bare Christmas tree with individual ornaments. From unicorns, rainbows and Christmas painted Paracetamol packets, everything was hanging on the tree in the end, underlining the individuality of our team. We thought it looked really nice.
Special mention must also be made of this year’s award ceremony for our value carriers of the year. The entire team had the opportunity to vote for special carriers of our corporate values. The winners of this voting were then entered into a draw for special prizes and each winner received an individual, very personal address from the management.
statworx set its official corporate values in 2021 already, after several rounds of voting and discussion among management and the team. Ever since these values represent the maxim of our work:
- We run on data
Data is our fuel. We are united by our passion for AI technology and data-driven innovation. From it we draw the strength and inspiration to take new paths and grow beyond ourselves.
- We thrive together.
The power lies in the team. Always. Without exception. Mutual trust and the knowledge that we can accomplish more together are at the core of our collaboration. This is the only way we can achieve our ambitious goals.
- We grow through challenge.
The curiosity and desire to consistently face new challenges and grow through them are deeply enshrined in us. We see opportunities in change and learn from new experiences.
- We embrace individuality.
We value the uniqueness of every person and always treat each other as equals. Different backgrounds, mindsets, and ideas enrich us and build the foundation for our success.
- We do what matters.
We focus on what truly counts. In our projects, we work on solutions that create long-term value. We use data and AI to shape the future for the better. For people, economy, society, and the environment.
- We own our game.
We take responsibility, execute ideas, and think big. If you want to change the status quo you must do so with full conviction. We believe in ourselves, set ambitious goals, and make the future happen.
- We care for the crew.
We are more than just colleagues – we are a crew. We are our own most valuable asset. We look out for and support each other, and we create a harmonious working environment where everyone feels valued and supported.
Our special Value Carriers this year are:
- An Hoang / Alexander Müller – We run on data.
- Eva Engelhardt – We thrive together. (Winner)
- Stephan Müller – We grow through challenge.
- Markus Berroth – We embrace individuality.
- Jan Fischer – We do what matters.
- Stephan Emmer – We own our game.
- Andreas Vogl – We care for the crew.
Gifts, gifts, gifts
But it is not only through special performance that you can win at statworx. With our big Christmas raffle everyone had a chance to win. Already a few years ago the raffle was a popular addition to the Christmas party and caused big eyes for the winners. Therefore, it was just the right time to stir the lottery drum again and to raffle off gifts with a total value of 2.500 Euro within the team. From cool prizes like the Airpods Pro Max, interior from vitra and artemide, donation vouchers, merchandising kits and the handmade “Trashy Treasure” (a card game with embarrassing and funny photos from the company history). This year’s well-deserved main winner was our colleague Jannik Klauke, who not only proved to have a lucky hand, but also showed a particularly high level of commitment and thus contributed to the success of the company in 2022 – we would like to take this opportunity to say thank you.
And as if there weren’t enough presents, this year we once again celebrated the traditional Christmas Secret Santa, in which the team gave each other funny, useful and useless gifts. Again, we had great fun! Thanks to the organizers.
Finally, the official part was rounded off by the annual Christmas speech of our CEO Sebastian, whose inspiring content was listened to devoutly by everyone present.
Party, food and good vibes!
A proper sound system is part of a kitchen party. That’s why we had a professional sound setup come and a large DJ booth mounted in the kitchen. Finally, around 9pm, our DJane friend Elisa Cielo arrived (she is very well known in Frankfurt), who had already given us a good kick at the summer party. While we had a lineup of 6 DJs at the summer party, this time we made do with Elisa and her DJ colleague Anton, which also turned out to be a stroke of luck. Cool electronic beats were blasting throughout the conference area and kept us awake until half past four in the morning. We were nourished by numerous sweets brought by the team, tons of pizza and a sensational midnight snack by the girls from “Gudrun Kocht”, who specialize in homemade, natural soups and stews here in Frankfurt – just the thing to fight the hangover.
When the last guests had left, a colleague simply stayed right in the office and did – more or less effectively – night watch.
On Saturday and Sunday, our clean-up team finally arrived and by the time this article was written, our kitchen already looked as if nothing had happened.
We had a great party, are now looking forward to a contemplative time with our families and are already curious when, where and how we will celebrate again in 2023.
With this in mind, we wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Cheers!
Last month we attended the UXDX EMEA conference in Dublin with a group of project managers from our AI Development department. UXDX stands for user and developer experience, and we were keen to learn more about product management, especially how to accelerate product development. The conference did not disappoint! It was packed with excellent talks and useful workshops. After only a few days we returned home with a wealth of innovative ideas and techniques that we will use to improve our products even further.
Overall, the conference took place over three days and was divided into two parts. The first two days focused on talks, panels, and forums and the third day offered several interesting workshops. We decided to stay for the weekend and do some team building activities on our own time as well.
Two full days of talks, panels, and forums
The first two days of the UXDX EMEA conference focused on talks, panels, and forums. While the talks were mostly given by individual speakers sharing their insights on certain topics, panels were made up of several experts discussing these topics from different viewpoints while also including the audience. In forums, attendees engaged in a mediated but otherwise unstructured free-flowing conversation directly with each other. There were always several forums to choose from at the same time and the split into smaller discussion groups encouraged active participation.
One of our personal highlight talks was “From Visual Design to Vision Design: The role of Product Designers in shaping product direction.” This talk provided us with useful insights especially for our larger projects, because it highlighted the importance of also focusing on a longer-term vision over immediate execution. As the project grows, the product team will gradually have more impact on the overall direction of the product, so it is advisable to think about the vision from the start, alongside the short-term goals.
One of the panels that inspired us the most probably was “How leaders can empower their teams”. As a development and consulting company, we organize our project in an agile fashion. This can entail a lot of leeway for the project members on how they want to achieve their tasks. We learnt that modern work requires intrinsic motivation which means that the role of a (project) leader is changing as well, shifting from merely checking off tasks to empowering teams during product development.
A forum that was very informative on development techniques was “Modern Development Principles”, where we critically discussed whether principles such as SOLID should still be adhered to today, and what potential alternatives may be viable for modern software stacks. We also talked about some of the latest insights on topics such as robust software testing methods from a multitude of angles and across different companies.
Overall, we had a great time during the first two conference days and were able to take away a lot of new ideas, insights and techniques regarding both project delivery and product development methods which will help us to further improve our products and how we work together.
One full day of workshops
On the third and last day of this year’s UXDX EMEA conference we attended several workshops with the overreaching goal for the participants to gain some hands-on experience with new tools and techniques. The workshops tailored to two hours and encouraged collaborative work in small groups. Workshop moderators from leading industry companies such as Figma, AWS, and SAP covered topics reaching from design systems, design debt and structuring complex problems to customer centricity.
The workshop “Breaking Down Complex Problems” led by Rory Madden, Founder of UXDX, was all about identifying problems, how to break them down and how to solve them. One key message of the workshop was that problem identification can be structured by writing out a user journey and breaking down the various steps along the said user journey. In data science this, e.g., helps to think more from the perspective of an end-user rather than the perspective of the developer. Making use of user journeys can also help to identify what aspects of a product are affected by different design choices, thus leading to more founded decisions in scoping a solution to a given problem. Another important topic we gained insight into concerns assumptions. Desirability, viability, feasibility, and usability are the four main directions to consider. A pre-mortem analysis can also lead to additional insights with respect to existing assumptions.
In the workshop “Building Customer-Centric Products” by Daria Tarawneh, Head of UX at AWS, we got insight into the product development approach at AWS. In their approach to product design, they start at the ‘back’ with the user experience and work their way up to the technical implementation from there. A medium used by AWS to ensure customer-centricity, especially in the early phases of product development are press releases. PMs should work on the press release from the beginning of product development, as this ensures that the correct questions have been answered regarding for example who precisely the end users are going to be. During the workshop we therefore also wrote our own press releases. These press releases are not necessarily meant to be published anywhere but are written as if they would. This helps to highlight relevant questions for better product design and development.
Overall, we really enjoyed the workshops as they provided deeper insights into topics of product management and user experience. All discussed problems were tackled in small groups of interdisciplinary teams composed of product managers, UX designers and developers, what provided further insight on how different area deal with different problem settings.
Fun activities during the evenings and weekend
An important aspect of conferences besides talks, forums and workshops are of course networking and getting to know employees and managers of other companies. The organization team of the UXDX EMEA conference in Dublin did a great job with this with activities such as a guided sightseeing tour, a city run for some exercise and a pub crawl.
The whole group of us also decided to extend our stay in Dublin to the weekend as well for some fun team activities. Some of us visited the Guinness Storehouse to learn and taste the local brewing tradition. Later the entire group met up to visit Trinity College and to go to a tasting at the Whiskey Museum in downtown. Did you know that Whiskey basically means water of live? In the evening we went to the Temple Bar district for some food and a couple of beers, a great experience all around.
Returning home with a wealth of impressions and ideas
This year’s UXDX EMEA conference in Dublin was an absolute highlight for all of us. The talks, panels, forums, and workshops were all very insightful and informative and we returned home with a wealth of impressions, ideas, and techniques that we will use to improve our products even further. We especially enjoyed the workshops on the importance of customer-centricity and problem identification, two topics crucial to any product design. Overall, we had a great time and highly recommend the UXDX conference format to anyone working in product management. On top of this the conference took place in Dublin, which is a fun place to be in general.
We were at the vuejs.de conference! Why modern JS-based frameworks like Vue.js have become indispensable for the visual representation of data science and UI and what we learned about it in Berlin – that’s what we want to tell you about in this blog post.
Our three main impressions of the conference
The conference consisted mainly of half-hour talks, which through their diversity showed the wide range of applications and different uses of Vue.js frontends. More details about the talks can be found here. To reflect the impressions of the conference, we summarize our key takeaways below.
The Vue.js community shows itself to be open, friendly and well organized
The competent speakers are to a large extent members of the Vue.js core team. This and the live Q&A session at the beginning with Evan You, the founder of Vue.js, provided consistently high quality and relevant contributions. Among other topics, this included the latest upgrade from vue2 to vue3 and how to deal with legacy projects and how to transition them.
The venue “Bolle Festsäle” was also a good choice as it provided a friendly and lively atmosphere. The organizing team also proved to have a good hand for food and drink, so varied tasting was provided every hour. So the stage for a successful conference was set right from the start!
The many live coding sessions within the talks also showed that the community, characterized by the open source idea, is open-minded, helpful and open to discussion. The fact that even members of the core team make simple mistakes while coding (surely only due to the fact that they are coding live in front of a large audience) also encourages them not to be too critical of their own mistakes.
Testing increases confidence in developed frontends
The contributions of Debbie O’Brien and Markus Oberlehner dealt with the topic of testing frontends. The speakers’ statement that testing is an important component that should not be neglected but should be integrated from the beginning of a project, met with open ears and agreement in the audience. In addition to the common tools Cypress and Vitest, new tools such as Playwright were presented and tips and tricks for their use were discussed. It became clear that there is no “one” tool that can do everything, but that the combination and goal-oriented application is decisive. In addition to testing the functionality, testing should often provide fast feedback so that bugs and errors can be found and corrected quickly.
Thus, it is not only a matter of “how” testing is done, but also of “what” is done. In the subsequent discussion with Markus Oberlehner, our attitude that testing – like so many things – does not have a pattern was confirmed. Instead, the experience and expertise of a developer are required to write the right tests with the right tools.
Training also takes place during the break
During the lunch and coffee breaks, there were other opportunities for education and networking in addition to the catering. For example, there was a “live hacking” of a demo webpage that exploited a security vulnerability to get the administrator’s access token out. The exploited vulnerability was the unverified user input. Malicious HTML code was inserted into the user input field instead of login credentials, which, when executed, accessed sensitive information such as the access token. Since the user input was left unchecked, the malicious HTML code could be executed. This type of attack is called a cross-site scripting (XSS) attack. The demo showed the importance of careful sanitization and validation of user input by developers to protect against such attacks.
From the conference back to everyday life
The well-paced presentations of the one-day vuejs.de conference made for a full program that leaves you wanting more. Therefore, we return with new ideas and a zest for action and try to let the impressions take effect. True to one of our statworx company values “We grow though challenge”, we will continue to work on our projects to reconcile the numerous and complex tasks. Because:
A well-designed, tested and secure frontend can immensely increase the value of a Data Science application, as it is the first (and often the only) contact for the user to the underlying model.
In April 2022, the first edition of the Unfold event took place in the Bierhübeli in Bern, which was brought to life by our partner Cleverclip – and of course, we from statworx were there as well. The event’s motto was “Out of your own industry, into the unknown: Together, we’ll take new angles and broaden our horizons.”
An afternoon full of keynotes on future-oriented topics, networking sessions, and much more was on the agenda! We also actively participated in the event: Our colleague Livia Eichenberger gave (with a little state-of-the-art help 👀) a keynote on Bias in AI. As sponsors of the event, we also had a booth on site. What struck me immediately upon entering the event hall at the Bierhübeli was the incredible atmosphere and the diverse, mixed audience. The stage was set!
The talks at Unfold 2022
At the heart of the event were the keynotes on topics so diverse I can’t even summarize them here. Thus, let me dive straight into sharing my insights from the talks with you:
Talk 1: Prof. Dr. Andreas Hack
“Calling yourself sustainable as a company has exactly the opposite effect on customers.” Prof. Dr. Andreas Hack explored this statement in his keynote on sustainability. His key messages were:
- The image of a company in terms of sustainability has much more to do with the credibility of the company or brand than with how an individual sustainability campaign is structured.
- Credibility in any aspect, even beyond sustainability, is essential for people to believe a company is sustainable.
- Caution: Heavily promoted sustainability campaigns can sometimes have little or even the opposite effect. As an example, Prof. Dr. Hack cited a campaign by Krombacher in which 1m^2 of rainforest is preserved for every crate of beer. He humorously called the campaign: “We’re boozing for the rainforest”.
Talk 2: Livia Eichenberger
“We come into contact with AI every day – we just don’t realize it most of the time.” That was the teaser of our colleague Livia’s keynote. But her keynote went even further, highlighting the risks inherent in the application of AI technologies. Unfortunately, Livia could not attend Unfold in person and deliver her keynote. But she found a virtual helper without further ado, the AI avatar Rosa. 🦾🤖 So the message of the keynote could still be delivered in the Bierhübeli. Particular takeaways include the following:
- Human biases are reflected in the data on which AI systems are trained. If left unaddressed, these biases will be transferred to AI systems.
- For unbiased AI, we need a diverse AI community!
- If we do it right, we as a society can work hand in hand with AI systems to break the bias in society. The time to act is now!
Talk 3: Alan Frei
Alan Frei’s philosophy is, “To build a company, you need one thing in the beginning: nothing!” With this motto in mind, Alan took people on his journey as an entrepreneur, giving us his 10 takeaways for launching a startup, including:
- Focus: focus on one idea.
- Target group: Work on a problem that affects you.
- No fear: Don’t be afraid to fail; Alan’s list of fails barely fit on a slide at font size 10 (thanks for your honesty Alan!).
- Fun Fact: Alan has now made it his goal to compete for the Philippines in the 2026 Winter Olympics. When asked about the discipline, the only response was, “We have yet to find out.” 🤔
Talk 4: Jürg Grossen
“Switzerland can become a pioneer in environmental and climate protection with a high level of innovation and openness.” Jürg Grossen is sure of that. What we need to do for this:
- Have the ability to be self-sufficient in a case of emergency.
- A more efficient use of electricity. An end to waste! IOT can be a helper, as Jürg Grossen has also impressively demonstrated in his own company.
- A substantial investment in solar energy.
Talk 5: Nicholas Hänny
For Nicholas Hänny, founder of Nikin, one thing is certain: “It’s not about the idea, it’s about the implementation.” Specifically, Nicholas is talking about marketing and branding here. My takeaways from his humor-laced keynote were:
- Not every marketing post or campaign needs to be meticulously planned; it can be helpful to actively post what you are thinking or doing.
- Nikin originally wanted to become a skater brand. When Nicholas and his team realized that other people were buying their products, they quickly abandoned that plan.
- The Forest Office doesn’t exist 😭 For more info on the Forest Office, see here.
After the talks and a subsequent very active networking session, the action shifted to the newly “jungle-look” Cleverclip Office in the heart of Bern. We spent the evening with a beer or two, wonderful people, and a relaxed atmosphere.
Unfold goes into the second round in 2023
Curious now? Cleverclip has already announced the date for the follow-up event of Unfold. On March 30, 2023, Unfold will take place again at Bierhübeli in Bern. You can find all the info on the website: https://unfold-event.ch/
We would like to thank Ceverclip again for the excellent organization. See you next year!
This year, statworx participated in the START Summit x Hack for the first time. START took place at the OLMA Messen in St. Gallen and was organized by students of the University of St. Gallen – my alma mater. This double event consisted of the START Summit, Europe’s leading student conference on entrepreneurship and technology, and the START Hack, Europe’s most entrepreneurial hackathon. More than 3.500 founders, investors, students, and visitors from all over the world joined the event. Since statworx was the main prize sponsor of the START Hack, our CEO, Sebastian Heinz, was part of the jury that selected the hackathon’s winning team. In addition, part of our Swiss and AI Ventures team was present at our booth at the START Summit fair. After two very exciting, impressive, and insightful days, I would like to share my seven key takeaways with you.
7 Key Takeaways From Start Summit X Hack 2022
AI is everywhere
Not only were almost all of the hackathon solutions data-driven, but there were also many startups and companies at the fair with AI products and services, such as the AI dentist from zaamigo, which analyzes your teeth and tells you when it’s time to go to the dentist. Additionally, AI was a key topic in many talks, discussions, and workshops. This showed me once again that AI is everywhere and the key technology of our future.
The future is sustainable and human-centered
I was delighted to see that the ideas, technologies, and solutions presented at this event focused on creating a better world, both for the environment and for us humans. That was also a key criterion in the START Hack jury’s decision for the winning team, which developed a new method for integrating human characteristics into digital conversations to reduce harmful content in online discussions.
The metaverse is coming
The creation of metamuseums to sell digital art, discussions about the relevance of reviews in the metaverse, and ideas about how psychological counseling could be more effective via an anonymous avatar – the possibilities and visions of the metaverse were omnipresent. The metaverse, our second world, a virtual reality, might be coming sooner than we think.
Technological solutions include more than data crunching
The pitching competition of the START Hack finalists showed that developing sustainable and effective technical solutions includes much more than crunching numbers and coding:
- Identifying the problem at its core.
- Understanding the respective stakeholders.
- Researching existing solutions.
- Creating a functioning business model and presenting everything in an understandable manner to your audience.
Not only did the students participating in the START Hack come up with innovative, creative, and future-oriented solutions. The START Summit x Hack was organized solely by students from the University of St. Gallen. They manage an international hybrid event that attracts over 3000 people from all around the world every year. Hats off!
Creating an inviting booth is challenging
Having a booth at a trade show like START Summit is one thing, but attracting people with it is quite another: On the one hand, we found that our “we create the next” slogan, while thought-provoking, was more likely to confuse people on its own than encourage them to talk to us at the booth. Fortunately, our marketing team provided us with a more information-rich roll-up. On the other hand, a monitor with moving content and colorful images is a real crowd-puller – thanks to the AI Ventures team for that.
My statworx colleagues are the best
Finally, this event showed me what wonderful, bright, and caring people we have at statworx. During and before the event, they helped me with the organization in every possible way. Even spontaneous changes were handled in an uncomplicated and supportive manner. Our team spirit and positive charisma seemed to be noticed by others as well: The hackers were thrilled by our CEO’s charismatic 3-minute speech, and visitors to our booth complimented us several times on what likable and open-minded people we have in our company.
So, I would like to thank all the organizers from START Global for making this fantastic event happen and my colleagues for all their support, positive energy, and fun spirits! I am already looking forward to the START Summit x Hack 2023!
Am vergangenen Freitag, den 31. Dezember, ging ein erstaunliches Jahr zu Ende, sowohl für mich als auch für STATWORX. Das Jahr 2021 war geprägt von (zu) viel Arbeit, großen Erfolgen und Siegen, aber auch bitteren Niederlagen und Verlusten. Im Laufe eines Jahres passieren so viele Dinge, die es wert sind, erlebt zu werden, seien sie gut oder schlecht, und die mich immer wieder daran erinnern, warum ich das, was ich tue, liebe. 2021 war mit Sicherheit eines der aufregendsten, herausforderndsten aber auch lohnendsten Jahre meiner bisherigen, beruflichen Laufbahn. Wie auch im letzten Jahr habe ich beschlossen, dieses Jahr mit einem kurzen Rückblick auf 2021 zu beginnen und einen Ausblick darauf zu geben, was im Jahr 2022 alles auf dem Programm steht. Spoiler-Alarm: Dieses Jahr wirft bereits große Schatten voraus – durch den Aufstieg von statworx next.
2021 – Das Jahr im Rückblick
Trotz der anhaltenden Pandemie hatte STATWORX in 2021 ein sehr erfolgreiches Geschäftsjahr. Nach einem eher unspektakulären Jahr 2020 ist es meinem Team und mir gelungen, Umsatz, Größe und Impact unseres Unternehmens im Jahr 2021 deutlich zu steigern. Vor allem das wichtige 4. Quartal hat in diesem Jahr anders zugeschlagen und steigerte unsere Umsatz- und Gewinnzahlen nochmals erheblich. Neben den reinen Zahlen haben unsere Teams viele großartige Dinge erreicht: Wir haben neue Abteilungen und Funktionen eingeführt, sowohl im Front- als auch im Backoffice. Wir verwenden jetzt OKR als unser offizielles Zielsetzungsframework. Wir hatten einen Exit unserer erste Start-up-Investition an Databricks. Wir haben in drei weitere KI-Start-ups investiert. Wir sind mehreren Verbänden beigetreten, wie dem KI Bundesverband und AI Frankfurt. Wir haben Jugendliche in KI weitergebildet. Wir haben an großartigen Events wie dem Fifteen Seconds Festival in Graz, der Startup Safari in Frankfurt, deploy(impact) oder SDS201 in der Schweiz teilgenommen und dazu beigetragen. Und so weiter, und so weiter. Die Liste ließe sich endlos fortsetzen. Hier noch einige persönliche Eindrücke aus diesem großartigen Jahr bei STATWORX.
Nicht zuletzt war 2021 auch unser 10-jähriges Firmenjubiläum! Im Januar 2011 ging die erste STATWORX-Website online. Dazu habe ich einen eigenen Blogbeitrag geschrieben. Das Jahr 2021 bescherte uns einige wirklich tolle Erlebnisse, brachte gleichzeitig aber auch viele neue Herausforderungen für unser wachsendes Unternehmen mit sich.
Erfolge und Herausforderungen gehen Hand in Hand, wenn es um Wachstum geht
Ein Unternehmen wachsen zu lassen ist schwer. Wirklich schwer. Während wir uns Schritt für Schritt der 100-Mitarbeiter-Marke nähern, ändern sich viele Dinge im Unternehmen – und müssen sich ändern. Aus “Neuigkeiten beim Mittagessen verbreiten” wird “offizielle Kommunikation”. Aus “Das war schon immer so” wird ein dokumentierter Prozess. Beförderungskriterien werden standardisiert. Karrierewege werden entwickelt. Persönliche Situationen ändern sich. Mitarbeitende verlassen das Unternehmen, um neue Chancen zu ergreifen. Interne Politik kommt auf. You know the deal. Nicht falsch verstehen, Wachstum ist eine gute Sache und etwas, auf das wir stolz sind, aber es hat seinen Preis. Wie bei jedem anderen Objekt bedeutet mehr Masse auch mehr Schwerkraft – mehr Dinge werden angezogen. Meistens positive Dinge, aber auch Herausforderungen und Probleme. Je größer das Unternehmen wird, desto schwieriger wird es, das Gesamtkonstrukt zusammenzuhalten. Das erinnerte mich an eine Vorlesung zu Greiners Wachstumsmodell aus meiner Zeit and der Universität:
Wenn ein Unternehmen wächst, wird schließlich die Bedeutung und das Verlangen nach einem gemeinsamen Ziel, einer gemeinsamen Vision unausweichlich, um das Unternehmen und alle seine Mitarbeiter gemeinsam und zielgerichtet in die Zukunft zu führen. In der Vergangenheit waren viele Teammitglieder bei STATWORX stark motiviert, weil sie sahen, dass das Unternehmen erfolgreich und auf dem Markt nachgefragt war. Das berühmte “Why” war für viele jedoch lange Zeit unklar. Man wuchs mit dem Unternehmen. Monetäre Erfolge und Wachstum haben uns die ersten Kilometer des Weges getragen. Aber motivieren sie auf einer linearen Skala? Eindeutig nein. Nicht jeder neue Kunde erzeugt die gleiche Motivation und Begeisterung wie der erste große Deal.
STATWORX hat mir also die Frage gestellt: Was treibt und an? Auch in schwierigen Zeiten, wie im COVID-Jahr 2020? Was ist unser Ziel? Warum tun wir, was wir tun? Ich musste Antworten auf diese Fragen finden. Damit begann die Reise zu statworx next.
Die Reise zu statworx next
Angetrieben von diesen Fragen begab ich mich zwischen den Jahren 2020 und Januar 2021 auf eine Reise, um eine Vision und ein Ziel für die Zukunft von STATWORX zu entwickeln. Rückblickend war dies – ohne Frage – eines der wichtigsten Dinge, die ich je für das Unternehmen getan habe. Aber auch eine der schwierigsten. Ich habe viele Tage und Nächte mit Recherchen und Brainstorming verbracht, mich durch endlose Artikel, Videos und Bücher gearbeitet, bis ich schließlich an meinem Ziel ankam. In der ersten Januarwoche 2021 wurde statworx next geboren. Die Antwort auf unser Warum. Eine Vision. Ein Ziel.
In einer motivierenden Rede in der letzten Januarwoche 2021 habe ich vor allen Mitarbeitern des Unternehmens statworx next vorgestellt und dargelegt, was ich mir für STATWORX in der Zukunft vorstelle. In Anlehnung an Cameron Herolds “Vivid Vision”-Ansatz habe ich die gesamte Vision in einem Dokument niedergeschrieben, damit jeder klar und deutlich versteht und sich vorstellen kann, was ich vor meinem inneren Auge sehe. Die “Vivid Vision” ist ein schriftlicher Ausdruck dessen, wie das Unternehmen in Zukunft aussehen und sich anfühlen soll. In dem Dokument beschreibe ich STATWORX in der Zukunft, wobei ich alle wichtigen Bereiche des Unternehmens hervorhebe: Geschäftsbereiche, Dienstleistungen, Produkte, Mitarbeiter, Kultur usw.
Aber statworx next ist mehr. Es hat einen tiefen, inspirierenden Kern. Er hat eine Bedeutung. Es gibt unserem Unternehmen einen Grund, das zu tun, was wir tun, so wie wir es tun. Es ist ein Leuchtturm für jeden Mitarbeitenden, der unseren Weg des Wachstums sowie unsere Rolle als Unternehmen in unserer heutigen und zukünftigen Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft und Umwelt definiert.
Nach der Präsentation von statworx next hat sich das gesamte Unternehmen sofort angefangen zu bewegen. Es wurden spezielle Visions-OKRs entwickelt, die sich herunterkaskadieren auf unsere Unternehmensziele, Geschäftsabteilungen und Backoffice-Teams. Es wurden Mitarbeiter für unsere neuen Geschäftsbereiche eingestellt, die aus statworx next hervorgegangen sind. Interne Initiativen wurden an der Schnittstelle zwischen statworx next und unserem Kerngeschäft gebildet. Die Mitarbeiter begannen, an Innovationsprojekten zu arbeiten. Die Energie war wahnsinnig. Das zu sehen, hat mir die elementare Bedeutung des “Why” in einem Unternehmen klar vor Augen geführt. Lektion gelernt.
Das ganze Jahr 2021 hindurch hat das gesamte Unternehmen hinter den Kulissen hart an statworx next gearbeitet. Jetzt, im Jahr 2022, Ende Januar, werden wir statworx next offiziell unseren Kunden und der Öffentlichkeit vorstellen. Aus diesem Grund glaube ich fest daran, dass 2022 das beste Jahr für unser Unternehmen in der Geschichte sein wird!
Im Jahr 2021 sind wir gewachsen – und haben an Impact gewonnen. Wir sind bereit weiterzugehen. In 2022 ist es Zeit für das nächste Kapitel. Time to challenge the now. Create the next. Shape the future. For the better. Es ist Zeit für statworx next.
After participating in the Digital Festival Zurich for the first time last year, the whole Swiss team of STATWORX was looking forward to this year’s edition, which took place from September 23 to 26 in Zurich at Schiffbau, located conveniently just around the corner of our Swiss office. Under the motto «Make It Personal», a variety of keynotes, labs, and networking sessions brought together digital leaders, digital aficionados, and innovators, all driven by curiosity, openness, and a maker mentality. In keeping with this year’s Digital Festival motto, I would like to share my personal five highlights of this recent event with you now.
5 Highlights from the Digital Festival Zurich 2021
1. AI Experience: Learn. Interact. Apply
This year, we not only participated in the Digital Festival as guests but also had the chance to host a lab session on Friday afternoon. In our AI Experience lab, we first held a short introduction on what is behind the buzzword AI and offered the opportunity to interact and play around with various AI applications, such as a GPT-3-based data science chatbot or the Teachable Machine by Google.
After presenting different use cases of the introduced AI technologies, the participants could work out further use cases related to their respective business fields. Since we got the chance to host a lab session quite spontaneously, we were even more excited that it was booked out immediately. The participating group was very heterogeneous – business people from different industries, researchers, and also some students – which led to a lot of interesting conversations and discussions. It was such a pleasure to see how interested and engaged the participants were.
In the final Q&A session, they were particularly keen to know what AI will look like in the future and what impact it will have on society. This showed me once again how important it is not only to focus on AI in business but also to address and push topics in the field of AI and society.
2. Blind Spot – The Game for Your Next Team Event
Aside from our own lab session, I attended one other lab session, and it was a hit. In this lab, we had the chance to play Blind Spot, a cooperative board game researched and developed by Sabrina Schenardi and Matthias Koller, supported by game developer Robert Stoop as part of an MBA thesis.
In teams, we were responsible for managing a fictitious company with all the usual departments such as HR, Finances, or IT. With speed, strategy, and collaboration matter we had to handle various challenges and resolve conflicting goals. It took some time for our team to first get used to the idea of playing together instead of against each other. It was also very interesting to see that each of us had a different idea of what winning meant in this game: while some of us were keen to have as much money as possible in the account, others, for example, wanted to avoid at all costs getting into a blind spot (a situation in which you have an enormous amount of tasks to solve). And then there were also those who simply wanted to finish the game faster than the other teams.
In the final discussion, after all the teams had finished the game, we realized that none of us was more right or wrong than the others. Just like in the real business world, there are many different strategies and actions to successfully run a business.
3. Festival Atmosphere Everywhere
What I really like about the Digital Festival, compared to other business and networking conferences, is the exceptional venue and the casual atmosphere of this event. Starting with check-in, the badges and festival wristbands reminded me more of my visit to the Gurten Festival a few years ago than my last visit to a business conference, except that this check-in was much faster than any music festival I have ever attended. Entirely justifying the name Digital Festival, this festival feeling ran through the entire event.
The foyer was filled with various food trucks, experiential booths, and sitting areas for chatting. The whole main venue was set up very openly and flexibly, so you could easily switch between keynote speeches, networking, and catering without disturbing anyone. In general, the venue was perfectly in tune with the topic of digitization. Originally used for building ships, the Schiffbau is located in the heart of Zurich’s tech quarter just next to the famous Technopark. The industrial style of the building combined with the modern, avant-garde decoration provided the perfect environment for innovation, ideas, and discussions on topics of our digital future.
4. What a Culinary Experience!
The cherry on top of this whole event was definitely the catering. After checking in, we were greeted with croissants, fresh juices, and smoothies, and – best of all for a frahling lover like me – a barista truck with freshly roasted coffee. For lunch, the lobby was filled with food trucks offering everything your heart desires: curries, pasta, work, sushi, burgers, and more – everything super fresh and delicious. Best of all, since the portions were more tapas-sized, you could try everything without creating any food waste. They also had many vegetarian and vegan options, so there was indeed something for everyone. My personal favorite: the vegetarian gnocchi with cream, spinach, and walnuts. For dessert, we could treat ourselves to some sweet local ice cream. After the afternoon lab sessions, we were offered a delicious aperitif riche with delicacies such as mussels, white wine risotto, and cocktail meatballs. Together with the local beer and wine, this was the perfect culinary ending to this event.
5. Keynote: AI for Decision-Making?
The best for the last, my personal favorite highlight this year was the keynote speech by Elliott Ash on Building a Robot Judge – What Role for Artificial Intelligence in Judicial Decision-Making. Using the idea of building a robot judge, Elliott Ash addressed the question of when AI should be used to support human decision-making. To answer this question, he presented three categories of decision-making processes and the associated opportunities and risks of using AI in each. Overall, the probably most prominent risks in integrating AI into decision-making processes are bias and discrimination. As bias in AI is a very complex issue, there are no perfect solutions to this problem yet. However, there are ways AI can be used to detect biases in systems and even in people.
In the context of developing fair algorithms, Eliott Ash raised another very interesting and important question: What reference point do we use to measure the fairness and transparency of AI systems? In all the discussions about AI fairness, we tend to forget that we humans ourselves are very biased and inconsistent. Indeed, AI systems are biased only because they are trained with human data and developed and evaluated by us. He also pointed out that bias in AI often occurs when a sensitive characteristic such as skin color is used as a proxy for another missing characteristic. Without going into detail here, this has once again shown me the importance of pushing the field of causal machine learning to develop AI systems with causal reasoning, as these systems would automatically solve the proxy problem and are more robust overall than current AI solutions.
In closing, I would to thank Elliott Ash for this great keynote, which combined all my personal interests around AI – bias, ethics, humans, and causality – and gave me many new ideas and thoughts on these topics.
After our participation last year, we had high expectations for this year’s Digital Festival, and we were not disappointed. If possible, this year’s edition was even better. In addition to my five highlights above, I really appreciated all the interesting people I met – old friends and new acquaintances – and the inspiring discussions with them. I was also very happy to spend a whole day with my Swiss team colleagues because due to the Corona pandemic, this has not been possible for a long time.
In closing, I would like to thank all the organizers of the Digital Festival for making this event happen and all the participants for their ideas, inputs and good energy. We are already looking forward to the Digital Festival 2022!
“Building trust through human-centric AI”: this is the slogan under which the European Commission presented its proposal for regulating Artificial Intelligence (AI regulation) last week. This historic step positions Europe as the first continent to uniformly regulate AI and the handling of data. With this groundbreaking attempt at regulation, Europe wishes to set standards for the use of AI and data-powered technology – even beyond European borders. That is the right step, as AI is a catalyst of the digital transformation, with significant implications for the economy, society, and the environment. Therefore, clear rules for the use of this technology are needed. This will allow Europe to position itself as a progressive market that is ready for the digital age. In its current form, however, the proposal still raises some questions about its practical implementation. Europe cannot afford to risk its digital competitiveness when competing with America and China for the AI leadership position.
Building Trust Through Transparency
Two Key Proposals for AI Regulation to Build Trust
To build trust in AI products, the proposal for AI regulation relies on two key approaches: Monitoring AI risks while cultivating an “ecosystem of AI excellence.” Specifically, the proposal includes a ban on the use of AI for manipulative and discriminatory purposes or to assess behavior through a “social scoring system”. Use cases that do not fall into these categories will still have to be screened for hazards and placed on a vague risk scale. Special requirements are placed on high-risk applications, with necessary compliance checks both before and after they are put into operation.
It is crucial that AI applications are to be assessed on a case-by-case basis instead of a previously considered sector-centric regulations. In last year’s white paper on AI and trust, the European Commission called for labeling all applications in business sectors such as healthcare or transportation as “high-risk”. This blanket classification based on defined industries, regardless of the actual use cases, would have been obstructive and meant structural disadvantages for entire European industries. The case-by-case assessment allows for the agile and innovative development of AI in all sectors and subjects all industries to the same standards for risky AI applications.
Clear Definition of Risks of an AI Application Is Missing
Despite this new approach, the proposal for AI regulation lacks a concise process to assess the risks of new applications. Since developers themselves are responsible for evaluating their applications, a clearly defined scale for risk assessment is essential. Articles 6 and 7 circumscribe various risks and give examples of “high-risk applications”, but a transparent process for assessing new AI applications is yet to be defined. Startups and smaller companies are heavily represented among AI developers. These companies, in particular, rely on clearly defined standards and processes to avoid being left behind by larger competitors with more appropriate resources. This requires practical guidelines for risk assessment.
If a use case is classified as a “high-risk application”, then various requirements on data governance and risk management must be met before the product can be launched. For example, training data must be tested for bias and inequalities. Also, the model architecture and training parameters must be documented. After deployment, human oversight of the decisions made by the model must be ensured.
Accountability for AI products is a noble and important goal. However, the practical implementation of these requirements once more remains questionable. Many modern AI systems no longer use the traditional approach of static training and testing data. Reinforcement Learning instead relies on exploratory training through feedback instead of a testable data set. And even though advances in Explainable AI are steadily shedding light on the decision-making processes of black-box models, complex model architectures of many modern neural networks make the tracing of individual decisions almost impossible to reconstruct.
The proposal also announces requirements for the accuracy of trained AI products. This poses a particular challenge for developers because no AI system has perfect accuracy. Nor is this ever the objective, as misclassifications are often calculated to have as little impact as possible on the individual use case. Therefore, it is imperative that performance requirements for predictions and classifications be determined on a case-by-case basis and that universal performance requirements be avoided.
Enabling AI Excellence
Europe is Falling Behind
With these requirements, the proposal for AI regulation seeks to inspire confidence in AI technology through transparency and accountability. This is a first, right step toward “AI excellence.” In addition to regulation, however, Europe as a location for Artificial Intelligence must also become more attractive to developers and investors.
According to a recently published study by the Center for Data Innovation, Europe is already falling behind both the United States and China in the battle for global leadership in AI. China has now surpassed Europe in the number of published studies on Artificial Intelligence and has taken the global lead. European AI companies are also attracting significantly less investment than their U.S. counterparts. European AI companies invest less money in research and development and are also less likely to be acquired than American companies.
A Step in the Right Direction: Supporting Research and Innovation
The European Commission recognizes that more support for AI development is needed for excellence on the European market and promises regulatory sandboxes, legal leeway to develop and test innovative AI products, and co-funding for AI research and testing sites. This is needed to make startups and smaller companies more competitive and foster European innovation and competition.
These are necessary steps to lift Europe onto the path to AI excellence, but they are far from being sufficient. AI developers need easier access to markets outside the EU, facilitating the flow of data across national borders. Opportunities to expand into the U.S. and collaborate with Silicon Valley are essential for the digital industry due to how interconnected digital products and services have become.
What is entirely missing from the proposal for AI regulation is education about AI and its potential and risks outside of expert circles. As artificial intelligence increasingly permeates all areas of everyday life, education will become more and more critical. To build trust in new technologies, they must first be understood. Educating non-specialists about both the potential and limitations of AI is an essential step in demystifying Artificial Intelligence and strengthening trust in this technology.
Potential Not Yet Fully Tapped
With this proposal, the European Commission recognizes that AI is leading the way for the future of the European market. Guidelines for a technology of this scope are important – as is the promotion of innovation. For these strategies to bear fruit, their practical implementation must also be feasible for startups and smaller companies. The potential for AI excellence is abundant in Europe. With clear rules and incentives, it can also be realized.
Recently, I got access to the beta program of GPT-3, by far one of the most fascinating pieces of technology I came across in the last years. GPT-3 is an AI system for NLU (Natural Language Understanding), developed by OpenAI. In particular, GPT-3 excels at tasks such as text generation, question answering, text summarization and many, many more. That is why I’ve decided to co-write my yearly review together with GPT-3. This was my first man-machine collaboration and the work together with the AI completely blew my mind. Yellow marked parts of this post have been written by GPT-3. Check it out!
2020 is a year, that will make history. I mean, the type of history that gets printed in a schoolbook. It’s a year that will be remembered for centuries to come. Books will be written; movies and documentaries will be made. But what will be remembered the most?
Starting the year with ups and downs
For STATWORX it was a year full of ups and downs. We started bold in January and February with great new ideas, clients and projects. In our management offsite in Berlin in January, we were plotting how successful 2020 will be. Inspired by the vibrant energy (and nightlife) of the city, our heads were full of ideas. Also, in January, we were traveling to the beautiful city of San Francisco to check out the latest developments in data science and machine learning at R Conf 2020. On our way back, a quick (mandatory) detour to Las Vegas. Things felt great, and energy levels were insane. 2020 was to be our year!
But, when COVID hit Germany late February and March, the situation immediately changed. The German economy shut down for most parts, including many of our clients. Lockdown time. Projects were stopped or postponed; sales stuck. People had to stay at home to stay safe. This changed everything. We had to re-think and re-strategize for the future. We had to think of new ways to build our business; in other words, to be smart with our money. We had to go back to the drawing board to evaluate what to invest in and what to stop.
Speaking of investing: At that time, our new 1500sqm head office in Frankfurt was already signed, sealed and delivered. Two floors, one specifically designed for face-to-face workshops, trainings and our legendary STATWORX parties. Of course, none of that really happened in 2020. Furthermore, we’ve opened our new branch office in Zurich this year, accommodating space for our growing Swiss team. We were moving in both locations, in the middle of the crisis.
Learning to work in a lockdown
With the possibility of a recession lingering over our heads, I had to ask myself if I had chosen the right line of work. The answer was simple: “Yes”. Both, crisis and lockdown significantly pushed digital working and digitalization in general. Companies quickly had to adapt to large-scale remote working, digital processes and new work in general. Also, for STATWORX, where we embrace office culture, team spirit and a cold beer after work, the new situation posed many challenges. More and more employees had to work remotely. The work of our clients and our own work was increasingly digital. We had to find solutions to avoid a digital silo effect and to ensure that our team members are not just working digitally but also maintain high-quality teamwork.
Realizing, that the lockdown would have a severe impact on our clients and the worldwide economy in general, we swiftly had to identify opportunities for digital offerings. First, since in-person sales wasn’t an option, we’ve forged digital content such as our webinar series on different data science and AI related topics. Based in this series we’ve generated more than 500 new contacts in our CRM that our sales team could then reach out to. The second digital offering came in the form of a new digital training courses that were immediately booked and rolled out by our existing customers. The course program covers the basics as well as business implications of machine learning and AI and will soon be also available as a webinar, an on-demand video and as an e-book. We have also added more digital courses to our existing STATWORX Academy portfolio due to the high remote training demand in 2020, which turned out to be one of the great successes in 2020. Learning for the future doesn’t stop!
Opening the new office in Frankfurt
Around June, when the number of COVID cases was decreasing in Germany, it was time to restart the engine and boost marketing. We’ve invested in content creation, marketing and automation. This led to a series of around 10 whitepapers and 15 blog posts that were published in the second half of the year. Out of this, we were able boost our online exposure and generated new leads and project engagements. Also, finally, after a long and exhausting home office period, the team got together again. It felt great to see all of our team members being well and safe. This also made clear, how important social interaction is for our personal wellbeing and of course also for a team.
Many of our AI consulting and development projects that were laid off in Q1 came back one after another which led to one of the most exciting end-of-year-rallies in the history of the company. We’ve accomplished a success for 2020, even though things looked sinister in the first half of the year. Our team stood together, with great courage and understanding for the situation.
Looking back at 2020, I have to say that the crisis heavily pushed us out of our comfort zone and sparked many great initiatives and successes in our company. It was a challenging but rewarding year full of learnings. As a small Christmas gift from us, we have decided to give all our customers (ranging from startups to large enterprises) the chance to order a free AI Potential Workshop for your company! I wish you all a fantastic 2021!