Nearshore Americas

Improvise and Evolve: Crisis Management Lessons from Post-Hurricane Puerto Rico

When it comes to the topic of business continuity, Puerto Rican executives have some valuable insights. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory – claiming more than 4,600 lives and leaving the entire island without power.

In the aftermath, Wovenware, an artificial intelligence (AI) and software development provider, doubled down on digital transformation. The company implemented additional security protocols and remote work contingency plans. It also invested heavily in cutting edge technologies – waging on innovation holding the key to future business success.

“[Hurricane Maria] helped us understand how to work remotely, how to overcome challenges and develop resiliency so that when we went into a government-mandated [Covid-19] lockdown we didn’t miss a step,” said Wovenware’s Chief Operating Officer Carlos Melendez.

Wovenware’s Chief Operating Officer Carlos Melendez

When the coronavirus crisis hit, the key difference was that U.S.-based clients were also suffering from the same problems as their Puerto Rican provider.

“This time everybody was in the same boat,” Melendez noted. Given Wovenware’s experience, several clients asked the company to share their policies around work-from-home (WFH), critical projects and cybersecurity standards. “[Our customers] saw how we were operating and then copied our best practices,” Melendez said.

Evolving Out of a Crisis

Wovenware’s tried-and-tested crisis management strategy was a key pillar of its growth throughout 2020. In December, the International Data Corporation (IDC) highlighted the company as an innovator for AI services – making it one of only four providers recognized with that distinction.

A month earlier, the market research firm Forrester included Wovenware among the top 13 providers in its inaugural New Wave of Computer Vision Consultancies report. The company joined major firms, such as Accenture, Deloitte and PwC, in receiving the recognition. Of the 13 providers highlighted, Wovenware was the only organization headquartered in the Nearshore.

Such accolades are the product of the AI Consultancy and Research practice which Wovenware launched in 2015, after 12 years of offering more traditional Nearshore software development services.

“We started as a system integrator, with very deep expertise doing interfaces and integration work,” Melendez said. “We have tried to move with the data trend and… keep evolving with those emerging technologies and services.”

Wovenware now employs more than 140 team members and offers a broad range of tech solutions. The company prepares datasets, builds and trains AI models, develops custom chatbots and provides data analysis, among other services. Its computer vision segment has grown rapidly and enjoyed particular success, Melendez said.

This branch of AI focuses on training computers to classify and detect objects using images and videos for data.

“Computer vision is one of the hardest AI problems to solve,” Melendez said. “The amount of information that our eyes process and the amount of insight that we gather just from looking around… There’s so much data… We don’t think about it, but it’s a very complex problem.”

Applications of computer vision include self-driving vehicles, augmented medical examinations and automated lip-reading.

Wovenware specializes in applying computer vision technology to satellite and aerial imagery. The company has worked with Maxar, the space technology company, to build image annotation toolsets and label the largest satellite imagery dataset in the world.

Wovenware has also partnered with the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust to build a computer vision solution to count mosquitoes and classify their species and gender. The labelling process aims to control the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses and develop more effective insecticides.

“[These models] can automate a lot of what the scientists were doing by hand so they can spend more time studying and running experiments rather than counting data,” Melendez said.

Outside of computer vision projects, Wovenware has also developed AI models for the healthcare sector and built a chatbot for Puerto Rico’s Inter-American University.

“We want to be able to provide customers with the complete AI lifecycle,” Melendez said.

In September, the company launched a Design Experience Lab to complement its AI offerings. The lab will run research, strategy and design projects to put user experience at the center of Wovenware’s activities.

Supporting the Full AI Lifecycle

As an unincorporated U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has a unique profile as a Nearshore destination. While commercial real estate and consumer prices remain lower than on the mainland, the island of 3.2 million people still has access to the U.S. education system and government programs.

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According to Melendez, Puerto Rico is gradually developing a specialization in IT services for the healthcare sector. The country is an established medical manufacturing hub, and 11 of the top 20 global pharma companies have production facilities in the country. That represents a “big playground” to experiment with AI solutions tailored to that industry, Melendez said.

The sudden shift to WFH arrangements has helped address the prejudices some companies face when operating outside the mainland United States.

“Sometimes we have to explain more about our unique location and what it means to work in Puerto Rico,” Melendez said. “But I think every day we have that conversation less with customers and prospects… The pandemic has made everything smaller.”

Wovenware’s model for future growth involves continued specialization in AI services. The company is focused on offering the full gamut of AI considerations – incorporating customer-centric design with technological innovation.

“We can gather the data, we can create and train the algorithms and we can deploy them into solutions with our software development services,” Melendez said. “We want to be able to provide customers with the complete AI lifecycle.”

What does it take achieve great outcomes in Nearshore services? If you would like to share an exciting case study or news story drop me a note — Steve Woodman, Managing Editor

Stephen Woodman

Stephen Woodman is an independent journalist based in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. He has six years’ experience covering business and culture in Latin America. Stephen has been published in numerous international media outlets, including The Financial Times, BBC News and Reuters. To share story ideas, drop him a note here

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