Implementing AI and Digital Transformation Projects for Leading Organizations and Governments Around the World: Interview with Fred Swaniker, CEO of Sand Technologies

CEO Fred Swaniker created Sand Technologies which implements digital transformation projects for leading organizations and governments around the world. Global enterprises trust Sand Technologies to provide the technical and industry expertise, talent solutions, and training they need to close the gap between their current reality and digital future. He has been recognized by TIME Magazine (in 2019 and 2023) and other global organizations for building Africa’s IT sector and its next generation of innovators.

Please tell us a little more about yourself.

My name is Fred Swaniker, and I’m the Founder and CEO of Sand Technologies. I’ve spent my career building organizations and teams that exude leadership and the entrepreneurial spirit. As AI takes the world by storm, I’m doubling down on my belief in the positive transformation that businesses and society can achieve through technology. AI discussions, for example, often never go beyond chatbots and customer service. Those are valid uses, but I’m more interested in pushing AI and data to deliver real and lasting impact, whether it be on the bottom line or solving big problems facing humanity, like the energy transition, healthcare, climate change, access to water, access to broadband connectivity, smart cities, etc. What’s the point of pushing a technological envelope if there’s not a greater purpose fueling that drive?

What core solutions and services does Sand Technologies provide to your customers? 

We empower companies and governments to make better decisions and solve real problems with the whole spectrum of AI, not just GenAI and LLMs. Having worked with AI for a decade, we also understand that AI delivers little value unless it’s based on a strong data foundation. So, our engineers help clients to build their basic data infrastructure, clean and transform their data, leverage machine learning and ultimately implement sophisticated AI algorithms to solve difficult problems.

We’ve found AI and data engineering to be particularly beneficial in asset-heavy industries that are CapEx intensive. Making better decisions in those sectors is critical; even a 1% improvement can result in millions or billions of dollars in bottom-line value. For instance, we’ve enabled governments to use AI to connect underserved communities while saving millions of dollars in the network buildout. We’ve partnered with some of Europe’s largest utilities to use digital twins and AI to improve water quality and their net-zero progress while streamlining their operations. We’ve innovated with AI to expand healthcare access for entire countries, and to enable major corporations to enhance the quality of their decisions. In each case, the AI solution is tailored to the situation and designed to close the gap between the client’s current reality and their digital future.

What inspired you to start Sand Technologies, and what sets you apart from other brands in the AI solutions and consulting space?

Years ago we noticed that every company and government was becoming a tech company, in a sense. Even before the pandemic, which forced everyone to embrace technology, the public and private sectors were all talking about “digital transformation.” The challenge was, many companies and governments loved the idea but had no idea where or how to begin. Many simply didn’t have the capabilities to navigate the transition on their own.

Fast-forward to 2023, and things got more complicated with the rapid rise of AI. Suddenly, companies were also expected to have a meaningful AI strategy. We saw the opportunity to help companies and governments navigate these changes by tapping into our expertise and working with our highly skilled global talent pool. We’ve been building a massive pool of tech talent for two decades. As workforce dynamics shifted and companies endured “the great resignation,” we recognized our unique opportunity to help clients bridge the skills gap, overcome their biggest tech challenges and leapfrog their competition by working with the next generation of AI and data innovators. 

What’s fascinating is that our tech talent works from Eastern Europe, Africa, the United States, and soon Latin America. But they serve clients in almost every corner of the planet. We’re actually outperforming some of the traditional IT power centers when it comes to AI, data science and software engineering. What sets us apart, aside from our deep expertise in enterprise or ‘industrial’ AI, is our deep domain expertise in sectors like telecom, utilities, healthcare, media & entertainment, insurance, and smart cities. We’re also much more agile than other players in the industry, and have access to large, new pools of technology talent, due to our own dedicated training academy. In fact, we’re one of the largest trainers of software engineers in the world, which allows us to scale very quickly to meet client demand. We also combine the ability to set high-level strategy with implementation.

What are some common business challenges enterprise companies are currently facing that AI can help solve?

In today’s competitive landscape, companies need to rapidly identify new areas for growth, maximize operational efficiency and productivity, improve customer satisfaction and boost profitability. AI can address all of these areas by revolutionizing not only what services and products businesses can offer, but how businesses operate. The use cases are as diverse as the possibilities, from streamlining processes and predicting maintenance needs for machines and factories, to detecting fraud and generating market insights. 

These challenges are common across industries. Fortunately, what we’ve learned through our work with clients across the telecom, utilities, finance, healthcare and other sectors is that AI can help solve them in new and efficient ways. In the financial services sector, AI has informed advanced analytical models that allow insurance companies to better predict risk, reduce fraud, and gain deeper insights into customer behavior. In the telecom space, AI has helped inform a broadband buildout strategy to maximize efficiency, boost coverage and enhance performance and profitability of 5G or fiber networks. AI’s much more than chatbots and images. Its true power lies in quickly analyzing and addressing the business problems at hand.

What emerging trends do you see shaping industries like Telcom, FinTech and Utilities in the next two to three years?

In the next two to three years, I anticipate several transformative trends. Global markets are continually in flux, so we’ll see an even greater focus on AI for optimization. This will manifest in a number of ways. The obvious way is identifying business optimization opportunities, but we’ll also see AI used to optimize customer experiences in the insurance and financial-services industries, to inform CapEx investment strategies in asset-heavy industries, and to better manage resources across the enterprise. 

Digging a bit deeper into the asset-intensive industries, utilities and telecom providers will face very real investment decisions about their aging infrastructure. Those sectors are quite familiar with increasing customer demands for digital services, and their margin pressures are incredibly real. Those are serious challenges in industries that are pressured to keep prices essentially flat or declining. AI can be a huge benefit as companies stare-down the need for major CapEx investments in infrastructure without decimating margins. Having accuracy with AI and making “zero regrets” investments is key.

During the next 24 to 36 months I also expect to see an uptick in AI’s role in sustainability efforts. This will manifest itself in water-quality improvements, optimizing energy grids and renewable integrations, or even informing broader sustainability strategies based on the analysis of millions or billions of data points that allow companies and entire cities to manage their carbon emissions.

The message “AI for Real Impact” is prominent on the Sand Technologies website. What does “AI for Real Impact” mean to you, and how has this concept helped shape Sand Technologies’ mission and company values? 

AI’s takeover of the news cycle has brought lots of excitement, particularly around generative AI and LLMs. But the hype curve is beginning to trend down. Executives are starting to wonder what generative AI can really help them achieve. What we’re showing clients and partners is that AI goes much beyond generative AI, and that it can deliver much more value than a well-written essay or a beautiful image. AI can improve decision making and optimize processes. It can accelerate sustainability gains. It can tackle hard problems like health equity, the digital divide and the creation of smart cities. These AI applications aren’t theoretical; they’re already being deployed. And more importantly, they’re delivering real impact for the companies and communities who have looked beyond chatbots to find innovative yet pragmatic ways for AI to drive meaningful results.

Are there any projects or initiatives the brand is currently working on that really excite you? 

I’m excited about our global expansion plans and for the opportunity to share with a wider audience how AI can impact their business. We’ve done some incredible work with European clients. In 2024 we’re expanding into the United States and Southeast Asia, where we’re already working with one of the world’s largest telecom operators to help their business and customers benefit from AI. We’re also expanding our work in developing markets to help them leverage AI in innovative ways to accelerate meaningful projects that affect the lives of millions.

I’m also excited about expanding into industries beyond telecom, healthcare, utilities, insurance, and smart cities. In 2024, we’ll bring a new level of AI and data sophistication to the manufacturing, oil and gas, media/entertainment and other sectors.

There’s a lot of excitement about our AI upskilling and reskilling program as well. We’ve adapted the rigorous curriculum that’s helped us build our global talent pool to create Sand Academy for corporate clients. This upskilling and reskilling initiative helps every layer of an organization, from C-suite to delivery teams, better understand how AI relates to their specific function and can improve their outcomes. That’s a different type of “impact,” but it’s very real for the people and companies trying to apply AI to their jobs or business and bridge a skills gap that just continues to widen.

What advice would you give to business leaders looking to integrate AI into their operations, but are not quite sure where to start? 

I would advise business leaders who are just starting their AI journey to really understand their specific challenges and goals. Also, understand how their problem aligns with, or is different from, broader industry challenges. Some AI service providers and platforms take a “one size fits all” approach to AI and data, even to the point of having a generic platform that every company is expected to adopt. That approach doesn’t do the client any favors, and it can actually impede results. 

There may be similar challenges across companies or industries, but no situation is alike. If business leaders are familiar with their unique situation, they’re better equipped to understand whether an AI partner will tailor solutions capable of meeting those needs. We make sure we fully understand the regulations, requirements and nuances (e.g. the fundamental physics and chemistry) of an industry so we can design an AI solution that’s bespoke to the client’s operating environment. If the business leader doesn’t have a solid understanding of their specific challenges and goals, they’ll struggle to achieve maximum value from their AI implementation.

Second, build a strong data foundation. AI is all about data, from infrastructure to enrichment to business intelligence. It’s important to understand the challenges and end goal, but if the underlying data isn’t solid, the outputs and outcomes will be equally shaky. The adage “garbage in, garbage out” absolutely holds true.

Third, review your strategic roadmap and identify where you want to better understand the factors and areas that will help or hinder your growth. This isn’t always obvious, so I’d also recommend finding a trusted AI and data partner to work through scenarios, run a pilot project and learn before scaling up.

Do you have any available opportunities for investors, partnerships, or career opportunities at Sand Technologies, or any other tips you would like to share with our readers today?

Sand Technologies is committed to helping organizations and governments leverage AI to accelerate their digital transformation projects. We are always open to partnerships with companies that share our vision of using AI for real impact, and that want to go beyond the AI hype to tackle big, serious challenges. As we build the world’s largest pool of AI talent, we’re also seeking talented individuals to join our mission. Feel free to visit our careers webpage to explore the opportunities we have available. We’re also open to talking to investors who share our mission and want to participate in our fast growth.

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