Tejas Totade
Tejas Totade

In 2001, Watts S. Humphrey, often referred to as the “Father of Software Quality,” came up with a quote that would go viral in corporate America nearly two decades after he first said it: “Every business is a software business.”

By now, most professionals—technologists or not—have heard the related quote, “every company is a tech company.” While it’s a profound soundbite in itself, being technology-first alone isn’t enough to achieve success. According to the market intelligence firm CB Insights, 42 percent of startups fail not because they ran out of cash but because they offered products or services that the market didn’t need. This means the “if you build it, they will come” ideology can at times be a major fallacy. The fear of failure should never stymie technological innovation but innovation for the sake of it doesn’t always equate to success. A technology-first problem-solving approach is the need of the hour. And it’s the fundamental premise and guiding principle behind Ruder Finn’s TechLab initiative.

Technology for co-creation

Founded in 2019, TechLab is Ruder Finn’s very own tech radar that keeps a pulse on the transformative world of tech startups and technology trends to identify those that offer cutting-edge solutions to deliver a superior value for its clients.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Nov. '20 Technology PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

Over the past 12 months, the RF TechLab has discovered and explored pilot programs with entry and intermediate-level tech startups in the disciplines of Natural Language Processing, Voice User Interface, Conversational AI, Robotics, Deterministic Targeting, Social Analytics and Amplification, Real-time Market Research and Dynamic Video, to name a few. The ones that make the cut and are aligned with a business case are then embedded into the relevant client offerings to build better solutions.

The response from the clients has been overwhelmingly positive as the initiative focuses on being strategy-driven as opposed to merely being tool-based which means they see TechLab and Ruder Finn as a collaborator, a co-creator and a partner. TechLab has been able to deliver a direct and immediate impact in generating positive outcomes for Ruder Finn’s clients by piloting offerings, many of which are digital firsts for those respective organizations. Leveraging AI to shape and drive smarter engagement strategies, virtual assistants to enable real-time connections with customers and niche audiences, personalizing the virtual experience to drive a sense of community and belonging are just some of the notable successes of TechLab in the past year. More are in the works!

Audience engagement and connected healthcare

2020 has been a year of unprecedented change with the “new normal” being thrust upon everyone. And while not many will remember the year with great fondness, it has been a year that has seen the most rapid adoption of technologies in recent times. The American Society of Clinical Oncology went completely virtual for its annual three-day scientific meeting and still received record-breaking attendance with more than 42,700 attendees from 138 countries. The social distancing hasn’t reduced the interest in professionals to continue learning about their industry and their field of study. However, assuming you’re not ASCO, when every meeting on your prospective attendee’s calendar is a virtual meeting, how do you ensure yours receives attendance?

Within a couple of months, early in the pandemic, Zoom fatigue truly set in and that led to TechLab focusing on audience engagement as opposed to simply attendance. TechLab identified platforms offering real-time audience interaction and engagement for virtual meetings and conferences and used many of these in Ruder Finn’s own weekly townhalls. The democratization of interaction was seen as a breath of fresh air as it catalyzed inclusion, especially of those attendees who would otherwise be bashful of expressing themselves during a 100-person Zoom call!

The pandemic has accelerated the need to seek tech-based approaches to solve everyday problems, and led to mainstream uptake of technologies that were otherwise considered niche or limited to tech hobbyists. Telehealth has been around for years but was never seriously considered by patients or even healthcare providers for that matter until COVID-19 hit.

According to the “COVID-19 Consumer Survey” conducted by McKinsey in May, 76 percent of survey respondents indicated they were likely to use telehealth going forward, up from just 11 percent in 2019. More importantly, 74 percent of the telehealth users reported high satisfaction. Chatbots and conversational AI technologies have also been around but suffered the infamy of being perceived as gimmicky or worse, frustrating. However, as the pandemic surged across the world and put a serious strain on healthcare resources, organizations like the CDC in partnership with Microsoft and WHO in collaboration with Sprinklr launched chatbots of their own to reduce the bottlenecks in information dispersal and counter COVID-19 misinformation respectively. This pivot in the use of chatbots from a nice-to-have tool to a crisis communication lifeline has made organizations and users realize their true potential.

At TechLab, we see this as an endorsement of our vision as we identified the potential of conversational AI from very early on. Ruder Finn through TechLab has delivered innovative solutions using this technology and has also led to us being listed in the Amazon list of preferred agencies for conversational AI application development. Our latest and ongoing client work in the space includes the development of virtual assistants designed to help patients and their caregivers better navigate their disease states, from getting diagnosis, to identifying treatment journeys with the goal of reducing a patient’s diagnosis odyssey from months, at times, to days or weeks at most.

2021 and beyond

While we certainly hope 2021 will be a much better year, public health-wise, the lessons learned and habits formed during the pandemic months will become muscle memory and remain as the preferred form of communication for many even post the pandemic. As entire sectors prepare for what 2021 could be like in terms of customer experience, it’s important to build on the tech-driven mantras of success from this year. Early identification of technological trends that meet business objectives is well poised to drive success as the adoption of emerging technologies will continue to increase. TechLab will be there to ensure the new normal is the better normal!


Tejas Totade is Ruder Finn’s Head of Emerging Technology.