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Starting Your AI Journey - Maria Becerra, AI Business Strategist

May 23, 2024
Maria Becerra, AI Business Strategist, Jonas Software

For many of us, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has only recently captured our attention, but for Maria Becerra, AI has been a passion since the beginning of her education and career. As the AI Business Strategist for our parent company, Jonas Software, Maria leverages her extensive knowledge in AI to assist businesses across Jonas Software's portfolios, including Vertus Group, with their AI strategies.

We sat down with Maria to explore her career with AI, gather tips for starting your own AI journey, and learn about common mistakes to avoid. Join us as we learn from Maria's experience and valuable insights. 

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Tell us about your background.

I’m originally from Colombia and that’s where I studied my undergraduate in engineering. I worked there for about 5-6 years and then moved to Canada. Most of my career has been at the intersection of business and technology, so I often serve as the liaison between these two teams and translate complex terminology into business insights so that our leaders can take better action. I’ve worked in different industries including oil and gas, airlines, pharmaceutical, consulting, financial, and now software. 


Give us an overview of the AI Business Strategist role. 

This is a very, very exciting role, and it’s been my favourite so far in my career. It covers two main areas with the first being all the research about what is happening in the AI industry and what competitors are doing in the space. The second area is an education component with all these insights I’m gathering and sharing with our business leaders. It is a kind of consulting where I help our business leaders who don’t know how to start their AI journey and I get them ready to initiate this adventure in AI.

I know AI and am starting to learn more about our specific verticals, but it is the business leaders who really know their businesses. So, interacting with them and learning from them has been very exciting. 


What is rewarding about this role? 

What’s rewarding is the people. It makes a huge difference when you work with passionate and smart people because you get to learn from them. As much as I am giving our leaders insights into the Artificial Intelligence field, I am also learning a lot from them, and they do it in a way that inspires me to keep learning more. It’s exciting that I am learning about all of these different industries, while being in one role. 


How are you involved with AI outside of your role at Jonas Software? 

One of the reasons why I chose to work at Jonas Software in this role is because I’m very passionate about business and AI technology. Outside of work, I keep doing the same thing that I do at Jonas. On one side I volunteer as the Regional Director of LATAM for the IIBA (International Institute for Business Analysis) and this entails coaching chapters in Latin America to help promote the awareness of the Business Analysis role.

The other volunteering I do is with AI Expedition. This is an organization that looks to educate people with non-technical backgrounds about Artificial Intelligence. Every month a group of volunteers and I get together to host webinars about topics like AI, machine learning, and deep learning, but from a more critical perspective. It is not so much about coding or development, but rather getting people into the mindset of understanding the capabilities and challenges of this field. 


What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in AI? 

AI is advancing very fast, but some concepts will remain the same such as, “What is AI” and, “What is machine learning and deep learning?” I would recommend to start looking at these core concepts and gaining an understanding of what is possible with AI. Not everything has to be solved with AI or machine learning, other non-AI-related actions can be done to improve processes. So, I would stress understanding where AI is an effective player and start getting hands-on experience with side-projects because that is where you’ll gain an understanding of the challenges of AI. Even if you are not interested in a technical role, it is good to get hands-on experience to understand the full capabilities of AI.

There is a very good course called AI for Everyone by Andrew Ng found on the website DeepLearning.AI. It’s a free course and it is great for anyone with a non-technical background.


How would you explain AI's significance to someone new to it? 

AI is not a new thing, the thing that is happening nowadays is we have more data, computing power, and user interfaces to make it more accessible for people who are not experts in coding. It is helping us get more productive.

With AI today you can kind of hire your own personal assistant/intern to help you get work done. Of course, you have to review whatever output you are getting, but it increases your productivity and allows us to focus on activities where we can add more value. 


How should our business leaders stay updated about AI?

For our business leaders, I would recommend they subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter where I share use cases happening in the market, tailored to our different verticals.

There are also more general newsletters such as TLDR AI, The Neuron, and Towards AI. I keep up with all of these to see what’s happening in the market. These newsletters give us a snapshot of what is happening today. If you want to look at upcoming trends or what is going to happen in a few years, it is better to look at research papers.

Another piece of advice is to set up Google Alerts. If you are in the hospitality industry, simply put “hospitality + AI” for a Google Alert and you will get notified every time a new company is doing something in this specific vertical and in the AI field. 


What are common mistakes when implementing AI solutions? 

Having extremely high expectations about what AI can do. Yes, AI is powerful, but it is not going to solve all your business problems. You need to be very mindful about the capabilities of these technologies. Sometimes leaders get results they weren’t expecting, and they think, “Oh this doesn’t work, we shouldn’t be using this,” but it is often because their expectations were not aligned with what the tool can do.

The second huge mistake is not measuring results. Sometimes teams use AI just for the sake of using it, or because the market is going in that direction, but they are not measuring if it is actually helping the business. I’m trying to reinforce in all our businesses that from the moment we are thinking of a use case in the ideation phase, we are thinking of the metrics to track. We want to make sure that what we implement is going to help the business either from cost reduction, revenue generation, or customer satisfaction. We need to measure.


What excites you most about the future of AI? 

What excites me most about AI is the opportunity it presents. At some point, AI will enable us to achieve full personalization. Our companies are going to be able to really understand our customers and how to help them like never before. It is also going to help our productivity. Sometimes we find ourselves doing repetitive work, or work that is not adding real value to our company. AI can free up that time and allow us to focus our energy on the things that really add value to our company. 


What excites you most about the future of Jonas Software?

I think that Jonas Software is going to play a huge role within the software industry because we have a lot of data, and we know our customers very well. It’s just a matter of our businesses implementing these use cases and I’m right here to help them. I’m very excite about what is going to happen next.


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