#HRTechChat: Adam Famularo, CEO of WorkFusion

For many, it is natural to see advancements in artificial intelligence and worry over their impact on people in the world of work. Even so, years from now we may well look back on “the past of the future of work” and understand that many, possibly most, of these fears were unfounded—or misplaced, at least. This episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast is about that.

Joining us was guest Adam Famularo, CEO of WorkFusion, whose “AI Digital Workers” are just plain better—more accurate, more efficient—than any human could be in monitoring for financial crime. Before you lament this loss of jobs that real people could do, understand: it’s sleepless work; in fact, it needs to be. Then, ask yourself: is there really any love lost? We can probably and safely say that this is an example of AI sparing humans the drudgery of extreme tedium so we can focus on higher-level work that needs “humanness” to be carried out effectively.

As do most leaders who understand the importance of their people, Adam is a big believer in investing in his and the idea that others should invest in theirs, too—upskilling actual humans to do the work that AI won’t be able to do for a very long time, if ever. Listen to the ideas that Adam espouses on the podcast. From his perch as the CEO of a company at the bleeding edge of deploying AI in the world of work, he is laser-focused on the same things that we in human capital management advocate day in and day out. It was fascinating to be a part of this conversation.

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Brent Skinner 00:00
Well, hello, everybody, and welcome to this latest episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast. And with me today I have Adam Famularo, who is CEO of WorkFusion. Welcome, Adam.

Adam Famularo 00:11
Thanks, Brent. Thanks for having me.

Brent Skinner 00:13
Oh, absolutely, I’m really looking forward to today’s discussion, we’re going to be talking about AI in the workplace, and how the rubber is really meeting the road right now. And I’m really looking forward to this topic. Perhaps before we dive in, if you could provide our audience just with a little bit of a background about who you are, what WorkFusion Is this sort of thing? And I think this will provide a nice segue for us.

Adam Famularo 00:41
Sure. So look, my name is Adam Famularo, I’m the CEO of WorkFusion. I’ve been a technology executive for the last 25 years of my life. And the last seven or so before this, I was a CEO of a data governance software company that I helped found with another close colleague. And then this company WorkFusion, I took over about two years ago. WorkFusion has brilliant AI software that was born out of MIT labs. And they built this this great platform that can help us build what we call digital workers for the workforce. And since I’ve joined, working with our customers, we kind of identified a specific area, which is financial crimes. And so crimes is where there’s a lot of bad guys, there is a lot of need for real automation. It’s a very heavily regulated space. And it’s very hard to find talent to do this jobs. So we found it to be a perfect area for us to put our area of expertise to play, and build out deep, rich digital workers that can come to work for you doing the roles of things like sanction screening and KYC.

Brent Skinner 02:00
Interesting, interesting, you know, the bad guys never sleep. So. So you know, it’s really interesting. And we’re gonna get into that and why this type of a role called a role for AI is, maybe it’s maybe it’s better suited to AI than people. But first, I just want to kind of let scope out just a little bit. WorkFusion is essentially Intelligent Automation for the enterprise. Just for our audience, could you describe just kind of describe what that is.

Adam Famularo 02:30
So if you think of enterprise AI, it’s something that is more of a open platform, an open model that you can train that we can train to be able to do a specific job role and task. The reason why I say it that way is if you look at some consumer applications, like product, like ChatGPT, which is very familiar out there, at this point, it’s more of a closed box, you actually don’t know what’s in the model, you don’t know where your data is going. It’s a very different type of environment than an enterprise grade AI, where companies need to know about where their data is going, how it’s being used. And then on the offset is, how is the machine learning model actually working? Right? So it isn’t a black box, it’s actually an open box, we have provided our own level of training and working with other companies in the industry. But at the end of the day, each one of our enterprise customers can really fine tune the model to be what they need it to be for their enterprise.

Brent Skinner 03:36
Interesting, okay. You talked about closed box and, or black box and an open box, I’ve heard, you know, trans transparency white box, black box, you know, some organizations, they can explain their own AI, or they can explain why their AI reached various conclusions or made certain decisions, whereas some AI, you they’re not able to do that, which is a little bit worrisome. In we hear terms out there in the wild, Explainable AI, a lot of companies in the HCM space, I think HireVue was the first one to come out with a sort of explainability statement for their AI, which is interesting. This is kind of interesting tangents we can get into these a little bit, but in the meantime, thinking about the financial crimes piece of it, that you sort of, that you’ve sort of tasked your AI with, with tackling. Why should Why is Why is AI well suited to this particular this particular type of need, why should we be why should we be okay with AI sort of doing this instead of people? And by the way, I agree that we should be but I’m curious what the what the thinking is here, because I want our audience to really We understand sort of, there’s a lot of sort of concern out there about AI taking certain jobs and this sort of thing, it’s actually a lot different. So this might be a way to kind of, kind of re present this to people.

Adam Famularo 05:13
It’s a very, very hot topic right now. But it’s something that I find myself talking about quite a bit. At the high level, first, I’ll give you kind of my take on what we’re doing around financial crimes, and then we can talk deeper and broader as you want to go. But specifically, when we were researching, where we should fine tune our AI models and make the biggest impact in the environment, we circled back to the same thing over and over again, within our large customers, which was all around financial crimes. As you said earlier, the bad guys do not sleep, they’re continuously trying to break into whether it’s banks or other companies and, and have false transactions go through with the amount of with the latest Russia, Ukraine war, the amount of sanctions, being graded, have skyrocketed, all that have grown in sanctions, and know your customer KYC. And there’s not enough people to do the work. It’s tedious work, it’s work that you literally sit in there clicking a button over and over and over again. And in doing that, it’s very easy to make mistakes or miss something. So and then you add on top of it, that it’s all regulated, right and you have government regulators coming in to survey the work, and they want to see what was done and why that decision was made. So when you add all those different components together, it really made sense for us to really find a way to automate that work by using our digital workers. And that’s exactly what we did. We worked with dozens of banks, which are, you know, they’re the main focal point in financial crimes or bank. So, you know, we focus on them first. And we built out what we call our five digital workers, do the actual job roles of sanction screening, or KYC of Know Your Customer. And we’ve given them names and faces so that, you know, they can easily be adopted to the to the enterprise, because they need to be able to work with humans. We have some called human and loop that makes them the humans understand their role and how their roles are changing in the process, where now they get they work with the digital workers versus having to do the tedious work themselves. Right? They give them coaching and guidance on Yes, this is okay, or no, this is not, but they don’t have to sit there and click the button over and over and over again. So what it does is it allows the humans to take more higher end work, which is more valuable, or where they can ultimately make more money and be more rewarded in the enterprise, while you leave the tedious work to the AI digital workers.

Brent Skinner 07:53
Yeah, yeah, this does make a lot of sense. And, you know, a few things. So first of all, we’re, the labor market has been strange for a while now, where we have, you know, there’s been sort of talk about, you know, economic uncertainty and these sorts of things. But at the same time, in various pockets of the, of the labor market, there have been labor shortages. And I just can’t imagine attracting talent, attracting people to do the type of work that you just described, it’s just not something that most people are going to gravitate to. And so that’s one thing. Secondly, the bad guys are using bots, probably, they’re probably using, you know, technology to so it’s not just a person that, uh, you know, we’ve all seen, you know, the diehard moody movies or whatever, with the hacker genius, it’s up at the computer, but it’s not necessarily that it’s, you know, it’s all sorts of things. So you have that to another thing that’s really interesting is that, and this occurred to me, viewers of the podcast know that we usually have conversations with our guests before we have the actual recording. And in a previous sort of conversation that you and I had, Adam, caught me to thinking that, you know, we have this romanticized sort of story that, you know, the person, the self made person that started the ground up, started at the ground, the bottom of a company and learn the entire business, and that’s why he became CEO or something like that. But, and, you know, that might change a little bit in the future as AI matures and gets more and more sophisticated, but at the same time, I’m thinking about what you described, and I’m just, I don’t know, if somebody could, would necessarily ever have to do that particular job, and still learn the business be able to learn the business and, and rise to the top.

Adam Famularo 09:49
Yeah, and Brent, like having kids in college and going through that process. You know, I still see that that there will still be those growth curves. There will still be, you know, new landing jobs there. It’ll just be augmented with AI. And the fun part, I’m looking at my daughter that’s in college right now. And she’s already using AI as part of who she is and what she’s doing. And it’s like, you know, by the time the kids come out of school, they’re going to be already using AI. And they’re going to be looking to how they can use it in the workforce as well. So I think it’s, to me, the bigger challenge is going to be kind of teaching people that are currently in those jobs of how do we how do I go from here to here. And I think we as good social citizens have to spend the time and in helping people learn and grow, and really, you know, encourage them to, to engage in this this new world as we change and adjust very similar to what we did when, when the internet first came out. And when email first came out, it’s got a lot of similarities to that.

Brent Skinner 10:51
Yeah, yeah. What were sort of were with, with your children in college, they’re digital natives, you know, that, you know, I think we may both be Generation X, I think, and we kind of understand what it was before, and what it is now. And, but a lot of people alive today that have no concept of what it was previously, except, you know, and photos and all movies and that sort of thing. So, you know, we’re dealing with entirely different generation that, that that, you know, coexists with technology in a different way than we do. And so you bring up a really, really good point. Now, you wrote an article for Forbes very recently, it’s time to lean into AI, not take a pause. And I love that. I love the title. You know, we all well, a lot of us, maybe the nerds, we saw that that news. A lot of the sort of the, the thought leaders in this space, like Elon Musk, and others were saying they signed a letter, it’s time to take a pause with AI. And then you know, maybe there is some stuff with AI where we just have to slow the roll a little bit. But I’m really curious what you meant by that, because I happen to agree that it’s time to kind of lean in to AI. What is what is your thought process here? What’s the rationale?

Adam Famularo 12:13
So as you can imagine running an AI software company, I’m really in the front and center of lucem. I’m at every conference, I’m in every big dialogue about it, I did not sign the letter. And I don’t believe in hitting a pause because a pause the pauses the poster nowhere, it’s not going to do anything different, right? At the end of the day, AI is in front of us. It’s really in its infancy. So realizing that right now, as a nation, we are leading the way, right, but there’s other nations, I don’t need to name them, but they’re right behind us. Any pause that we had is not going to pour parley over to them hitting applause. If anything, they will catch us and pass us. And this is the next frontier, right? We need to dominate in AI, we need to lean in right now. And, and fixing the nuances of how we use it bringing you know, our morals into how AI works in the future is something that we should address. And we should use this time to figure out, you know, what is that moral code that we want to teach AI as AI does grow up and mature, you know, we need to do that. And we need to take the social responsibility to do that just hitting a pause is not the way to actually get that activity done. The way you actually have done is by continuing to drive forward and do that work at the same time. Yeah, so I’m a big believer of, you know, lean into AI. And let’s continue to see how this thing is going to adapt and change as it goes from its infancy to its to its teenage years.

Brent Skinner 14:01
I love what you said about you know, teaching AI, sort of a moral code. I think you said and you’re absolutely right. I wonder whether this this highly publicized you know, call to put a pause on AI may have the desire to or may have an unintended but desirable effect of causing us to lean into AI very, very heavily because it is important to pay close attention to AI and really intentionally guide its development right now. So I think you’re absolutely right leaning into AI is the absolute correct way of looking at we’ve covered AI a lot on this podcast, especially last year. And one of the things that’s really interesting that I learned is that and then we talked about with various guests is this this idea that we need to inform a with as broad of a representation of, of human and sentiment as possible, as soon as possible right now. And that that means all as many viewpoints as possible, some that that we may agree with some that we may not agree with, so that AI can represent as broad of a cross section of humanity as possible. And you can only do that badly leaning into AI, not by kind of just pausing. And you’re absolutely right. We won’t name the countries, but there are other countries that are definitely pursuing AI as well. So we have an opportunity to lead this in a direction that’s, you know, that’s this might not be the right word to egalitarian, but something you know, to be to be very representative and inclusive, inclusive is the word I was looking for. very inclusive. Yeah, absolutely. I love what you have to say around that. And I think vigilance is probably also important to be very, very, to have a vigilant attitude toward ai, ai is going to develop itself in a way. So it’s very important to kind of be in there in have some skin in the game as humans. Let’s shift gears a little bit here, because there’s a really interesting angle, in this whole discussion around humans in the workforce, and what the future holds for humans in the workforce. And I think I happen to be one and I think you agree of these optimists, I think that we’re going to see ever better, evermore satis satisfying work for humans in the workforce, over the coming years, and we’re going to, as AI has the ability to kind of take up the slack with some of this tedious. Maybe we call it yeoman’s work. What are your thoughts around workforce or workforce? upskilling? These kinds of things? What is your view on all that?

Adam Famularo 17:00
Look, I I’m a big, big believer of continuous education, right? So I feel like we’re learning beings, and we have to continue to learn as the world around us changes. And we can’t let our cells our natural state of being comfortable, right? That’s kind of where you get stuck, right? So we have to continuously make ourselves uncomfortable and put ourselves in environments where we’re learning and growing as, as human beings. So for me in the workforce, you know, as new technologies come in, whatever those technologies may be, right now, this is AI that we’re talking about. But trust me, there’ll be many more new technologies that come out in the future, you know, we always need to be able to understand how do we use that to become better at what we do, and enhance what we do and continuously change ourselves through self learning, and education. So to me, that’s the core construct. I’m personally working on partnerships with other like education companies, that can help us when we go into a new company or a new bank and, and bring in our digital workers, how can we then train the existing people that might be doing that job to check to alter their work and augment their work with these digital workers and help them take some more higher end work within the bank? So that’s a big part of our processes is that changing evolving system right now,

Brent Skinner 18:26
This is really fascinating To me, it’s, it’s wonderful to hear sort of a for instance of this. And in, you know, in the present, not too long ago, just a few short years ago, before joining 3Sixty Insights, I worked at one of the large, one of the large Learning Management System, talent management companies, and we had a thought leadership in the in Strategy Group. And I was working with some folks in there, we were coming up with ideas around, around, you know, AI, frankly, and how to how to talk about AI and within the framework of human capital management and, and on the job learning and all these sorts of things. And it’s really interesting, we, one of the things that we kind of landed on was this idea that, well, it’s going to become it is it will become necessary for people to upskill themselves that, that that’s something that’s going to be necessary, but it’s also an opportunity. And, and if people can upskill themselves and focus on that upskilling was going to mean a lot of great things for the future of work because they’re going to learn how to they’re, they’re going to be able to, to focus on those more human things. We talked about soft skills and all this kind of stuff. And what’s interesting to me here is you know, there’s a lot of technology out there that can help with this. So we hear a lot about in this space are called self evolving skills. ontologies they’re AI they’re actually AI powered. They’re few companies in this space, that’s sort of an offshoot of talent marketplaces. And, you know, if you go into an organization, and you apply a self evolving skills, ontology to the workforce, you can have a really, really good idea of who is capable of being upskilled, in what ways and be really efficient with that. And you can really sort of sort of side skirt or avoid having to sort of make, you know, sort of butcher knife style changes, you can really be surgical, and very intentional and strategic with how you’re upskilling your people. So as you bring AI into that work into that workforce environment, like it word for word, fusion type of scenario or others, you’re going to have a well thought out sort of way forward for your employees to be able to continue to contribute to the organization in various ways. And you’re also going to save on talent acquisition costs, because you’re only going to be hiring new people when you absolutely need to, because you’re really going to understand what you have internally.

Adam Famularo 21:13
That all makes sense. And you would fit really nicely in with what we do. So you might have some partnerships, you could you could send my way as well, because, like, at the end of the day, you know, we’re going to help you know, the humans in the workforce, get better jobs, to more productive jobs feel more empowered, as well as work with them through this transition into working with AI. Thinking it’s going to just replace them. Yeah, exciting times ahead.

Brent Skinner 21:42
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast. Thank you so much for approaching me about it, where I think this is a wonderful episode. Can’t wait for it to go live. And for audience have an opportunity to view it.

Adam Famularo 21:58
You got it. Thanks for having me, Brent. It was a pleasure and always welcome to come back and talk more. That’s a conversation that’s going to be changing.

Brent Skinner 22:06
I do see. I see a repeat guest in the future here. Yes, absolutely. Take care, Adam.

Adam Famularo 22:12
Thanks Brent.

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