Anouk van Bruchem
Anouk van Bruchem is the Product Owner for the Search and Chat Team within NN Group, an international financial services company. In this role, Anouk is responsible for the developments and innovations of the company’s customer care intelligent virtual agent, powered by Amelia’s Conversational AI platform.
Although neither of Anouk’s parents were involved in STEM – her father was a commercial manager, and her mother was an insurance agent – she was drawn to working with technology. “I thought it was very interesting and exciting,” says Anouk. “I always liked to develop and learn new things.”
Prior to working in the technology industry, Anouk worked in the travel industry. “Before I joined NN I was working for a digital consultancy company called Numa, and for that company I worked on assignments at ING and Schiphol Airport,” she says. “Before that I was working at BCD travel, the third largest global travel management company.”
These roles gave Anouk the opportunity to work with several different technologies. For example, BCD explored chat solutions and voice capabilities to assist travelers throughout their journeys, which exposed Anouk to many third-party integrations. With Schiphol Airport, she worked with machine learning and AI to create algorithms that would help improve the airport’s sustainability. “As you can see, a lot of different bits and pieces of what I learned throughout the years helped me prepare for this role [at NN Group],” she explains.
While working in travel product management, Anouk witnessed the travel industry accelerate its adoption of new technology. “It really inspired me. So I was very excited when I got the chance to contribute to the traveler platform at BCD because I was convinced this is where the market was going and where new things occur,” says Anouk. “That’s where I went from travel, product, and contract management to IT and software development.”
When discussing her work with non-tech friends and family, she often explains the type of work that virtual agents at NN Group perform. However, Anouk avoids using the term “chatbot,” as it typically warrants a negative reaction from her friends and family, who feel as though chatbots don’t understand their questions and requests.
Instead, Anouk describes how she is developing a digital assistant that handles customer questions in the same way that humans handle requests. “So if human agents are depending on systems to help clients, I explain that our digital assistant uses the same system... in order to service the customers in the same way as a human agent,” Anouk says. “I think that explanation helps a lot in understanding what I’m trying to achieve with the AI platform and chatbot.”
The Beginning of AI’s Potential
At financial services companies such as NN Group, Anouk sees many opportunities for AI. “We’ve just started to use it within NN Group for chat,” she explains. “Besides the chatbot, we have a Data and AI team that develops several AI and machine learning solutions for NN. We can use it to detect fraud, scan documents or analyze processes.”
Anouk believes companies can leverage AI to intelligently interpret customers’ data, helping organizations to better understand their customers. However, she understands the concerns about using AI to analyze data and encourages AI leaders to ensure data is only used to serve customers better. She also advises leaders to be mindful of how AI “interprets the data and [uses] it to draw [incorrect] conclusions.”
Despite any concerns, Anouk is excited to work in AI and looks forward to what the future holds. “What I especially like in the role that I have now is that it’s very data driven, so we can really see what the customer is discussing with us and if he or she likes how the conversation went, then based on that data we can improve,” says Anouk. “We can decide what creates the most value for our customers through this backlog of conversations.”
In the future, Anouk believes AI will develop an even greater understanding of the decisions people make and of how to make those decisions easier. In doing so, AI will make tasks faster and more accessible.
The Future of Women in STEM
Even with constant advancements in technology, Anouk has moments where she feels as though she is living in the far-off future. For example, Anouk explains how her sports watch advises her on the types of activities she should do based on data it has accumulated over time. “That made me realize how incredible this is, and what [technology] can do to improve my physical condition,” she says.
The future of AI will hopefully also include more women in development teams and leadership roles. “I think in most teams, it would be a better balance if there was a mixture of women and men. It really improves the teams’ results having that diversity,” explains Anouk.
To encourage more women to pursue careers in AI, Anouk suggests showcasing roles and opportunities other than coding that exist in the field of AI. “It seems sometimes that people are a little bit hesitant because they really think it’s just people sitting in at home behind a screen, but there are so many roles that really are interesting,” she says. “There’s so much potential to have a great career in tech. But maybe it’s just not knowing what roles there are or what opportunities are offered which hinders women getting involved in this field.”
For women currently pursuing careers in STEM, Anouk encourages them to explore technical career opportunities within their companies, as well as taking online courses, following inspirational people in IT and pursuing further education in technology. Given the current demand for technology talent, Anouk believes developing IT skills will present women with many career opportunities.
If given the chance, Anouk would tell her younger self that “tech is not boring. It’s exciting and fits you better than you think.” She would also encourage her younger self to consider what work environment inspires her and allows her to be her best self. “It’s not only important what line of business you’re in but more so about what actual tasks your job will entail,” says Anouk.
That advice may be intended for Anouk’s younger self, but let’s not stop there — it’s a good reminder for all.