June 18, 2019
When your job is making an impact on society
By: Faisal Valli

Discovering voice technology

About three years ago I had just started working for the Accenture innovation programme and one of our managers, on returning from the US, bought back the Amazon Echo device. At that time, this was very new to all of us, so he gave it to us and said, ‘play around with it and show us what you can do’. That’s when I got my first taste of voice technology. I really enjoyed it and I thought it was a cool way to interact and get information. Then I started to realise there were so many things that it could be used for, especially on the accessibility side for people who are not necessarily technologically advanced or who struggle with technology – I knew this would be very easy for them to get to grips with.

Faisal working with the team

Now, voice technology is my specialism and I mainly work with the consumer-based products such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. We use these products for the benefit of our clients by making an Alexa Skill or Google Action depending on the device you’re using, which is very much like an app for your mobile. There is also the B2B side as well, for example chat bots that have voice integration.

Developing a specialism

On my very first voice project, we built an Alexa Skill for an energy company. It was very basic, asking you to submit your meter readings, get your account balance, or check your tariff to see if you were on the best one. Then, once Alexa was released in the UK, it became quite big news and clients started to approach us to ask what was possible and we started pivoting towards accessibility. I suddenly became an expert with Alexa within Accenture UK and am now one of the go-to people for anything involving Alexa.

I initially started as a developer, but now when it comes to voice technology, I’m involved in all aspects. I work with clients from the beginning, understanding the use cases and what they want from their voice technology. Then onto the design thinking sessions and design phase, where we look at the voice flow or VUX (this is very different from traditional UX, as you have to put nuances in place to accommodate the varying ways that people say things – it’s very different from creating a graphic interface), right through to converting that into a map for the developers to programme. And, depending on how complex the project is – for example does it integrate with a website or is it sending text messages to a phone – I can design that architecture layer too.

My project that is helping society

For the past 18 months, I’ve been working on a project called the Accenture Independent Living Platform (HomeCare) – the initial idea started from an AI for Good Hackathon, where someone created an Alexa Skill to send text messages to their grandparents. The Accenture Liquid Studio liked the idea and wanted to build on it, so they asked me if I was interested in being involved. The actual idea is how can we help older people to live more independently and feel empowered with using technology. We believed Amazon Alexa was the best choice for this and wanted to create something that they would use daily, enjoy using and come back to. Something that would keep them in contact with family members or friends and even help connect with their carers.

We built an Alexa Skill, but we call it an Uber Skill because it does so much – it gives you medicine reminders, you can sign up to local events integrated with (a website that organises events where people can sign up and join in with activities in their local area), there’s an integrated shopping list, a picture reel where family members or friends can send messages or picture messages, a security check list of things to do before they leave the house or go to sleep, and so on.

We worked with the charity Age UK to trial it in the UK and invited them into the Liquid Studio for what we call Techie Tea Parties, which are effectively design thinking sessions. Our first client using the product was a UK Housing Association and now there’s a lot of interest in the US, so we’re moving it over there. What we’ve built is a basic framework, more of a proof of value to show clients what’s possible, but we can tailor it to whatever the need. For example, we created a bespoke version especially for dementia patients that had integrations like a musical box playing music to help trigger memories for those with early onset dementia, and we’re still refining what we’ve already built to add more benefits.

Making an impact

I want to make an impact on the world and at Accenture I can achieve this – obviously you do need to do client work in other areas, but you still get those side-of-desk opportunities and there’s that sense of giving back to the community. When it comes to client work I’m lucky that I’m quite skilled in emerging technology and am chosen for those projects. Recently I was creating an Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality avatar with integrated voice technology for a client where people might get made redundant. The client wanted to be able to help and advise the public, so we created a website and mobile app where people can talk to a 3D avatar who gives them advice and takes them through different scenarios – so even the client work I do is quite creative.

This week’s ‘Star Baker’

Faisal and sister baking

I do a lot of programming in my spare time to keep on top of my day job, but I do like to build a lot of things outside of work for my own enjoyment. I love baking and make mean brownies and cup-cakes. I started baking with my sister and it became a bit of a passion after that – it gives me a sense of peacefulness. We have bake-off competitions in the office – who knows, maybe The Great British Bake Off could be next and ‘Star Baker’ status!

I love football and played semi-professional football until I was 16 years old. Now I usually play football with the Liquid Studio team or teams working on client sites. Aside from football I enjoy boxing, running and I’m an avid table tennis player. It’s quite a competitive vibe here and we have a table tennis competition at Liquid Studio involving a few teams – we used to have a team chart but somehow it got wiped off when I was at the top!

Table tennis competition

At Accenture, because I’m able to do the roles I want to do and work with some fantastic people, I really enjoy it and if you’re happy with the work you’re doing, it’s easy to do. They say do a job you love – and I am doing that!

If you’re looking to ‘do a job you love’, visit our technology careers page and find out more.

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