Welcome to the Women in Cloud blog series, showcasing the talent of women who are working in our Cloud groups at Accenture.
Making artificial intelligence (AI) more approachable is Stephanie Van Y’s motto. As the Accenture AWS Business Group (AABG) AI offering lead, she helps clients discover how to use AWS’s packaged AI services to further their business objectives.
“Cloud is an efficient and cost-effective infrastructure,” Stephanie said. “AI makes the applications running in cloud smarter, and AWS makes AI technologies like image recognition and natural language processing easier to integrate via application programming interfaces (APIs).”
Some of the underlying tools and algorithms that power AI processes are very complex, but AWS’s plug-and-play approach to AI means that companies running on the AWS Cloud platform can quickly access, implement and configure AI technologies into existing infrastructures. They can also more easily apply AI to analyze data sets stored in AWS Cloud.
“The familiar, navigable cloud development interface means companies can start simply and scale up with AI, which makes the solutions more approachable for both software engineers and business executives,” Stephanie said.
What’s more, she sees the AABG relationship as a win-win for clients across multiple industries. “Accenture has a strong cloud transformation, migration and delivery foundation, and this is enhanced by other AWS services within their platform,” she said. Currently, AWS’s AI services include Amazon Lex, a conversational interface based on Alexa; Amazon Rekognition, a deep learning-based image recognition service; and Amazon Polly, a service that uses advanced deep learning technologies to synthesize speech that sounds like a human voice.
“Since the AWS services are built as APIs, companies can incorporate them with back-end processes to automate information flow and decision making. They can also use the AI services in front-end, consumer facing tools to create virtual agents, chatbots or speech-to-text services in multiple languages,” Stephanie said.
Open to change
Being approachable and adaptable has been a recurring theme in Stephanie’s personal life as well. “I grew up in a military family, and we moved every three to four years during my childhood because my father was in the Army,” she explained.
Living outside of the US in countries like Germany and France contributed to her open-mindedness to new situations and changes in life’s directions. “I had to figure out how to get around in new cities, how to fit in at school and how to self-identify in unfamiliar cultures—all of which were valuable life lessons,” Stephanie said.
As it turns out, this adaptability supported her career ambitions and interest in technology evolutions as well. When Stephanie returned to the US for college, she attended Purdue University and graduated with a Masters in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. She then worked in the Aerospace and Defense industry for more than 13 years during which time her company was acquired by Accenture in 2007.
“Joining Accenture, I began interacting with a variety of clients, industries and business areas that I had not previously had exposure to from working primarily with Aerospace industry clients. In many cases, these companies and people were facing major changes and challenges adapting rapidly to new digital technologies, such as migrating to cloud,” Stephanie said.
Often the transition, especially at an enterprise level, is difficult for clients from a leadership and engineering level, and it is the Accenture project team’s responsibility to help guide them through it. “I know my experiences growing-up in different environments, that continually changed, and having to learn to adapt, has helped me to relate to these clients through their digital transformation journey,” she said.
Innovating with AI
After a decade at Accenture, Stephanie took a maternity leave to start her family. Upon returning, she realized she was ready to expand her professional life as well. “I dabbled in AI in 2007 when we were designing smart satellite ground systems that would learn individual satellite orbit characteristics from real-time flight data. When the opportunity to work with AI systems again presented itself it seemed like a logical step for me, as so much in my life was evolving.” she said. Stephanie transitioned into AABG in April 2017 and has been championing AWS’s AI services ever since.
Since AI is novel for many people, she spends time educating Accenture’s leadership and delivery groups about the capabilities of the AWS Cloud platform and AWS’s AI services. She also works directly with Accenture’s and AWS’s existing cloud client teams to identify business cases for leveraging these new technologies within the platform.
“It’s never too early to start talking about a strategic roadmap for how companies can innovate with AI once they’re integrated and operating from AWS Cloud,” Stephanie said.
For example, people are increasingly using the Amazon Echo and the underlying Alexa platform as a home companion to play music, access news or do connected activities like ordering a car service. “The AABG Internet of Things dimension is already working with clients to help them have more integrated and connected data and devices.
Examples include expanding Alexa further on the back-end with AI technologies like Lex for a text interface as well as voice; or applying machine learning and neural network tools to learn more about how a system behaves over time relative to other integrated systems and can improve to anticipate or suggest how to best fulfill people’s objectives.
“I love helping clients understand how making incremental changes like these with AI can yield revolutionary outcomes for their businesses,” Stephanie said. In fact, it’s the favorite part of her new AABG role.