Nearshore Americas

Uruguay Tech Startup Collokia Leverages Collective Experience For ‘Effortless Collaboration’

Veteran Uruguayan technology executive Pablo Brenner has just launched the beta version of his latest startup, Collokia, an ambitious collaboration tool aimed at improving efficiency in the workplace. The aim is to create a major global company that facilitates “effortless enterprise collaboration” first in the software development industry, and then in many other markets, Brenner told Nearshore Americas.

The founder and CEO of Collokia, Brenner, 52, has enjoyed a long and successful career in the tech industry. Twenty years ago he co-authored the Wi-Fi Specification IEEE 802.11, and today, after many years living in Israel, he is back in his native Uruguay, where he serves as Vice President of Innovation at Globant. His latest project, Collokia, was founded with the help of CTO Jayson Minard, a former technologist at Prezi in Hungary. “I’d been thinking about this project for years and when I met Jayson I realized I’d finally found a guy who could implement it,” Banner said. “He moved to Uruguay in April 2014 and we started the project in June or July last year. We have a mixed team of 10 people from Canada, Russia, Hungary and Argentina.”

Collokia was financed with seed funding by a software company, Brenner’s own savings and additional investment from friends and family in Israel and the United States, he said, noting that there will be further fundraising efforts in the next couple of months. The company has offices in San Francisco and Montevideo, and is also planning to take on more staff once the beta phase is complete.

What Does Collokia Do?

Leveraging machine learning algorithms, statistical analysis and the interconnectedness of data and people, Collokia analyzes its users’ collective experience to help eliminate repeated mistakes, accelerate learning, better leverage unknown skills, and connect people who can help each other. Collokia claims to integrate seamlessly with users’ natural environments so that it can track their activity and immediately provide them with the most relevant resources whenever they need specific information. The proram will suggest specially tailored online results, point to the most up-to-date company libraries or recommend other workers within the same organization who have recently researched the same topic.

The aim is to “increase productivity and stop big companies from doing the same things and researching the same things over and over again,” Brenner said. “One of the things that big companies complain about is that they don’t know who knows what. It’s really difficult to keep track of who has been working with which technology because people don’t always keep records of it,” he explained.

Moreover, Brenner added, “reports from McKinsey show that workers spend about 30% of their time looking for information and researching. In many cases you spend hours or even days searching for something and when you talk to your co-worker he says ‘oh I was looking at that a couple of weeks ago and I also spent two days investigating it.’ There’s a lot of written work being done by people who are researching the same things, so basically we can look at what you’re researching and we can tell you ‘you should talk with this guy because he was researching the same thing three weeks ago.’”

Existing knowledge systems and collaboration tools require people to expend their time and energy manually sharing, indexing or updating their latest research, Brenner said. Many knowledge workers fail to do so, meaning the saved material is updated and other workers cannot always find the most up-to-date information on any given topic. But with Collokia, he claimed, “we can share the knowledge automatically without any additional effort.”

How Does it Work?

“We are writing all kinds of plugins for all of the different browsers and tools that people use so that we can automatically learn what people are doing. They don’t need to tell us, because we can learn from their actions. There are two things we can learn: one is the user’s expertise and the other is whether they need help,” Brenner explained.

When software developers use Collokia, for example, its plugins will be compatible with all of the tools used in programming, as well as basic browsers and search engines. “Whatever you search in Google we can show you the information that’s related with what you’re doing,” Brenner said. “If you search for some software library book in most cases you will find the best results on the second or third page – not on the first page. That’s because the way that Google works is that the more people that use or click on a specific library then it appears on the first page. But as things keep changing in the software industry, the newest things don’t have enough hits yet to appear at the front. So one of the things we will be able to do is reorder Google search results according to the information that’s relevant for each user because we know what they’re working on. So the same search will bring different results for different people.”

Brenner showed Nearshore Americas a demo of how the Collokia plugin works with Google to provide more relevant, annotated search results and personalized recommended searches based on recent user activity. “In many cases if you search for a person on Google you get a Wikipedia box on the side,” he said. “So what we’re working towards is that whenever someone searches for something on Google we will be able to show on the side all the internal information that the company has on the topic: who the experts are, what the related documents are inside the company, etc.

The Software Market

“In the short-term the first market that we’re going to is the software development market,” Brenner said. “Today’s development is not like the old days when programmers used to write all the code themselves. But today a lot of software programmers don’t write all the code; they search through libraries for examples of the code and then they start working on it. In many cases there’s someone in the same company who has already gone through that – somebody that can show you that you’re not looking at the best example or the most updated library.” In such cases, Collokia will advise users, “You’re not working with the most updated library. The CTO decided that we don’t want to use that library anymore; this is the right library to use,” Brenner explained.

“So by looking at what people do on Google or on Stack Overflow we will be able to save time for the programmers and let them know where to find the right examples or advise them to talk to someone who has already been researching the same topic,” he added. “One other example is whenever you have a program error in your software, people typically go to Stack Overflow or Google and start researching, when we can probably give them the immediate solution by putting them in contact with someone in the company who has already been looking at the same problem and found the solution.”

Brenner decided to start by targeted the software industry for several reasons. “It’s an industry we know very well,” he said. “Software companies have a better understanding of the need to buy these kinds of tools – they’re early adopters. This could be very useful for the consulting industry as well, or the finance and investment banking industries. But these guys are much slower at adopting new technology.” Furthermore, he believes Collokia can have a significant impact in the software development market. “We want to increase the productivity of software programmers, which I believe is extremely low today. Obviously we’re much more productive than 20 years ago but we’re still reworking and wasting a lot of time.”

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Preparing the Launch

So what does the immediate future hold for Collokia? “We’re just finishing the minimum viable product and we will be installing it at a big software company where we will start testing. Then by May we’ll start beta testing with some other customers and by September we’ll probably be launching the real product,” Brenner said.  “The idea is for this to be a global company solving a global problem. We’re aiming to focus on the U.S. market and in India where there are a lot of programmers and where increasing productivity is very important.” After targeting those two key markets, Collokia “will then probably go to Europe, Israel, Latin America, etc.,” he added.

Collokia will be available in free and commercial versions. “The enterprise version uses information that we obtain from private companies – obviously we will not be sharing information from one company to another. We will charge for this version and it will have all kinds of capabilities and statistics for each company,” Brenner said. Meanwhile, in the open version, “people will be able to share information with friends, family or the community of programmers all over the world. And we will be able to use the information we collate through crowdsourcing to increase the enterprise version,” he added.

Duncan Tucker

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