Women Leading The AI Industry: “Women need to draw on their own unique strengths, and can’t be afraid to speak up.” with Allison Munro and Tyler Gallagher

I think many of the rules of engagement for women in tech so far have been motivated by the inequalities they see in the boardroom — either they think they need to act like “one of the guys” or fade into the background completely. I’d like to think that’s gradually changing, but in order to truly get […]

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I think many of the rules of engagement for women in tech so far have been motivated by the inequalities they see in the boardroom — either they think they need to act like “one of the guys” or fade into the background completely. I’d like to think that’s gradually changing, but in order to truly get there women need to draw on their own unique strengths, and can’t be afraid to speak up.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Munro, CMO at Piano, the leading subscription commerce and customer experience technology and services provider. Dedicated to creating measurable performance and optimizing the buyer’s journey, Munro leads global marketing at Piano. She began her career as an entrepreneur, going on to build her own experiential marketing agency, providing technology-based experience solutions for CPG and entertainment brands. She continued to apply her skills and experiences as she transitioned to work directly with tech providers, with companies that included Oracle, Eloqua, and NexJ Systems. Bringing over 15 years of leadership experience to her role at Piano, nine of them spent leading go-to-market teams for cloud-based technology and service providers, she’s now expanding Piano’s marketing goals to support company efforts worldwide.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the “backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

From joining a small web dev shop in the 1990s, to accidentally building a boutique marketing agency in Toronto, technology has been at the center of the way I developed brands and experiences at an ever-increasing scale. As someone used to working with cumbersome business card websites, hard-coded web forms, Excel databases, mail merges and repeated cross-campaign execution, I collaborated to develop and leverage software applications that would make myself and teams smarter and more effective. As a marketer of one and then to many, I always had to do more with less, which made me the ideal customer for the then emerging category of martech. I naturally started seeking out the best solutions for the biggest challenges I faced.

Already an early advocate and customer of the marketing automation and digital technology use case as a customer, and with everything I learned along the way, it was natural that I’d want to join the cause, working for leaders in the category, with best-in-breed technology at my fingertips both to share with others and leverage in big ways. That put me on the path to joining start-ups and leading companies with the mission of changing the way individuals work.

Those are the lines along which I’ve progressed in my career since. At the center of every career decision is the question “How are we helping people (both colleagues and customers) solve problems, create experiences and gain speed, while reducing repeated manual cumbersome efforts to focus on creativity and results?” It’s how I’ve become an advocate for martech innovations for every client or company I’ve worked with and was foundational in my decision to join the marketing automation team at Eloqua, now Oracle Marketing Cloud. Fast forward to advancements in speed and ease, as well as thinking beyond just connecting experiences and gathering results to automating individual actions to optimize those results. And that’s exactly what led me to Piano and has made me so excited about what we’re doing here.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

My career has been rooted in technology, but it’s never been about technology for technology’s sake. Where change and innovation happen is when there’s a focus on the solution instead. What problems are we trying to solve? What tasks are we making more efficient? How can we optimize and build on our technology and expand the scope of our offerings to meet those needs? And most importantly how do people and process fit into maximizing technology investments and outcomes.

For example, at Piano we just developed LT[x], a machine learning framework that predicts the likelihood of users to act, determining future actions based on a range of behaviors to determine more precisely what offer or experience to show them next.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

LT[x] has been exciting for everyone at Piano, and a game changer for the industry as a whole. For myself, as a marketer, it’s particularly significant to be able to build audience segments at scale — not just for our customers, but setting out on the mission to drink our own champagne too. By leveraging LT[x] within Piano, we’ll be able to personalize experiences at the one-to-one level, with customized nurture paths that consider a customer’s next best experience.

The first propensity model to be released, LTs — which predicts likelihood to subscribe — is targeted at the media industry and means companies aren’t forced to choose between an advertising or subscription model, but can personalize their paywall based on every user’s chances of converting. Future models will look at likelihood to register for an account, likelihood to sign up for a newsletter, likelihood to download an ebook, likelihood to ask for a software demo and so on — the possibilities are endless.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I don’t think you can get anywhere without having exceptional people around you, and so many people have shaped my journey. I could call out any one of them — whether it’s the women who’ve mentored me, the team members I’ve collaborated with, or my current CEO. I think the person who’s most helped get me to where I am, though, has to be my son.

I was often the youngest or the only female in the room; then, as a mother, I believed that I had to succeed for my son to thrive. So I did exactly that. It helped fuel the fire that was already inside of me. There was constant motivation to reach beyond my goals and demonstrate what I brought to the table, despite the obstacles that are unfortunately still common for both mothers in the workforce and women in tech.

My son hasn’t only proved to be a constant inspiration in that pursuit, but now that he’s a teenager I’ve been able to see how my journey has affected his attitude towards women and the workforce. Instead of just believing what people tell him he can or cannot do, he looks at the world with the belief that anything is possible, but that not everything is guaranteed — which is an attitude I think everyone could benefit from.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

What AI does — by taking on repeatable, time-consuming tasks — is free up that time for human achievement. And I think there’s a lot to be excited about in that.

  1. AI makes it possible to drive behavior-based action at scale in a way that’s just not possible for companies to do otherwise — not with precision and not unless you have extensive resources at your fingertips. With our LTs algorithm, for example, we track more than 70 different metrics and behaviors. Analyzing those behaviors for each individual site and then building targeting rules would be very complex and difficult to scale without machine learning. But that manual work isn’t necessary. The algorithm automatically tunes to the desired outcome (in this case, becoming a subscriber) and finds the right mix of behaviors to track for each site.
  2. In marketing, there are multiple applications for AI and machine learning in optimizing messages or offers for the right audience at the right time. That’s not to say that machines will replace creative talent in crafting compelling brand marketing or effective direct response messages. But AI can choose the right message to apply for a given user at a specific point in their customer journey and move them toward the desired conversion.
  3. Thinking beyond marketing, the work being done in healthcare — reading test results and scans, and recommending treatments — is incredibly exciting.
  4. While Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant are still pretty basic, they’re improving quickly and their utility as personal assistants is getting better and better. They will become powerful tools to make things easier and more friction-free for everyone.
  5. In the business space specifically, AI gives us the opportunity to do more faster, with fewer resources and greater accuracy and impact — and to think beyond the boundaries that have always existed. LT[x], for instance, wouldn’t have been possible without AI because of the sheer amount of data it draws from. Machine learning makes that possible.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

The predominant fear that surrounds AI is that technology will get smarter than we are or be used to cause harm. Being aware and knowledgeable as individuals, though, makes the possibility of that happening less likely.

  1. Any machine can have a negative impact on our planet, our culture or even our inboxes, but technology isn’t necessarily the problem — it’s the people behind the AI, and their goals in using it, that we should focus on. We have to be able to trust those people and companies and how they’re putting that technology into action. This is what drives the fear of how we might use AI, for example, in war — because if there’s no one there to consider the ethical considerations behind something, any technology can be used for ill.
  2. A lot of AI and machine learning rely on personal information to improve results, and I think everyone should be concerned about data security and how our personal data is handled. We all have to manage the tradeoffs between privacy and the value we get from the companies that use machine learning to ensure our data is protected. That means giving it out carefully, to only to those organizations we trust to use it right, and only when we recognize a true value exchange. On their part, companies need to be transparent on how they’re using data and ensure they have the best security in place.
  3. Algorithms are only as good as the humans who program them. Algorithm bias can lead to discriminatory results, like the sentencing algorithm used by America’s criminal justice system that treated black defendants more harshly than white defendants — based on historical crime data, it was simply repeating the same human errors of the past.
  4. Whether by big private companies or governments, combining the collection of personal information with machine learning opens up some pretty dystopian oversight possibilities that we already see playing out in places like China.
  5. Technology has often developed faster than people can adapt to it, which means it’s important to have the right regulations in place early on and to keep updating them to keep up with changes in how that technology is used.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

In movies like The Terminator, The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey, machines get smarter than humans and rise up to turn against us. That “superintelligence” is what Elon Musk and like-minded scientists are worried about, but before we get to that stage the bigger worries for me are the people and businesses using AI today, and how they’re using it.

Most companies aren’t looking for ways to make science fiction a reality. There are always some, though, who — without any checks and balances in place — will push innovation into dangerous territory. It’s why those checks and balances need to exist, and why transparency at every level is important. But we, as individuals, can’t be complacent either — we have to be vigilant on how technology is used and the businesses that use it. We need to hold every company accountable, to make sure they’re using technology wisely.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

Autonomous weapons and robot uprisings may not be immediately imminent, but irresponsible uses around technology still exist today — and by staying silent, we open the door to further misuse. The responsible utilization of technology is imperative at every level, from proper data handling and transparency around use, to driving value that customers appreciate and understand. Trust, transparency, value and security are all key.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

Having struggled as a woman in tech myself, I’ve made a point to be an advocate for other women too, to offer them the opportunity and voice to contribute in exceptional ways. For 15 years or more I was the only female in boardrooms dominated by middle-aged white men. In those situations you need to fight to be seen. I wanted to create situations where diverse groups of people were seen from the start, and could bring their unique skill sets, passions and ambitions together to serve a joint mission, regardless of age, background or gender.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

I think many of the rules of engagement for women in tech so far have been motivated by the inequalities they see in the boardroom — either they think they need to act like “one of the guys” or fade into the background completely. I’d like to think that’s gradually changing, but in order to truly get there women need to draw on their own unique strengths, and can’t be afraid to speak up.

  1. Be an advocate for yourself and what you believe in — which hopefully includes other women. Technology introduces change, but so do people. Even when it’s not easy, never stop trying to drive culture change.
  2. Bring your will and passion to everything you do. It’s easy to be dismissed, as a woman especially, even when you know you have the right answer — but perseverance drives results.
  3. Keep sight of your own goals, but find the right champions that will help you achieve them. And continue to pass that encouragement along to enable the others around you. The community you create will ultimately be the team that helps get you past the finish line to accomplish what you set out to do.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

To engage more women in technology, there need to be more women in technology. It sounds simple, but in order for that to happen we need more companies with cultures that not only accept diversity, but are fueled by the different ideas and points of view it brings. When that exists you’re not just hiring women for the sake of hiring women, or to meet a certain quota, and you aren’t expecting them to act like men to get ahead. Instead, you’re simply hiring the most talented people and giving them a forum where they can be heard and their ideas will be valued. All of which makes for a more inclusive environment, sure, but it also leads to a better company and product too.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

I like the quote “she believed she could so she did” — it’s something that has stuck with me throughout my career, both as a woman and as someone working with women. People who do exceptional things are often people who have been rejected a thousand times, and I think a lot of women specifically can relate to that. By learning to persevere, and maintaining that belief in who you are, you can build success in the wake of those rejections.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

In my ideal world, everyone would have a better chance of becoming their best self. Maybe it’s a utopian view, but if machines automate repeated tasks, reduce costs and increase accessibility, I think the possibility of that happening becomes greater. It could mean increased efficiencies and reduced costs; accessibility to education, healthcare, information and intelligence; and reduced manual body-harming labor. If used for good, I think AI can enable people to do that. It also opens up the opportunity for creativity and innovation for the artist, the mechanic, the marketer and so on. If I could start a movement, that’s where it would begin.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/allisondmunro/

Twitter: @yomunro

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About The Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and Dubai focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.

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