MAMUN M. ADIL: How did the idea of E.Ocean come about?
SYED AMIR JAFRI: My brother Syed Asif Jafri and I founded E.Ocean in 2008. I was doing my Master’s at the time, and he was running a Telenor franchise. We realised there was a lack of communication platforms that allowed sales teams and franchisees to interact easily. Similarly, retailers were complaining that sales teams were taking payments but failing to deliver the products. It became obvious to us that there was a dire need for a mass communication platform that allowed these teams to interact with each other instantly and we created one that made this possible for them via SMS. This changed the way franchisees, principals and retailers communicated. This is how the idea for E.Ocean came about. It is a company that develops cloud-based communication solutions for several organisations.
MMA: Did either of you have a background in technology?
SAJ: No. However, we were inspired by Steve Jobs; the iPod had just been released and changed things dramatically. I also learnt that like the two of us, Jobs was also fascinated by Star Trek, and I started reading up on him. I realised that Jobs was a calligrapher, not an engineer, and that he was a marketer as well – and if he became a marketer, anyone could. So we then applied for a Class Value Added Service (CVAS) licence and after it was granted by the PTA, we started researching corporate organisations and their technology requirements and discovered that one of the most important of these was the ability to engage with huge numbers of consumers. The prevalent medium at the time was SMS, and when we received our licence, we started to create platforms that would allow businesses to interact with their customers.
MMA: Who were your first customers?
SAJ: Summit Bank, with whom we partnered in 2011. We designed an SMS-based service for them that enabled them to reach all their customers promptly. It was a gateway via which all telecoms were connected to the bank through a single application programming interface (API). We then began signing up more banks.
MMA: How did things progress after that?
SAJ: I attended the Mobile World Congress in 2019 when the conversation about platforms such as WhatsApp and AI really began. It transformed from hinging on traditional, typical SMS to digital communication, and we became a WhatsApp for Business Meta Partner in 2021. After that, we created a digital platform to set up HBL’s WhatsApp for Business account, allowing users to conduct transactions over the platform. Other organisations we have worked for over the years include Askari Bank, TCS, and Unilever.
MMA: E.Ocean organised several editions of Momentum, a trade conference. Please elaborate on how the initiative came about.
SAJ: Over the years, we attended several big tech expos (like Web Summit) and technology conferences and the exposure we gained inspired us to organise Momentum in 2017. It brought together start-ups and corporations, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, as well as investors and corporate organisations. Momentum’s subsequent editions took place in 2018 and 2019, and we invited over 200 entrepreneurs from nearly 30 cities in Pakistan and provided them with a platform that would allow them to engage with like-minded individuals and network with various organisations for free as we covered their travel and lodging expenses.
MMA: You are also the co-Founder of KistPay; how does its partnership with Google work?
SAJ: Google has control over Android devices. One reason why it is difficult to obtain financing for smartphones in developing countries is because sometimes people falsely claim that their phone has been stolen, and since they cannot be tracked, there is no way of knowing whether they are telling the truth or not. Through our partnership with Google, KistPay leverages tracking technology that can counter such claims called Lock Control. Armed with this technology, KistPay aims to provide underserved people with smartphones so that they too can enter the digital ecosystem, which is critical if digital transformation is to take place in the true sense.
MMA: Recently, E.Ocean integrated ChatGPT into the services it provides KistPay. How does this work?
SAJ: We incorporated ChatGPT within WhatsApp so that KistPay could provide better customer service via a chatbot.
MMA: Is this a global practice?
SAJ: As far as we know, no other company has so far incorporated ChatGPT with WhatsApp in this way.
MMA: Do you think that AI technologies such as ChatGPT can replace human beings?
SAJ: In certain cases, yes. For instance, for repetitive work, or things such as customer service, as most consumers ask similar questions, such as their account balance or the location of a branch. It is important to remember that the architecture of ChatGPT, or any other AI platform, has similar patterns to those that human beings have. For instance, people have memories and if your universe can be incorporated in ChatGPT’s, it will become an important tool if you ‘train’ it correctly.
MMA: How can AI be used in a positive manner?
SAJ: It is important to remember that AI is a tool that can assist in learning processes. It can provide a safe space for individuals to ask questions without fear of judgment or reprisal. Since AI does not possess emotions or biases, it can offer unbiased responses. In contrast, teachers, while possessing wisdom and experience, may have limitations in their knowledge and methods. In some education systems, there is a tendency to label certain students as under-performing without giving them sufficient opportunities to thrive. AI systems like ChatGPT can help create a more inclusive and accessible learning environment by providing information and assistance without bias. However, it is crucial to strike a balance and regulate AI technologies to ensure ethical use and to prevent negative consequences.
MMA: How digitally transformed is E.Ocean internally?
SAJ: Let me put it this way, during the Covid lockdowns, many organisations underperformed because many people worked from home for nearly a year and a half. However, Covid made no difference to our work; in fact, we were expanding because our employees had the digital tools to enable them to work from anywhere. Digital transformation entails three major concepts. People, products, and methods. If your staff is digitally enabled and have all the necessary tools, such as laptops, access to the internet and to products via cloud, then you are an organisation that can work from any location on the planet.
MMA: What is your future vision for E.Ocean and KistPay?
SAJ: My vision is to become a global player by leveraging the strengths of both companies and providing solutions to organisations such as global banks and telecoms. We have worked with such organisations in Pakistan and we can easily replicate our experience overseas because banks and telecoms have the same compliances and governance globally.