VROC offers IT fix

27/03/2020 - 10:10

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Artificial intelligence and data analytics firm VROC has partnered with the City of Bunbury to develop and install upgrades to the city’s floodgates, using machine learning to help the town better prepare for an inundation.

Trevor Bloch says VROC has benefitted from, and been challenged by, the novelty of applying AI.

Artificial intelligence and data analytics firm VROC has partnered with the City of Bunbury to develop and install upgrades to the city’s floodgates, using machine learning to help the town better prepare for an inundation.

As part of that work, Bunbury’s council will now have greater control over the city’s pump stations, with VROC’s predictive analytics platform allowing the city’s workers to see when systems may fail and avoid potentially costly or life-threatening faults.

City of Bunbury chief executive Mal Osborne said the upgrades would make the town smart and innovative.

“The City of Bunbury is proud to be leading the way, both in Western Australia and across the country, in its efforts to implement smart and innovative technology to make the city safer, more efficient and more sustainable,” Mr Osborne told Business News.

VROC’s work with the South West city marks its first foray into town planning, having previously worked with private businesses as diverse as Malaysia-based oil and gas producer Petronas and aluminium miner Alcoa of Australia.

Chief executive Trevor Bloch, who spun-out VROC from his engineering consultancy firm BLOCHTECH Solutions in 2016, told Business News the contract with the City of Bunbury was an example of how the market for AI platforms had grown in the past five years.

He said the decision to spin-out VROC came because the market for consultancy was too competitive and offered low margins, whereas AI and data analytics offered the opportunity to specialise and leapfrog established competitors.

“Consulting engineering has been around forever, and people understand it and know how to price it,” Mr Bloch said.

“People will say, ‘This is what I want, give me a price’, then they’ll have 10 companies tendering the exact same thing, and whoever comes up with the lowest price will generally win the contract. “It’s a competitive market with low margins, and very undifferentiated.

“With VROC, they don’t care about the price, because the thing is with this market for AI, nobody knows what it is and there is no-one you can say is smashing the market.”

Mr Bloch cited competing for a contract to provide data analytics and research to the Port of Singapore as an example of the market’s accessibility to smaller players like VROC.

VROC won the contract against established competitors such as Google, General Electric and IBM, which he said came down to the quality of service it could offer rather than the overall cost of delivery.

“It’s a good market because it’s a level playing field without having to worry about what they [larger competitors] are doing.”

While an underdeveloped market has enabled VROC’s success so far, it has also made the company’s capital-raising efforts more difficult, an issue further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Bloch said all funding so far had been from him or BLOCHTECH.

“Even to value VROC is difficult, because nobody knows what the market looks like and nobody knows what it’s worth,” he said.

“Nobody knows what the winning formula is going to be yet.”

Still, he expressed optimism that the qualities of VROC’s overall software and insights would put the company in good stead for the future.

“Nobody knows the market; we can charge a lot, because we’ve got a very differentiated product to everyone else,” he said.

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