A new patient wants to register, another one has to be called up in the waiting room, a third one has a question, a prescription has to be printed – and then the phone rings. It is often a great challenge for medical practices to be available by phone in everyday operations. Here a digital employee called SUSI can help, who answers the phone around the clock and independently makes appointments with patients. Behind this is the Mannheim-based startup SUSI&James, which is part of the 5-HT network. The team around CEO Jonas Moßler, CTO Julian Gerhard, Business Development Manager Julian Leudesdorff and Alexander Fischer, Head of Projects, develops digital employees that can be used not only in medical practices but also for a wide range of applications in the industry. In an interview with 5-HT, Dr. Jonas Moßler talks about the advantages a Digital Assistant can have for medical practices, how it can support companies in areas such as customer support and how people and AI interact in new ways.
How did the idea for SUSI&James come about?
Before founding SUSI&James, I worked at the German Cancer Research Center in the field of personalized medicine. There, we worked on how research could be automated in the future. It occurred to me that everyone needs a personal assistant who can take care of all kinds of tasks. That’s how the idea for a digital assistant was born, which with the help of AI is able to perform a wide variety of tasks. SUSI&James was founded in 2014; we got off to a real start two years later when we found the first investors. In the meantime the team has grown to 30 FTEs.
What can you imagine a digital employee to be?
Our digital employees SUSI and James are hyper-automation systems that are oriented towards real people. People can act across systems: We do not need a technical interface to software systems because we can simply operate the programs via their interface. In addition, we can quickly and easily switch between telephone, e-mail and other programs. And that’s exactly what our digital employees can do. We started with language assistants, and language is still a central aspect. In the meantime, however, the Digital Assistants can also take on many other tasks in the industry. All this is bundled in a product called EVA, which stands for “Evolutional Virtual Assistant”, because it is a learning system, and for “Economical Value Added”, because we generate financial benefits for our customers – whether it’s to become more efficient, to be better available for the end customer or to take advantage of opportunities. For example, if a car owner calls a garage and no one picks up the phone, he may make an appointment with another garage. We create a simple and intuitive experience for the end customer. So we not only take care of the automation, but also the humanization of the Digital Assistants, so that the exchange with the AI becomes more and more pleasant in the future.
Which tasks can SUSI take over in medical practices?
Many medical practices have problems being available by telephone because the reception staff is overloaded. This is where our SmartOffice helps: The patient can call SUSI 24 hours a day to make an appointment. SUSI has a very good understanding of speech and can react flexibly and naturally in conversation with the patient. However, she is not only proficient in telephony, but also sits at the same time in the practice at the appointment calendar. If there is no technical interface to the calendar, we have taught her how to navigate on the PC like a human being, find the relevant information in the system and enter an appointment in consultation with the patient. With the Smartoffice, medical practices can be accessible at all times, which not only makes life easier for employees, but also increases customer satisfaction and enables full capacity utilization.
We assume that around 30 to 40 practices in Germany will use the smart office in the first quarter of 2021. We are currently also working on using the smartoffice to establish a link between the practice and the pharmacy.
What other fields of application are possible for your digital employees in the industry?
One focus is on automated customer support. For example, we are currently working on a project with a mineral oil company that was actually looking for a chatbot to support customers on its website. With SUSI, the company is now getting a digital employee who could act as a chatbot, but could just as well make phone calls or send e-mails. In another application in the automotive industry, SUSI is currently looking at 300,000 spare parts and checking whether these parts could be produced using 3D printing, and if so, whether it would be economical. If both are the case, she sends her colleagues an e-mail with her suggestions. As soon as the colleagues give the green light, she takes care of the price requests and then gives feedback. So many different applications are possible with our digital employees.
How do you ensure that your digital employees become more and more human?
The humanization starts with the range of functions: Like a trainee, a digital employee gets to know his or her work environment better over time and therefore requires a high level of learning ability. At the same time, it is important to us that SUSI interacts in a lively, natural way with its customers or colleagues. We achieve this, among other things, through our concept of hybrid voice control, for which we recently received a European patent. AIs usually quickly reach their limits because they are not programmed for some things. Today, in such cases, the customer is directed from the speech computer to a human consultant. That’s how it works, but a lot of learning potential is wasted. If you say something to a child and he or she doesn’t understand you, you don’t just break off the conversation, you explain it to him or her so that they learn. This is the principle on which our technology is based. In customer support, for example, one human employee can take care of 10, 20 or 50 SUSIs. As soon as a SUSI gets stuck in a conversation with a customer, it contacts the human consultant who helps it and then reports back to the caller. This is pleasant for the customer because there is no media break and he can consistently stay in one channel while the AI learns something new at the same time by talking to the consultant. In this way, man and machine merge very strongly.
How does SUSI&James currently finance itself?
On the one hand, we finance projects and licenses through revenues from our two business models. The projects are very interesting because we are close to our customers and develop new topics. But we are also constantly expanding the area of licenses, for example for the smart office or for customer support solutions. We also receive growth capital from our investors and shareholders.
What are the next goals for your startup?
Having worked intensively on automation in the past, we are currently focusing strongly on the humanization of our digital employees. Scaling is also a major issue for us. We are currently busy significantly expanding our network of sales and integration partners. In addition, we have been broadening our focus on various industries since this year. Originally, we had a focus on the automotive industry. Since this year, however, we have increasingly turned our attention to other industries, such as the health care and pharmaceutical industries. It is exciting for us to find out in which areas there is already an understanding that the time is ripe to think about digital employees.
How did you hear about 5-HT?
Because of our new focus on Digital Health, a BASF employee drew our attention to the Digital Hub during a joint project. This is how the contact to 5-HT came about. In addition to the thematic focus, we also like the regional ties – it’s nice to have a network not only in Stuttgart or Munich, but also locally.
How can 5-HT support you in your further development?
For us the network is very promising because many interesting companies are part of 5-HT. We have already started networking, and I hope that we can use the power of the network in the region and beyond to jointly install lighthouse projects and demonstrate the relevance of our business model.