EU funding helps A Data Pro roll out technology for producing news stories

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EU funding helps A Data Pro roll out technology for producing news stories
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A Data Pro has completed an R&D project for the development of an integral technology to create and publish data-based business news stories. What is next? Will the team of researchers, editors and software developers produce a story worth a journalism award, e.g. a Chernorizetz Hrabar prize (the Bulgarian equivalent of Pulitzer)? Will a computer ever write a better story than a human reporter? That time is not far away for Kristian Hammond, co-founder of Narrative Science, “In five years a computer program will win a Pulitzer Prize — and I’ll be damned if it’s not our technology.”

Our team’s ambitions are more modest. We want to save reporters tedious hours of accessing spreadsheets of figures, analysing them and manually reporting the results. Writing a story like that takes at least half an hour while for the same time a software program can deliver hundreds of stories.

Let’s make things simple. What will a machine need to produce a report, let’s say on Bulgaria’s GDP growth in May, as soon as the statistics office releases its figures? A program to harvest the figures from the source, software to pick the proper language from a pool of options (news templates and thesauri) and an algorithm to turn it into a story.

Easier said than done. For our researchers it meant analysing 800+ sources of information. Editors had to compose templates for corporate and economic news on 28 topics and develop comprehensive thesauri and linguistic rules for their use. A software engineer was needed to roll out data harvesting systems and story generation algorithms.

All that took 29 months! The project called “Experimental research of types of sources of structured data and design of thesaurus and algorithms for automatic news generation” was completed on May 7, 2015. It was carried out under operational programme Development of the Competitiveness of the Bulgarian Economy 2007-2013, financed by the EU through theEuropean Regional Development Fund and the national budget under the Support for Research and Development of Bulgarian Enterprises procedure. The value of the project was some BGN 500,000, 100% of which went for the remuneration of the R&D team.

Let’s see how it happened.

Information services managers met regularly to scale the content (topics, industries, etc), based on our editorial policy, readership and customers (information agencies, aggregators, etc).

A team of 10 researchers then started browsing the web, looking for up-to-date, comprehensive and trustworthy sources of information such as statistical offices, state agencies, stock exchange operators, etc. Every month they checked out more than 25 sources to see whether they provided free and structured data, which must also be accurate, updated and comprehensive.

Meanwhile, three editors were drawing up story templates on corporate earnings, share price swings, inflation, jobless rate, etc together with a thesaurus of terms and expressions for each of the topics and the rules for their application, taking into account the subject and the source specifics. For example, when profits rise they can inch up, edge up, soar, jump, surge, depending on how big the rise is.

Then software developers received the sources that passed the tests and produced algorithms for data harvesting from each source and algorithms for combining the templates with the data.

What lies ahead? We will continue to examine user behaviour and will add new topics such as comparative news and analyses.

The next step will be to develop further the technology so that it will be able to automatically create not only news stories but also industrial reports. An industrial report is a snapshot of an industry including sales, trends, players, etc. Companies need it to map out their strategies.

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A Data Pro has completed an R&D project for the development of an integral technology to create and publish data-based business news stories.

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“BULGARIAN OUTSOURCING ASSOCIATION”
 
 
 
 
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Bulgaria is an established leading global outsourcing and offshoring destination. The outsourcing industry is one of the most dynamic and fast growing sectors in the country. The outsourcing companies in Bulgaria are the biggest investors in innovation, human capital development including lifelong learning, high-end technical skills, leadership and management skills development and languages acquisition.

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What’s necessary to provide a 365-days-a-year service to one of the biggest European institutions?

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What’s necessary to provide a 365-days-a-year service to one of the biggest European institutions?
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What comes to my mind on the eve of the first anniversary of a landmark project is a maxim that my colleagues started me off with years ago when I became part of A Data Pro – the impossible we do at once, miracles take a little longer!

It has been a roller coaster ever since, with one of the most impressive examples being a project we launched last June, under which we provide a 365-days-a-year media monitoring service to one of the biggest European institutions.

The service has an impressive scope covering 36 countries and 23 languages, and spans over 12 hours during working days, with weekend coverage also on the books.

Seven days a week, our media monitoring guys rise together with fellow reporters from the early morning shows, as they need to start work at 6:30 latest in order to catch all the fresh news of the day and have it delivered to the client by 7:30. And truth is, the early bird does catch the worm as the popular saying goes!

There are four more deadlines to follow during workdays, so the show goes on throughout the day. The weekends are slightly more merciful with fewer deadlines. However, we are still not at ease then because the bulletins get delivered to the bossess themselves (not to their analysts).

With this picture in mind, we knew from the very start that we were up against a tough challenge, both in terms of set-up and in terms of turning this into a sustainable operation, but rather than discourage us, this added fuel to our enthusiasm and set our blood on fire.

And so it all started…

We did a couple of trials in order to test our understanding and capabilities prior to the real challenge. Both trials and initial phase of the project were entrusted in the deft hands of our most experienced staff and experts, led by a dedicated and selfless managerial team, ready to give up the comfort of regular office hours in order to work miracles.

Once the projects took off, most of the initial team members would gradually be replaced by a brand new dream team, fully trained and in charge of the project. And so, at this point there were three simultaneous processes that the project and department management successfully juggled:

• Building up expertise in constant communication and interaction with the client to make sure that we know exactly what the client wants and guarantee that we deliver on all points;

• Recruitment – to do justice to the truth, this process was initiated immediately after we knew we would be the company to take up the service and continued for about five months until the very last person needed to build the dream team was hired;

Our biggest challenge was that we had to re-prioritise the company’s entire recruitment agenda in order to set this project as top priority while making sure the rest of the business was not harmed. An impressive 20 people were hired during this initial phase to work exclusively on this project.

• Training – as you can imagine bringing 20 newcomers up to speed with a demanding project like this one, where knowledge of the industry and English are more than a must, was quite the challenge, expertly handled by our Training Unit. The specifically tailored training courses and initiatives helped turn the project team into mini masters in all industry related matters!

Now that the project is all settled and long termed “ongoing” it is very difficult to imagine that at the start, prior to the consolidation of the core team and management, a total of 120 were involved or at least had to be kept informed about everything relating to the project. Well, it was all their joint efforts, enthusiasm and hard work that made the impossible at the very start and turned the project into our biggest and one of our most successful ones as of today.

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Elena Stankova, Project Manager at A Data Pro, talks about one of the most challenging yet rewarding media monitoring projects we have done so far in the company.

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4th Annual Shared Services & Outsourcing Week China
Date: 
Sep 14, 2015

Shared Services & Outsourcing Week China remains China's premiere conference dedicated to the shared services and outsourcing history.

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