Hospitality unicorn OYO has decided to go bullish on providing better technology experiences for OYO’s hotel and home partners. With a mission to make OYO a leading technology company of choice by building products from India for the world, the company has appointed Ankit Mathuria as its Chief Technical Officer in Feb 2021.
“At OYO, keeping the interests of our partners and customers in mind, we keep evolving expeditiously. Also, our use cases are pretty peculiar. That’s why we prefer to have our in-house R&D team,” said Ankit Mathuria, CTO, OYO. Ankit is an industry veteran with 15+ years of in-depth technical knowledge in consumer-facing industries. Before OYO, he was working with Amazon.
Recently, the company has launched OYO 360 – a self onboarding tool. It allows small hotels and homeowners to get their properties listed on the company’s platform within 30 minutes against the typical 15-days process.
AIM: What all AI/ML/Analytics solutions does OYO employ to drive growth? Can you discuss customer success stories or use cases?
Ankit: Over the past years, we’ve built systems in a much more extensible manner to handle scale. Therefore, we’ve developed several applications led by AI/ML and Analytics, such as dynamic pricing, OTA (online travel agents) performance management, ranking of properties, personalised recommendations, and others. As a result, our USP is providing an end-to-end easy and fast booking experience. For instance, with our pricing algorithm, we do approximately 60+ million micro-optimisations per day to get the optimum pricing for hotels and homes and help our partners maximise RevPAR without human intervention.
Our unique customer acquisition program – Discover OYO, is another example of a data-driven design to optimise both ends of the spectrum by driving repeat bookings for our hotel owners while offering customers their first stay at a minimal price.
Coming to the impact of technology on our business, I would like to share that today, nearly 70% of our bookings come from the top 3 search results. In the USA, OYO clocks in 3.4% more bookings compared to non-OYO hotels from OTAs like booking.com.
AIM: How much percentage of resources (recruited workforce in AI/ML) are focused on implementing state-of-the-art?
Ankit: As a travel technology company, putting data science tools in the hands of people who are not data scientists is what we do. Be it for our partners, our customers, or even our employees. What’s truly fascinating is that every OYOpreneur is driven by technology and innovation. Thinking tech fuels our organisation, even outside the tech team. And that’s why upskilling talent to prepare them for future roles is very close to our hearts.
With this in mind, last year, we launched the Data Science Academy to build world-class data talent and provide holistic careers to employees. We strongly believe this will help them make strong, unbiased business decisions. If you ask me specifically, currently, nearly 15-18% of our engineers are specialised in AI/ML/Data Science-related skills.
AIM: What kind of skills suit you best when hiring data scientists/ML engineers for OYO?
Ankit: There is a different interpretation of these roles in the industry. At OYO, we see it as a strategic or niche vertical with depth. Applied scientists at OYO possess a combination of research, ML fundamentals, and software engineering. So, to answer your question, the problem statement greatly varies depending on the level and experience ambiguity. However, an applied scientist should be particularly:
- Skilled in exploratory analysis of data to find answers,
- Develop ML models using state-of-the-art techniques like deep learning, and
- Productionise models to meet engineering expectations of latency and availability.
Personally, when it comes to any tech hires, I believe in hiring people who think long-term and will help build capabilities for the company from scratch.
AIM: What would you say is the major challenge when it comes to recruiting Indian talent?
Ankit: In the past decade, there’s been a tech boom in India, with a spurt in the fields of engineering and product development. However, there’s a talent crunch at the pace at which India’s tech ecosystem is growing. There is a higher demand for tech talent in AI/ML and data science roles today than ever before. At OYO, we’ve been extremely blessed to have the right tech talent spanning multiple skill sets. Keeping up with evolving technologies and finding skilled talent in these newer domains is another challenge for the tech industry in India.
AIM: What are the predominantly used programming languages and the tool-stack by your data science team? What kind of AI/ML deployment challenges does your team face?
Ankit: We believe that a programming language is just a medium to solve problems. Our engineers pick up the right language based on the use cases ranging from Python to R to other open-source frameworks.
We run a lot of AI/ML experiments in parallel. So, as we build our capabilities to do many more experiments, we usually face challenges in running experiments on distributed data and cost-effectively scaling our infrastructure. At OYO, we always take challenges head-on. Our tech teams have taken up this challenge and are now building an ML Ops platform, where teams can run their experiments on a loosely coupled, plug & play infrastructure.
AIM: How do you see the landscape of AI/ML evolving in India with regards to your domain?
Ankit: We foresee that using our AI/ML technologies, we will be better placed to deliver higher value to our patrons by providing them with better insights into evolving customer behaviours and pricing trends. Simply put, by using our personalised recommendations, independent businesses like small hotels and homeowners will be better equipped to provide enhanced customer service to guests. This, naturally, will lead to higher repeat rates and RevPAR growth.