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  • Ildiko Almasi Simsic

Creating myESRA – how I had enough of missing out on technology in our industry?

Have you ever tried ChatGPT and failed to get answers to your project related questions? Have you ever used other AI tools that provided citations, but the research they pulled was irrelevant? When was the last time you were trying to translate legislation, statistics, or project documents from languages you don’t speak? New technology is popping up everywhere around us. Have you ever wondered why E&S practitioners do not directly benefit from it?

 

A few years ago, I dreamed that we could use technology to make our lives easier when working on projects. In this dream, I had a magical little helper, like a librarian, who would pull the needed documents and open them on the right pages. This magical helper would speak all the languages and remember all the policies, legislation, and projects in the world. In addition, the magical helper would even know the national statistics I need for my projects.

 

Fast forward to the spring of 2023, the thought of not having access to technology was really bothering me. Innovation seemed to be everywhere, yet we could not even automate basic processes. I shared my frustrations with friends over drinks, and to my surprise, I found out that there are technological solutions available to create my magical helper.

 

I was in the middle of writing my first book, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the benefits of saving time by leveraging technology. So, during the summer of 2023, the concept of an E&S Research Assistant, which we named myESRA, was born. A chatbot connected to an all-encompassing knowledge base trained to answer E&S questions – my dream.

 

The big idea is to save valuable time on data and information gathering so users can focus on more value added work such as applying their professional judgment and technical expertise to projects.  Empowering professionals to reclaim time to focus on delivering existing projects more efficiently, freeing up capacity to bid and do more work is what myESRA is all about.

 

Towards the fall, when my book was nearly published, I had more time to focus on bringing this chatbot to life. By November 2023, I had assembled a technology team that developed a prototype. In parallel, we were improving the user experience and design and the chatbot was fully functional by February 2024.





 

When designing the product, we considered the big questions around the ethical and transparent use of AI and technology. I wanted to ensure that the knowledge base contained the right information and that the sources were shown so users could easily verify the answers. That’s when we encountered an important issue—the lack of a standardized file naming convention in the industry.

 

Some project documents are named with just a series of numbers and letters or incomplete titles, which makes verification challenging. We devised a naming convention where the document type, publisher, year, country, sector, name of the project, name of the country, and language are included in the title.  With the help of AI, we have renamed all of the documents this way so the names are consistent and easy for anyone to read and understand at a glance.   




 

We had other technology issues to solve but I won’t bore you with those. Long story short, we managed to teach the bot to pull the most relevant documents from the database and provide an answer. I started experimenting on my projects and the results were incredible – accurate answers with the correct project docs referenced. The use cases during my testing included:

·      Checking for applicable legislation

·      Finding information on my projects (cut-off dates, how many plots were affected, bird species observed)

·      Finding information on common (and uncommon) issues we face on projects – having access to all the ESIAs allows you to search for topics and see what mitigation measures were proposed by other projects

·      Designing survey methodology and questionnaire based on previous project docs

·      Providing the best practice according to policies and guidance notes

·      Designing structures for documents – impact assessments, due diligence, bank-specific assessments etc.

 

We decided to introduce myESRA to the world during the IAIA24 in Dublin as an exhibitor. We believe that this tool will revolutionise the way we think about data gathering and technology use. The website is live now but the product is not available to the public yet. Join the waiting list and be amongst the first to be notified when you can start using myESRA.



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