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Knowledge Transfer Partnership revolutionises debt collection

The University of Hertfordshire’s continuing collaboration with local Hertfordshire business Advanced Collection Systems (ACS) has already proven extremely fruitful, culminating in the development of an ‘Adaptive Virtual Agent (AVA)’ through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) and four separate Master’s projects.

AVA is a machine-based debt collection software system designed to work alongside human debt collection agents. Through big data analytics and machine learning, the ‘intelligent’ software automates many of the calls, negotiations and transactions currently conducted by human agents, allowing them to focus on more complex interactions and expanding the capacity of the call centre to increase the volume of calls it can take.

ACS contracted University of Hertfordshire PhD student, Paul Moggridge, as the KTP Associate to work on the project. The company has also tapped into various departments at the University and their research and services, engaging four Master’s students with expertise ranging from psychology to data mining, machine learning, programming and cyber security; each contributing to the unique, custom-built technology.

For a business like ours, taking on a project of this size and level of complexity would usually be really difficult – add in the amount of research we’d have to source externally and it would be near impossible. The University has been an invaluable resource, equipped to support all facets of our business.

Martin Eaves, Company Owner and Technical Director, ACS

Initially, Martin was hesitant to enter into what seemed like a daunting process of getting the KTP underway: ‘A huge contributing factor in us deciding to undertake the KTP was the amount of work that the University does in assisting you to complete your application. This could otherwise be extremely time consuming, but we were very well supported by the team at the University.’

Now 18 months into the 3 year project, Paul has found his role as the KTP Associate to have been highly rewarding: ‘It’s been a challenge balancing study with working full-time, but they feed into each other really well. I can apply what I’m learning during my PhD study directly to my work and vice versa.’

‘What I’ve also found beneficial is the opportunity to get additional training that I wouldn’t have otherwise had during my University studies. I’ve been able to attend a management school for two weeks, covering things like project, risk and test management.’

For ACS, the benefits experienced by their Associate have reinforced their interest in finding other ways to collaborate with the University.

‘Not only has our business gained a lot from the partnership in terms of very specific, tailored research, but it’s also been great to give back to the University and feed into the teaching cycle. The intellectual property generated throughout the project, as well as the data, are all fed back into the curriculum for related courses, so students are able to learn from the work that we are doing,’ says Martin.

ACS plans to access more of the University’s business and research services to work on designing the interface for AVA and the Cyber Security Centre to test the software in a secure setting. Most recently, the company has also engaged with the Innovate 2 Succeed programme delivered by Exemplas, to develop a strategy for scaling up the business and marketing AVA.

About Innovate UK / Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme. KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.