A helping hand

Tracy Saunders
Tracy Saunders

Glass specialist Go Glass is using Artificial Intelligence to improve efficiencies and add value to the business. Glass Times editor, Luke Wood, talks to managing director, Tracy Saunders, to find out more.

Established in 1978, Cambridge based Go Glass has a long and distinguished reputation as a supplier of high-quality bespoke glass products.

From unique, etched glass door designs, to made to measure balustrades, sliding glass walls, splash backs and printed glass, the company boasts a proud heritage and a skill base that reflects over four decades of industry experience.

It is also a business that has embraced modern ideas. Its innovative, edge lit LED glass is one example of how new technology has enhanced its product offer.

But it is the recent adoption of AI technology that is promising to transform the way Go Glass operates, partly by increasing the day-to-day efficiency of office based tasks, but also by bringing ‘big company’ resources to a relatively small business, so that it can add value for customers, gain a competitive advantage – and perhaps most importantly, allow it to grow.

“As an industry, we tend to be a little behind when it comes to embracing new technology,” says Tracy Saunders, managing director, Go Glass. “As a small business, however, we are relatively agile and we can adapt quickly if required.

“At the start of the pandemic, for instance, we moved over to online ordering in a very short space of time, and we’ve also been quick to adopt AI.

“One way that’s helped us is with customer service,” she continues. “Emails can be answered much more efficiently, but it’s more than just a simple automated response. The AI can pick up on certain key words or phrases – for example an enquiry about shower screens – and it can tailor its response accordingly.

“I’m also in the process of cataloguing a huge archive of glass designs. AI has helped to produce photorealistic imagery of these designs – as well as create new ones – and can generate descriptive content to accompany them.

“It’s like having an in-house design, photography and marketing team all rolled into one, but without the associated costs.”

A hybrid model

There has, perhaps understandably, been a mixed reaction to the rise of AI, thanks to a backdrop of apocalyptic scenarios in the national press and much talk about how it threatens to replace white collar office jobs.

For Go Glass however, rather than replacing staff, the introduction of AI has been treated as a valuable addition to the team, one that frees up resources elsewhere in the company in what Tracy describes as a ‘hybrid’ working arrangement.

“Compared to hiring and training new office staff, it’s obviously much more cost effective,” she explains. “But what it can’t do is replace the decades of experience we have, or the skills of our existing team who still have to create the finished products.

“However, by greatly enhancing our office-based operations, it has given us the potential to put additional resources into managing or growing the side of the business that is more manually skilled.

“It’s important for all businesses, especially if you’re manufacturing a product, to operate as efficiently as possible, so we see AI has another way of fine tuning those operations,” continues Tracy.

“For example, it recently helped us to design a prototype solution for a high-end project, but we’re also looking to AI to create a knowledge data base.

“At Go Glass, we can do incredible things with glass, but if, as an industry, we continue to struggle to find new talent, a lot of that knowledge could be lost in 10 or 20 years’ time. With AI, we can work to save that knowledge, and not just for the benefit of Go Glass, but the industry as a whole.”

Move with the times.

“On the world stage, there are applications for AI that scan be quite scary, but for us, a small business, it’s a hugely exciting time,” says Tracy. “It’s given us the ability to compete with much larger organisations, it’s introduced greater efficiency and it’s helping us to add value for our customers.

“But we don’t see it as a way of replacing real people. In fact, thanks to AI, we’re now in a position to hire a dedicated telemarketing person, which in comparison is quite an old-fashioned role!

“Ultimately, there are some brilliant people and businesses in the industry, but not all of them have the resources to reach their full potential. By learning to work with AI, that could all be about to change.”