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From NASA to Schibsted

Saikiran Tharimena was present when NASA’s InSight landed on Mars. Now his mission is to take artificial intelligence to the next level in Schibsted.

“Ever since I was a child, I have ripped things apart and put them back together. I have an extreme urge to know how things work and why they behave the way they do.”  Saikiran Tharimena, best known as “Sai”, is a civil engineer from India with a specialization in “Remote sensing and Geographic Information System.” He also has a Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Southampton in “Ocean & Earth Science”, specializing in numerical modeling and seismology.

A bigger mission

In April 2022, Sai came to Norway and started working as a data scientist in Schibsted’s Ecommerce & Distribution-division. Now he is central to the work in artificial intelligence in Schibsted’s distribution venture Helthjem, which has rapidly become one of the dominant logistics players in Norway. Helthjem sends 15 million parcels across the country  annually, and delivers newspapers such as VG, Aftenposten and Bergens Tidende every night.

Sai grew up in Hyderabad – the capital of southern India’s Telangana state and a major center for the technology industry – and his interest in technology started at an early age. “Machine learning was always there for me. A few years ago I did some courses about AI and realized that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. It basically comes down to terminology,” he says.

Tough competition

AI has recently been on everyone’s lips and in particular ChatGPT. This hypermodern chatbot built on AI gained millions of customers worldwide in just a few days. Now Google also has entered the field and there is a race to create the best chatbot in the market and to make the most of the infinite number of possibilities that exist within the AI segment – and the logistics industry is no exception.

“One of the most interesting things about AI is that it can help identify and solve problems that humans may not be able to see or solve on their own, which naturally offers both advantages and challenges,” Sai says.

With Helthjem competitors such as Posten and PostNord, as well as expected competition from big players such as Amazon – Sai is a key person for Helthjem to keep pace. According to him, there is every reason to be optimistic;

“While I’m super excited to see advancements in AI, there is always a growing concern about its ethical implications, its use and impact on society and privacy. Given all this, I‘m still optimistic that AI can be used as a responsible companion in our journey to develop services and products that can positively impact society,” he emphasizes.

Childhood dream

Alongside his studies in Southampton from 2011-2018, Sai taught several subjects and worked as a research fellow at the university, where he did a number of field expeditions focused on seismically imaging the Earth’s inner layer structure system to constrain the physical and chemical properties that define them. 

Sai has worked in seven different countries and took part in an expedition in the Atlantic Ocean.

But there’s one moment in particular that has stuck with him.

In 2018 he got a job in LA as postdoctoral researcher at NASA and got the opportunity to experience what most of us can only dream of.

Sai worked with developing techniques for investigating the interior structure of planets and icy moons. He also took part in the InSight mission where they placed the Lander on planet Mars – designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it was formed 4.5 billion years ago.

“As a child, I saw many of these missions on TV. Being present and seeing this live was absolutely indescribable,” he says.

Different culture

In April 2022, Sai moved to Norway together with his wife, and started as Data Specialist in Schibsted, and now in Helthjem. According to him, it has exceeded all expectations.

“I felt lonely since moving from Southampton in 2018, but this changed when I moved to Norway,” he says, and describes a culture that differs from everything else he has experienced.

“Work-life balance is wonderful here! I’ve been able to do way more here than previous work. A good balance gives more motivation and actually improves efficiency,” Sai says.Not only does he feel better at work, he also points out that people in Norway welcomed him warmly:“I’ve received an incredibly warm and homely reception here – beyond all expectations.”

The feeling of being part of something bigger is a key motivation for Sai in his job.

TESTING: Papua New Guinea Seismic Deployment in 2014. Sai and locals looking at the seismic traces after a stamp test. Photo:  Nicholas Harmon and Ronald Verave.

“AI is an incredibly powerful, and extremely valuable technology. It’s about developing and leveraging the power of Machine Learning and AI to make our services better, open up for services we don’t have and do things smarter,” he says.

Excessively ambitious

Sai has accomplished more than many can dream of, but the work towards the next goal is never ending – and the ambitious civil engineer has a clear mission for the future. “I’m an excessively ambitious person, I have always been like that,” he explains.

Sai aspires to grow into a larger role in the future, leveraging his expertise to make a meaningful impact through Schibsted and make his knowledge available to benefit others.

“It’s crucial for me to have clear goals. Goals push and inspire me. Whether I achieve them or not is not ímportant, but it is the path to get there that counts and what we learn along the way is the most important.”

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Some of Sai’s projects in Helthjem:

  • Central in the construction of building a much more advanced forecasting model. Will, among many things, help for manpower planning at Helthjems main terminal in Vestby and other distribution centers around the country, which also will be used for staffing by customer service and try to predict how the “peak seasons” will take place.

  • Extending Delivery Time Predictor, which is currently being integrated into Helthjem. This means that Helthjem can predict with far greater significance when the packages arrive and from that give estimated delivery time to the customers. Will give the entire value chain better predictability and ensure greater efficiency towards the customers.
  • *Working on providing better consumer insights and greater customer journeys across Helthjems many channels – from “business to consumer” and “consumer to consumer” products