When making financial decisions, many contractors are wary of loading up yet another analytics dashboard to throw numbers at them. Data overload can be a problem, and software developer Prophix sees a future in AI-based assistants that offer advice in more direct language.

“Project managers and owners are used to getting information in reports,” explains Eric Newton, director of construction at Prophix. “Now they’re moving into these dashboards that can overload you with information. Our assistant analyzes this information and types it out in plain English.”

The Prophix Virtual Financial Assistant is more than a natural-language module to unpack complex spreadsheets and databases. While it is new to construction, Prophix has used its machine-learning technology extensively in the banking and manufacturing industries. Working from the simple assumption that decision-makers want to be informed when an important metric starts to drift out of bounds, the system assigns levels of risk to changes in project costs and provides regular alerts.

“If you’re seeing profit fade on this job, the system will tell you,” says Newton. “Rather than having to ask a financial professional to interpret this chart, the chart will interpret itself.”

While the Prophix assistant isn’t meant to replace any particular staffer, Newton sees it reducing the amount of back-and-forth emails from project managers trying to figure out what’s happening. “We’re just looking for anomalies, anything from duplicate data to possible fraud. The assistant generates financial reporting that you can feed back into your ERP.”

Prophix’s assistant currently integrates into Viewpoint and other ERP systems, and is available with an annual per-user fee.