Podcast: Thinking, planning, and evaluating are important!
Vytis Ciemnolonskis, director of digital operations for Western Union Processing in Lithuania, joins us from the BFSI RPA & AI Summit in London where he shares that thinking, planning and evaluating are important and just as important as getting started.
He and his team were fortunate to have an executive sponsor. They did a quick proof of concept, got a vendor, developer and got a result that proved that the process in question could be automated. The robot could do a sequence of activities and provide a tangible result.
From there they went through a selection process to find an impactful process for the pilot. Vytis found that at the pilot phase, the team was excited by the actual deliverables being undertaken by the bot. And from there they were off and running.
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(The following is an automated and unedited transcript. Please be aware that errors may be present.)
Interviewer: Seth Adler
Guest: Vytis Ciemnolonskis
Seth Adler: From Western Union, Vytis Ciemnolonskis. First some supporters to thank and thank you for listening.
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The director of Digital Operations for Western Union Processing in Lithuania, Vytis Ciemnolonskis joins us from the BFSI RPA and AI summit in London where he shares that thinking, planning, and evaluating are important, but it's just as important to get started. He and his team were lucky in having [00:01:30] a true executive sponsor. They did a quick proof of concept, took a vendor, a developer, an SME and got a result that in fact proved the process in question could be automated. The robot could do a sequence of activities and provide a tangible result.
From there, they went through a selection process to find an impactful process for the pilot. Vytis found that at the pilot phase the team was excited by the actual deliverables being undertaken by the bot. And from there they were off and running.
Welcome to PEX Network on BDBIQ. I'm your host, Seth Adler. [00:02:00] Download episodes on pexnetwork.com or through our app and iTunes within the iTunes podcast app in Google Play or wherever you currently get your podcasts. Vytis Ciemnolonskis.
Vytis: Very nice.
Seth Adler: All right. We'll see if I get it afterwards. But Vytis, you're from Lithuania.
Vytis: Yes, I am.
Seth Adler: You ran a workshop yesterday. Your colleague is Ricardo Badillo, a gentleman we've had on, I think maybe on another channel. Why do you [00:02:30] guys understand this automation thing so well? Why are we doing so well in automation with Western Union? What are your thoughts?
Vytis: I think we are in the journey already.
Seth Adler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Vytis: So there was a thought ... A repeating thought actually in the conference that you just need to start doing. And we started doing several years ago and I think this is the key factor. Unless you start doing, you don't have good experience.
Seth Adler: Yeah. It's good to evaluate. It's [00:03:00] good to analyze. But then there's the analysis paralysis, right? This is not something from which you suffer, right?
Vytis: Yes, exactly. I think a lot of companies, they think, plan too long then there is finance, which starts questioning and paperwork. It's very important just to get started.
Seth Adler: So how were you able to justify ... You bring up finance. We've got to justify it to finance, [00:03:30] right? We gotta do it.
Seth Adler: Right. So I think you had help from the top, right? The top was bought in. But share how this did in fact just start doing. You know, you can't just start doing. How in fact did you do it?
Vytis: What we did, we actually ... We are very lucky having a really good executive sponsor. His name is [inaudible 00:03:55]. He runs global operations in Keyur [00:04:00] and actually he has encouraged just to get started. And the way we got started is we did a quick proof of concept. Really quick. We took one vendor. We took a couple of days. We put SME, we put developer and we got a result, which proved that the process can be automated. The robot can do a [00:04:30] sequence of activities and we can have a tangible result.
Seth Adler: Sounds like it was simple, not customer facing. Pretty low risk.
Vytis: Absolutely, yes.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Vytis: It was not enterprise process ready for deployment.
Seth Adler: No, no.
Vytis: We just had a safe environment and actually this was a good start.
Seth Adler: Point to it. Look, it works.
Seth Adler: Next step. What was the next step?
Vytis: Next step, okay. Shall we do a pilot, which would be already deployable [00:05:00] process, which would do real work with tangible benefits. And we started selection process. We wanted Tulsa to have pretty doable process so we could prove in a quick way. Like, four or five weeks, four to eight weeks. But at the same time, [inaudible 00:05:25] tactful. So when we talk about the funding, when we talk about ROI, [00:05:30] then we can have really nice business case.
Seth Adler: Right. It's durable, fantastic. It's impactful, look how much we can save.
Seth Adler: And then finance starts to raise the eyebrow, right?
Vytis: Yes. Maybe not at this necessary point. Not yet, but we found the function ... And this was a compliance function, which was interested and willing to contribute from their own [00:06:00] budget so we could get started. So we have so-called ... Maybe we can even call crowdsourcing-
Seth Adler: Sure. Internal crowdsourcing, right?
Vytis: Internal crown sourcing. So from different parts of the pockets, we put initial amount and we got started.
Seth Adler: As far as getting started, you had initial ... This initial group that was interested in working with you because they saw the promise. How long did it take now that you weren't just you and a couple other folks working on the thing that we knew was going to work, but we [00:06:30] had to test it and then it did work. When you involved these ... What are they called? People. What changed?
Vytis: It changed ... Actually, it created a lot of engagement from the people, from the teams that we have been automating process. Because people were not really happy with the work that they had to do and really ... And they got excited that [00:07:00] robots will do it.
Seth Adler: You mean, you're going to take away this, and all I have to do is help you? Perfect.
Vytis: Yeah. So this was really good part and this got us rolling with the automation or with training the robot. But then we started to bring more people from technology, from mission security because we had to create robot accounts. We had to put technology infrastructure [00:07:30] in place. And then things got more interesting. Some, you're aware, not that excited.
Seth Adler: Because?
Vytis: Because it is new. It was new for the company. If I take an example of robot account creation, there was no such concept of robot account. There was either human account or service account. There was nothing, which requires to be somewhere in between.
Seth Adler: If you can, [00:08:00] put us into the mindset of what folks were ... Either management level or on the ground, on the front lines folks coming to you and saying, Vytis, what are you trying to do? What were they saying with you? What were they sharing with you? And how did you help them through this initial kind of, I don't want this anymore?
Vytis: First of all, I felt that a lot of teams wanted to take a bigger break.
Seth Adler: A bigger break?
Vytis: Yeah. A longer break just [00:08:30] to put their thoughts around and-
Seth Adler: Just give us some time, please. We can't ... We're not going to do it right now. I gotta think about this. Gotcha.
Vytis: At the same time it was because of some other major initiatives going on in the company.
Seth Adler: Happens all the time.
Vytis: So initial pushback was okay, please come back in December.
Seth Adler: Yeah.
Vytis: And we were in March.
Seth Adler: Oh.
Vytis: So does that mean, maybe we could do something sooner.
Seth Adler: Yeah. Come back soon, not too soon. Right? [00:09:00] So who ... I guess, was there a particular area that was at least a little bit open minded? Understanding that you were starting to get doors ... Not necessarily slammed in your face, but pushed closed. Who were opening doors or who was keeping the doors open?
Vytis: I think business process management teams and executive sponsors at this time. They were really [00:09:30] eager to move and move faster.
Seth Adler: These are the process folks. These are the folks that understand continuous improvement and process excellence. We have to do this. This is just another thing here. So what line of business then ... Whether you can share specifically who it was. What did happen that you were able to move from okay, we've got the proof of concept, we have rolled it out. Now, people are starting to get a little bit fearful. When was that next step of okay, now we've made it to another kind of tent pole of improvement, [00:10:00] if you will?
Vytis: I think our next big milestone was when we had to deploy process into production. So we didn't want to leave it in the development environment in this temporary environment where we had user accounts, temporary accesses, temporary technology infrastructure. We wanted to have in the proper data centers with proper backup solutions and also robot accounts [00:10:30] working legally, so called. But in reality, in a secure way, approved by information security team, having all the firewalls built correctly. So we wanted to have it done right.
Seth Adler: A center of excellence?
Seth Adler: And then now knowing that we've spoken with Ricardo who is in Costa Rica and you are in Lithuania, are there two different centers of excellence? Or is there one? [00:11:00] How does it all work?
Vytis: Logically, it is one center of excellence because for the company we want to have one face, one interface, and one standard, and one experience. And also the message that whenever there are opportunities we will help you to deliver those robot process automation opportunities. But physically, yes, we are located in two geographical locations. There's one in Europe and [00:11:30] Lithuania, and the other one is in South America.
Seth Adler: And then how does ... For folks that are interested in this kind of thing. If we've got one center of excellence that has two offices let's say, how does the reporting structure work? Where does it go up through and to and in how many steps?
Vytis: From the center of excellence, it's pretty straight reporting line. We report into the leader of global operations [00:12:00] in-
Seth Adler: Who you mentioned earlier.
Vytis: -Keyur, yes.
Seth Adler: And he reports to who?
Vytis: He reports into Gote, executive leader. That's already like next step to CEO.
Seth Adler: Right. So CEO, Gote, our boss, us.
Seth Adler: That's close. Pretty close.
Vytis: It is.
Seth Adler: So you do get executive insight into your journey, I would imagine. Right? How long have you been doing this? When did you start?
Vytis: [00:12:30] We started in ... Actually, at the very end of 2015. If I count proof of concept, which was not operational.
Seth Adler: Which you're allowed to do. Let me just ... Because maybe Lithuania, I'll learn a little bit more about the Lithuania culture. Everybody that I've spoken to, they count it. Right? So you got to count it also. Right? Because that's when we started too. What kind of insight is upper management giving you and requesting from you?
Vytis: [00:13:00] It is pretty straight forward as well because upper management is looking into opportunities. And also, it's one of our strategic objectives to first of all, execute. So deliver with our execution as a company, deliver our promise to our customers. At the same time innovate and come up with better ways to serve customers, to be more efficient, [00:13:30] to make our processes more effective. And then RPA fits really well into the innovation part of our strategy and helps to deliver better service to our end customers.
Seth Adler: You bring up these people, you call them customers. Let's talk about them. We've spoken about the people internally. Let's talk about the folks that we're affecting, if you will. Well, we're affecting the internal folks as well, of course. What kind of feedback over this time period ... Happens to be a year and a half, [00:14:00] but the initial kind of months here, have you received from customers?
Vytis: There is no like direct feedback because we want to really deliver a human experience. And the robot automation helps to deliver better human experience. Because for example, if we have a process when refund has to take place, so when this refund with the help of robotic [00:14:30] purse automation happens faster, sooner, because it can be initiated during the night. It waits shorter que times. Then the end customer, he or she definitely sees the impact sooner and better. The same way how he or she would get it from a human.
Seth Adler: Sure. But is it ... Have you run into ... Because I've spoken with other folks who ... The process at hand that was automated too [00:15:00] well in the customers mind, so they had to tell the customer this was done by a robot so you understand how we did it this quickly. Don't worry. There's no fraud here. Everything's fine. Because we were so quick with it. Have you had experiences like that, or no?
Vytis: No, not at the point. I've heard such stories from the banks, which have leaned the process and were able to come up with a decision in less than [00:15:30] a day.
Seth Adler: Yeah, too quick.
Vytis: And they pushed it to have at least a few days, like delaying. But in our case, Western Union is known as really money in minutes, so people got used to this service. Yes.
Seth Adler: This is the whole concept from decades and decades and decades ago. Just pausing here for a moment, on this Western using thing who business schools always give as an example of well, what Western Union could have been. What Western Union [00:16:00] could have become. Is it a nice thing being inside of Western Union, knowing that you're on the front end here of automation. On the front end of this next step in technology?
Vytis: It's a really good feeling. Good sense. And since technology evolves so fast, we already can see the limits and boundaries where the robotic purse automation can help and where it can not.
Seth Adler: Right.
Vytis: So this gives additional [00:16:30] insights where we could start looking next and what we can do next.
Seth Adler: Yeah. Well, this of course, I want to talk about it. Now, how much ... Because RPA, we got it, we get it, we know what it can do. We know what the limitations are. You just said that. As far as AI, as far as further automation, as far as deep learning, as far as machine learning, as far as that next real true step, as far as cognitive is concerned. How much do you want to share about what you're looking at and what [00:17:00] effect you would like it to have on the business and the consumer?
Vytis: I think this is really good point that ... And I'm really glad to be in this conference because I started hearing a lot of buzz around artificial intelligence machine learning. And this is really nice to see how everybody, starting from the vendors and back to the companies who look for the solutions. [00:17:30] We started to think about and not just to think, but also to look for good cases, good opportunities. So I think it's still a lot of now, just beginning and a lot of search and trying to build understanding from the attendance.
But in the data, we already have machine learning at the company. We have some out of the box solutions. We [00:18:00] already-
Seth Adler: Do you mind sharing who?
Vytis: I would like to note ... To mention, because we have multiple and they are also not in the ... They are put in the process. It's not in the same way as we are now looking to amend the RPA.
Seth Adler: Understood.
Vytis: It will be a different application. But at the same time there are a lot of cases where they structure data [00:18:30] that we even do not leverage, we do not use currently. So I'm ... From artificial intelligence and machine learning I'm looking into those additional services, additional insights that we could have and, which could benefit for the customer.
Seth Adler: Right. The blessing and the curse of RPA is that the data has to be perfect, and beautiful, and clean, and clear. As long as that's the case then everything's going to be fine. Okay. Great. Now, let's talk about the unstructured data, please. [00:19:00] Because I don't want anybody doing that to get it into the RPA. I mean, what are we doing here? Fair enough. So that's where we're going is what you would say?
Seth Adler: All right. As far as these conversations, you're what ... How old could you be? You're 30, right? Ish.
Vytis: Ten plus.
Seth Adler: Ten plus? What? How old? 40? What?
Seth Adler: Really? I'm 41.
Vytis: I'm 40, [00:19:30] yeah.
Seth Adler: Yeah. See, I thought you were younger than me. But you are because I'm 41. You say you're 40. You're from Lithuania. Where in Lithuania?
Vytis: From Vilnius. From the capital city.
Seth Adler: Okay. I have never been to Lithuania. What do I need to know about Lithuania? What do I need to know about the capital city?
Vytis: It's really beautiful and worth visiting.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Vytis: This is the first thing to start with. The second thing, you should definitely come and [00:20:00] when coming, just think what kind of weather you like.
Seth Adler: I like sunny weather.
Vytis: Then summer time is the perfect time to come.
Seth Adler: All right. What about winter? How bad is it?
Vytis: It's nice because it changes. So we can have-
Seth Adler: Seasons. That's what we have ... That's our argument in New York, is we've got seasons. We like it this way.
Vytis: We do have seasons. And even more than four.
Seth Adler: More than four? Hey, that's something to tell people. [00:20:30] What about the cuisine? What about the food? What do I need to know?
Vytis: We have really big variety of European food and cuisine.
Seth Adler: Because Finland is right over here. Right?
Vytis: Finland, Sweden, Denmark-
Seth Adler: They're all right there.
Vytis: Scandinavian [inaudible 00:20:46] style is also popular.
Seth Adler: A lot of seafood. A lot of fish, I would imagine.
Vytis: Not that much.
Seth Adler: Not like them. Okay.
Vytis: Because we have only Baltic Seas ... Is the sea that we have at coastline, [00:21:00] but it's not that rich with fish and [inaudible 00:21:02] is a little more far in the mainland.
Seth Adler: So what kind of protein are we eating?
Vytis: Meat. A lot of meat.
Seth Adler: Beef.
Vytis: [inaudible 00:21:11] kind of. Beef, pork, chicken.
Seth Adler: Okay. All right. Fantastic. Spicy or not spicy?
Vytis: No, not spicy, but maybe more to the greasy side.
Seth Adler: Oh, it is the greasy side.
Vytis: Because when we have cold season, it requires some energy. [00:21:30] Some more.
Seth Adler: Understood. What about culture, music, all of that stuff? What am I going to see? What am I going to feel? What am I going to hear?
Vytis: We have actually one tradition, which is put into Yunasko heritage. This is cultural tradition. It happens once in I think three or four years. It's singing and dancing festival where [00:22:00] people come from all over the world to sing and dance national dances, national songs, and it's really a beautiful and interesting experience.
Seth Adler: Once every three or four years?
Vytis: I'd need to double check, yeah.
Seth Adler: But it's not every year is your point.
Vytis: Not every year.
Seth Adler: Interesting. And what time of year is it?
Vytis: It's during the summer.
Seth Adler: Okay. So we'll look into ... That's when I should come is what we're saying.
Vytis: But you should not wait that long because we just had it a couple of years ago.
Seth Adler: Oh, okay. So now I come now [00:22:30] and this way I'm experienced when I come back for the big thing. What's it called?
Vytis: It's called [inaudible 00:22:37] song festival.
Seth Adler: All right. I'm ... I can't wait. So you're growing up as a little kid, we just explained what Lithuania is for folks that have not been there. When did you realize what you were good at as far as your learning?
Vytis: It was a journey, but funny enough, I bought Toyota [00:23:00] way book in a second hand book-
Seth Adler: How old were you?
Vytis: I was like 25, maybe.
Seth Adler: Okay. So still kind of a young guy, but had you been to university?
Vytis: Yes. [inaudible 00:23:15]
Seth Adler: Okay. And what did you study in your university?
Vytis: I studied applied mathematics.
Seth Adler: Okay.
Vytis: And then I went to management in the [inaudible 00:23:24] for other studies.
Seth Adler: I got it. All right. But pretty straight forward. Then all of a sudden ... And you didn't ... Had you heard [00:23:30] about the Toyota way in school?
Vytis: Not really.
Seth Adler: Not really. Then you read the book and an explosion goes off in your mind, I would imagine.
Vytis: I just bought the book, put it on a shelf because this book was really heavy.
Seth Adler: When did you actually get around to reading it?
Vytis: It was ... I actually, to be honest, I have not read it completely-
Seth Adler: No, that's fine.
Vytis: -the entire book. But I just ... When I got it into hands I then started to be more focused on process.
Seth Adler: Exactly.
Vytis: Modeling, [00:24:00] process management then lean, lean six sigma, operational excellence and this was the to ... Was a really big focus into process management.
Seth Adler: I'll ask again. As far as your reaction to ... Understanding you haven't read it cover to cover, you said, it's a really heavy book and no one reads it cover to cover anymore anyway. Right? What ... How did it change your mindset of what your job was and what you wanted your job [00:24:30] to be?
Vytis: I like the idea of making more with less. Because when ... If I look ... Previously, I looked from the project management concept that if you want to have higher quality then you have to sacrifice other time or increase cost. And with lean concept it was the opposite. You [00:25:00] can have better quality, you can have faster times with less cost. So this was a really high moment and I was ... I go really interested. And this was the key topic and it is still key topic to look for opportunities.
Seth Adler: Of course. Of course. Where were you at the time working?
Vytis: I was working for the Nomagic Technology Company, now, which creates a product, a modeling product, [00:25:30] gives professional technologies services and trainings. And then I was moving to one of the leading Scandinavian banks.
Seth Adler: And then when was the Western Union path crossed?
Vytis: Western Union was six years ago.
Seth Adler: Yeah. Did they find you or did you find them?
Vytis: They found me.
Seth Adler: Interesting. What do you think they found in you? What did you have that they wanted do you think?
Vytis: I was leading operational excellence team [00:26:00] at the bank, implementing lean, six sigma, putting process transparency. And this was the need for Western Union because they established an office in [inaudible 00:26:15]. In order to grow, process management is a really good foundation to help it grow. From the initial plan of 300, 400 employees, now we have over 1, [00:26:30] 700.
Seth Adler: This is at Western Union.
Vytis: At Western Union in Lithuania.
Seth Adler: In Lithuania.
Seth Adler: All right.
Vytis: And this is one of things how to build as big as a success scheme from their ability to execute, execute well, and the process transparency was one of the success factors.
Seth Adler: On the ground ... Share what you can, don't what you can't, obviously. You just talked about exponential job growth in a city [00:27:00] that could use it. And he said they could use it. And we have conversations in automation about the fact that we're going to take FTE out. So what I would love to hear is how you are going to continue to grow jobs in Lithuania through automation, or is the goal essentially to just have one guy doing it? In other words, how are we going to grow jobs within automation when automation really [00:27:30] gets going?
Vytis: I think ... This is a really good question. And there are two ways how to approach it. If some people ... And when I was running a workshop yesterday, I got questions from labor unions, from trade unions, how do you deal with them? And I think one part is approaching through fear that, okay, jobs will be lost. [00:28:00] My recommendation and my view is that we need to approach through the opportunities. Because ... And generation Y, the people that join labor force now, they help to use this philosophy because now younger people don't want to do certain types of jobs. And the jobs that we are automating by using robotic process automation, actually they are not that exciting. [00:28:30] They'll be-
Seth Adler: Those are the jobs that they don't want anyway.
Vytis: Anyway. Nobody wants to do such job because they can not grow in the role. It's boring. It's really nothing to be really fond of. So I think this is a good starting point. But with automation, there are many more new roles that come. So we need process modelers or the people who train the robots to do their work. We need to process [00:29:00] robot supervisors who would be able to schedule the robots, to see if they are doing good work, if maybe some exceptions unintended start to happen and to investigate those. At least get some more sophisticated pieces to work on.
Seth Adler: Be a data analyst. Be a data scientist. Be a programmer.
Seth Adler: Without question.
Seth Adler: Be a programmer. [00:29:30] If you are in what is traditionally the education path before 21 years of age, become a programmer. If you are after 21 years of age and you're thinking, I wonder what I should do, become a programmer.
Vytis: Now, programmer sounds very technical. I think many jobs that come with automation, it's not all about programming. And mainly, it is ... I wouldn't even [00:30:00] say that it's mainly about programming. It's more about even the same operational management. But the difference is that you manage not the real humans, but the virtual workforce. It has some differences. Some of them they are really nice because you don't have to talk about salary reviews, how people is tired or unmotivated or something. You just simply avoid those topics. But then some good topics, how to actually deliver [00:30:30] to the customers, how to manage volume, how to have occupancy achieved and the cost minimized. From that perspective, those are different type, but interesting challenges to solve that do not require programming. They combine some different skills.
Seth Adler: Absolutely. Change management is change management not matter what you're changing. Right?
Seth Adler: Is that fair?
Vytis: Yeah, I think so.
Seth Adler: Yeah. I've got three final questions for you. [00:31:00] I'll tell you what they are. I'll ask you them in order. What has most surprised you at work along the way, now that we know that you're the same age as me. What is ... Or just slightly younger. What's most surprised you in life? And on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there. But first things first. You've worked for a bank, you've worked for Western Union, which is a very unique company with a rich history. You're in automation. You come from Lithuania. What has most surprised you in work?
Vytis: [00:31:30] The most surprising thing that each and every year, at least my last six years were different. Each and every year was different and when I look back, the time went so fast and in a good way that so many exciting things happened, so it still continues surprising me.
Seth Adler: Interesting.
Vytis: The change that is happening.
Seth Adler: Yeah. And as far as just being in a constant state of change, [00:32:00] that's the way it's going to be from now on. So if you don't like it, get used to it and start liking it. What's most surprised you in life?
Vytis: In life, it is interesting and surprising that people or life happens. So if there is a good idea, there is always some person or a group [00:32:30] of people who would be also connected with this idea and it just happens.
Seth Adler: Find those people. Find that community. Because when you find that community then you can reach some sort of enlightenment.
Vytis: Sometimes they find you.
Seth Adler: Oh, yeah? It doesn't work that way for me. I got to always find. This is why I talk to so many people. On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there.
Vytis: I have different changing ones.
Seth Adler: Just as you go [00:33:00] through the Rolodex, just say them out loud so we know.
Vytis: Coming from technology, I like electronic.
Seth Adler: Of course. This is music that makes sense.
Seth Adler: In technology. Right? If you have a technology mind set or a mathematician mind set.
Vytis: So the song that I keep coming back always from the old times and then they keep listening from time to time, I would say is from Underworld, [00:33:30] Once Slipping.
Seth Adler: Okay. I'm going to have to look it up because I don't know. You're outside of my understanding of music. I want to stay outside and just give us one song, either traditional song or not, just to stay within the theme here of celebrating Lithuania. Maybe an old standard or a song from Lithuania that we should look up.
Vytis: It's Three Million by [inaudible 00:33:53]. It's like an anthem, which is used during the sports games.
Seth Adler: All right. [00:34:00] We will look that up. Vytis, thank you so much. I can't wait to check in with you down the line as we keep going.
Vytis: Thank you.
Seth Adler: And there you have Vytis Ciemnolonskis. Getting that executive buy-in, sure, but making sure to put together a team and a vendor and SME getting the right folks in the room, choosing a process that wasn't too tough, and then really diving in. So very much appreciate Vytis and his time. Very much appreciate you and yours. Stay tuned.