Web Summit 2018 did not disappoint.
Grit Daily caught up with a number of high-profile tech execs at this year’s Web Summit. And it was the first year Grit Daily held a dinner function, this time with transportation giant, Mozio.
Some of the better interviews, like Sameer Dholakia at SendGrid, cover lesser known companies that, nonetheless, power pretty much everything you do without you realizing it. We think of it as the ultimate form of disruption: consumers adopting and pushing a technology without even realizing it.
One of those companies, like “backbone play” SendGrid, is ABBYY which processes all of the paperwork you’re using at your office right now. Check out our interview with SVP of Product Marketing, Bruce Orcutt on ABBYY’s “30 years of overnight success.”
Grit Daily: We’re with Bruce Orcutt. Fascinating company, ABBYY. It’s one of those backbone plays that you’ve never heard of but it’s doing so many important things.
Thanks Bruce, for spending some time with us.
Bruce Orcutt: Pleasure.
GD: So let’s lay a foundation for the audience that doesn’t know — at a high level — what does ABBYY do?
BO: ABBYY transforms data, locked within documents into real information, that then becomes actionable and transforms business processes and makes content available to any user or business.
GD: So in layman’s terms, the software that you develop, largely is being used in the workplace. Just to give us a figure in numbers, how many people uses your software?
BO: Over 50 million people using our technologies and tools in some capacity.
So a lot of people who are out there — especially in this audience — are using it and they might not even know that they’re using ABBYY’s products.
GD: So, often times what you’re dealing with is paperwork — making that a lot easier for people to deal with — it’s the bane of everyone’s existence. Transcription and even just storage issues. One of the things that I do want to touch on, broadly, is that future work.
Just to give people a perspective, how far have we come: When you started your career what were we looking at in term of some of the things that you saw since you’ve started?
BO: It’s interesting. So originally, what the technology accomplished, was just taking something that was analog ( a piece of paper) and turning into something digital. Then it gets stored and you can eventually find it again. As the technology matured, it started to understand information within that document. No longer were we just — 15 years ago — storing a document, so we can recall your form, your application or whatever we needed to provide better customer service.
We actually started understanding the information, reading the clauses, the terms and helping the other systems make better decisions. So what we can do now — businesses went from just storing information to being able to use it and make it searchable and retrievable, to now understanding real context and relevance in order to sell you a better product, give you better service, accelerate your loan, your application, your business benefits or your onboarding as an employee.
So the technology went from turning something analog into digital to being something that’s more robust and that’s helping customers and enterprises accelerate business processes and have more information about customers, thereby making better decisions.
GD: It is so critically important. We often don’t read the clickwrap that we agree to. We don’t read those lengthy credit card disclaimer for example when we sign up to so many things.
Employees often times — in an agency capacity and on behalf of businesses. Also, these things often get lost by employees or not everyone can understand them and read them.
It’s a critical part, ultimately, of a lot of these companies are doing.
What are the names of some of your marquee clients that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
BO: So PepsiCo is a rather interesting case of ours because they are a global enterprise. Everybody knows PepsiCo. They’re using our technology to automate their whole accounts payable process. They are processing invoices globally and as the majority of these invoices are coming in via paper, the ABBYY technology understands the information on the invoice, extracts the data and automates the process of being able to pay that invoice. It eliminates a lot of headache for them.
So overall, Pepsi is a very interesting case for us because it’s a global entity. It’s a well known brand and ultimately, they are getting a significant benefit from standardizing on one product that can help them — globally — solve this accounts payable problem. If you look at some of the bigger banks, I can’t mention all of them but many of the bigger banks in the world are leveraging this technology to provide onboarding or trade information about trades that are going on, better analytics related to — a lot of the trade documents are done via fax still — and now they want to understand the information that’s happening within that trade transaction and they need our technology to be able to understand that content.
Of the top of my head, I’m not sure how many other big brands I’ll be able to give you today.
GD: Pepsi is fine.
BO: I can tell you right now that most of the leading logistics and transportation companies are leveraging the platform.Bruce Orcutt, ABBYY
GD: So like a FedEx and UPS for example?
BO: Like those type of companies yes.
GD: There is a broad phenomenon that a lot of people understand and it was with Microsoft. The introduction of word processors and spreadsheets. A lot of secretaries — well there’s two sides to that coin. Some people say they lost jobs. Many other say that from an economic perspective, they kind of moved up the food chain to doing higher value things. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to be in the tech sector.
What are some other things currently today? Somewhat of an analogy to the introduction of the word processor in the 90s — that ABBYY’s doing to day — that’s making a major impact on making people’s work life more palatable?
BO: In a lot of cases we are helping people automate — when we say automate cognitive tasks, which is a very technical term about automating people’s work.
GD: Yes, simplify.
BO: If you work with contracts — If you receive contracts for leases or wills or any kind of business transaction, that’s conducted in a contract, somebody needs to manually understand the elements of the contract — the entities, those clauses and you need to be able to make business decisions around that. When does it start, when does it end what are my terms? What are my penalties and what do I recognize as revenue? Software has now eliminated the need for the users to manually read the contract. It goes through and understands all the clauses.
It sections the document, extracts the entities, understands the relationships between those entities and helps de-risk the value of that contract so that way they can populate the other business systems, which now makes that person that would have been focused on trying to get that data into the system, more productive and effective at actually doing their jobs, which is administering the terms of that contract.
Making sure revenue recognition is within compliance of finance. Making sure that they are paying according to the actual terms. So this is where the technology is helping the average user.
We’ve always heard this concern about eliminating jobs with this technology. It probably has eliminated some, if you think of when someone just manually keys in information and that’s their job but when a knowledge worker has to interact with content, we’re actually making their job better.
They’re getting more information in real-time to help them to complete their tasks. That’s where we see the benefits to these users and why people are celebrating this technology versus thinking of it as a threat to their operations.
GD: Thanks for that Bruce. It’s a big company, valued somewhere in the range of $3 billion.
A lot of people using your products and don’t know that they’re using it. Despite its size — literally at the innovation forefront. Lot of our readers know about TechCrunch Disrupt — in the most recent addition, there are at least one or two products though that, seem eerily familiar to ABBYY’s products. Can you touch on that a bit?
Some of the winners were awfully similar to some things that you already offer.
BO: So we do a lot in the AI space and we position ourselves as AI for documents. We’re trying to transform any content that’s coming in in a paper form or digitally born document, to understand data.
We use very similar technologies and capabilities to have the AI understand content, understand entities, understand sentiment and relationships as somebody would use to mind their database and back end systems with AI and machine learning to train their back end systems to make better decisions around lending and things like that. And so there’s a lot of similarities if we look at how we apply AI and how we apply machine learning.
The reality is that we are focused purely on the document and our technology is really on the point of automating any transaction that has originated in document form.
So that’s where we narrow our focus and that’s why we don’t — we celebrate the great technological advances of AI and machine learning but ours is purely focused on automating these documents and making sure that we’re taking an unstructured universe of data within these documents and transforming them into something meaningful that helps either business operations or improves the users effectiveness or it just improves the amount of information these businesses know about their users.
GD: So really cool stuff that you’re doing. It affects a lot of people and a lot of them don’t even know it. That’s the beauty of some innovations. When you’re taken for granted that’s when you know that they love it. They expect it to work, they expect these tools to be there.
Let’s talk about that future of work. With any timeline you want to pick. Are we going to end up with robots running around doing everything? Where does this ultimately go?
BO: The concept of robots is absolutely exploding and dramatically changing our competitive landscape. So we are absolutely embracing this robotic concept because we believe in the digital worker and we want to automate the digital worker’s tasks.
So in order for these robots to make decisions and really benefit their users and their businesses, which is really what this whole concept is, and making things easier and smarter and having these robots that can perform tasks for you as a user or as a business. We want to make those robots smarter and any time that we can give that robot more information and more data to make a decision, we’re helping to streamline the application.
So we’re very focused on the digital worker, focused on digital labor to help eliminate a lot of the manual stuff, eliminate a lot of the difficult challenges that they face — dealing with content within documents. So we celebrate the robotics pivot. We definitely see there’s a future beyond robotics though, where AI and other smarter systems are going to come into play…
GD: You don’t even need that kind of metallic hardware. That can be something of yesteryear — almost already, this is almost all about the soft stuff and the software.
BO: Absolutely. Yes.
We celebrate the robotic concept though, because customers understand it.
They understand that — here’s this piece of technology, whether it’s a physical robot that’s putting pieces of machinery together or it’s actually a robot that’s making a decision — that they would previously have to spend time into research before making that decision. It just makes their job easier and that’s what we’re focused on.
GD: Earlier you mentioned that really big transport and freight companies. You also mentioned PepsiCo but you also get much smaller companies who can use your services. For those that are more startups or mid-size — How can they generally reach you guys?
BO: Well they can always reach us on ABBYY.com and then we’re very active in the development community. So developers can come to our website, connect with us, download our technologies and play with them.
Then we have a lot of presence in various industry events and trade shows where they can come and meet us and engage with us. We’re very focused on mobility so anybody who’s focused on mobile use cases and enabling real-time transactions they are welcome.
We are very prominent in that market and in that area of business. So hopefully people come to our website, download our tools or they engage us through any of our online events that we host.
GD: Awesome. Appreciate it Bruce. This is Bruce Orcutt with ABBYY.