ABBYY: Process Automation is Capture’s Renaissance

Last year I had the opportunity to not only attend the ABBYY Technology Summit but also to host an AI panel with some of the top international experts. The annual event brings together folks from all over the globe to explore profitable trends in the data capture, analytics, and recognition services. During the show, I was invited to a special briefing for industry analysts, where ABBYY officials discussed how the company is doing and where they’re headed in the future. It’s a good time to take stock in anticipation of their next event in October in Nashville aptly titled “The Content IQ Summit”.

Raising the bar

ABBYY went through a lot of change since 2017. CEO Ulf Persson (he makes a great interview subject) told us that there was a lot of corporate and management restructuring. The company conscripted some fresh faces and promoted from within to fill some new key positions. The executives at ABBYY thought that a shakeup could inject some creative energy into the organization, from their product development teams, to sales and marketing groups.

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“We want to raise the bar,” said Persson. “Whatever we do in terms of developing products, technologies, how we deliver them; how we help customers and partners when it comes to solving a problem; how we interact with our customers; and how we interact with ourselves. We should do it a notch or two or three better than we’ve done in the past.”

The restructuring and new attitude are yielding some excellent results. In 2017, ABBYY grew by 26 percent, with roughly a quarter of that growth coming from Q4 2017. By the end of 2018, ABBYY had grown by another 15 percent. Going forward, Persson expects annual growth rates nearing 20 percent.

The trajectory of ABBYY’s growth isn’t the only thing to impress. “There are a lot of companies that are growing, but not many are growing profitably,” said Persson. “We do that.” This leaves ABBYY in complete control of their own destiny, since they don’t have to rely on the investment world to make their vision a reality. Such financial freedom enables ABBYY to increase their investments in the future. Since 2016, ABBYY has increased their development research spending by 38%. “This is a significant amount of money for us,” said Persson. More recently, ABBYY added 80 technical positions to their R&D team, and increased their presence in technical support and professional services.

Capture is changing

According to Reggie Twigg, ABBYY’s director of product marketing for data capture, the capture market is growing at a sluggish annual growth rate of 5.5 percent. Even so, ABBYY was able to grow their FlexiCapture businesses by 40 percent last year. This, Twigg said, is a signal of the way consumers buy and use capture solutions.

“Process automation is capture’s Renaissance,” said Twigg. Many businesses are investing in RPA and AI solutions because they want to be able to make faster, smarter decisions than their competitors. But in the same way that a simple pathogen can bring the Martian army to its knees, documents can be the bane of AI and RPA solutions. “No matter how much customers invest in AI and RPA and other forms of automation, documents break their processes,” said Twigg. As such, the market is demanding smarter capture products like FlexiCapture that can complement their AI and RPA investments.

What’s on the horizon?

ABBYY wants to capitalize on opportunities in the RPA market. Currently, more than a dozen robotic process automation (RPA) developers license ABBYY’s FineReader technology. More recently, ABBYY has tapped into a new environment of partners, announcing pacts with automation-focused consultants –where some sizeable deals are already being closed.

The company is building connectors that can dovetail RPA solutions with FlexiCapture, their intelligent capture and document process automation solution. Basically, the FlexiCapture connector enables customers to enhance their robots by adding “skills” like OCR classification and data extraction or even more advanced skills like invoice automation. Connectors for Blue Prism and UIPath, for example, are available today, and ABBYY is in discussions with other RPA vendors to expand their connector portfolio.

The game

ABBYY is playing in a marketplace that changes very rapidly. They have competitive threats from AI and excellent opportunities in the digital transformation space. Persson said that ABBYY needs to run fast and develop very quickly, because if they don’t someone else will. And that’s why ABBYY is so insistent on “raising the bar”, growing quickly, and investing wisely. “If we don’t, we risk becoming irrelevant,” he said. “Trust me, we will not become irrelevant.” I for one believe it and can’t wait to see what they have in store for us all in October.