ABBYY is a company that demonstrates that it can be relevant in both the business and consumer markets. This is done by providing all kinds of different recognition software. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays an important role in this, as this technology greatly improves the ability to recognize objects and text, for example. We discussed the impact of AI on business solutions with Cédric Hubert, Head of Global Enterprise Sales Europe at ABBYY.
With different types of recognition software, we mean, in this case, the more familiar technologies optical character recognition (OCR) and optical mark recognition (OMR). ABBYY itself also speaks of another type, namely intelligent character recognition (ICR). At first, this may sound like a nice marketing trick to include AI in the traditional OCR concept, but that’s a bit of a trick. ICR is a method to offer Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software a bit of cleverness that RPA itself does not have.
Within these three technologies, some artificial intelligence has always been important, even well before the AI hype of recent years. Ten years ago, it was already the goal to process text, documents and data in the same way as a human being could. In that case, you can’t ignore AI. ABBYY also has other types of software than OCR, ICR and OMR that are just as dependent on AI. The fact is that artificial intelligence is improving, and ABBYY also sees its capabilities grow.
OCR can only get better
In order to make the copying of human actions a little clearer, it is best to explain the way in which OCR works. It first looks at the structure of a document, by quickly scanning for simple things like paragraphs, images and tables. It then analyses the rules, words and numbers, letters and punctuation, step by step. When recognizing these factors, the software’s capabilities are called upon, as the symbols vary by font and handwriting. The software is assisted in this by the dozens of supported languages, so that it can sometimes correct something, for example in the case of an unrecognizable letter.
In principle, therefore, there is still room for improvement in both forms of analysis. The first form of analysis in which characters must be recognized depends on hypotheses. It must be assumed that the numbers, letters and punctuation marks correspond to the signs that have been analyzed previously. In addition, new fonts and manuscripts are forming for extra baggage in the future. In terms of language, the software might as well learn. This can be done, for example, by learning slang or by recognizing words that are officially included in a dictionary.
Integrating into enterprise applications
With these two layers of analysis, OCR technology is able to convert physical documents and PDFs into searchable documents. The company claims to provide one of the most accurate technologies on the market, where it has to compete with Kofax. In any case, the two companies both provide powerful technologies, the difference being mainly in the features of the products.
Ultimately, it is up to both ABBYY and Kofax to bring the software to as many users as possible, so that they get a much simpler experience. To achieve this, ABBYY provides, for example, an OCR engine for enterprise organizations, which they can implement in their applications. In practice, this comes in handy in multiple situations, such as filling in a digital registration form. You can then make a video recording in real-time or a photo of a physical document. The OCR recognizes the relevant data and fills in the form. Speed plays a key role in this. After all, the action must be faster than entering the form manually.
RPA as a new market
Such functionalities all work fine and really achieve simplicity for the customer, but at the same time, ABBYY is looking for ways to move away from its traditional business model. This by bringing a certain form of intelligence to RPA. Of course, ABBYY has also seen that RPA is a form of automation that is growing in popularity thanks to its ability to take over repetitive tasks. The software robots copy human actions by observing workflows in business applications.
The thing about pure RPA is that it really gets to grips with legacy processes. That is, it observes workflows in business applications, such as a certain part in a procurement process, and adopts the simple repetitive action as something that the robot itself can do. When RPA is actually applied, it reads the screen to perform the task exactly as it always does.
ABBYY wants to add some OCR to RPA so that the robots can become even more effective. It teaches the robots how to interpret and understand images and text, something it describes as ICR. The robots have, as it were, a set of possibilities to also anticipate possible changes. In practice, this results in situations such as reading a contract so that it can be assessed for compliance. In this way, it can decide what to do with the contract.
By adding this form of intelligence, ABBYY gives the RPA robots the intelligence they lack, although you may wonder if it is no longer heading towards a real AI robot that also has human intelligence. According to Hubert, this is not really a concern at the moment, as RPA is waiting for this form of intelligence. The collaborations that ABBYY has entered into also show that. The three largest RPA vendors – UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism – are now working with ABBYY in this area. Hubert expects that some RPA vendors will try to add ICR themselves, but that ABBYY will have a head start for the time being because of its research and development.
Simplicity in the right place
ABBYY shows that the traditional OCR and OMR technology, as well as the ICR technology, is valuable in today’s market. What the software does is to offer the end-user as much ease of use as possible. We recently saw this with the integration of the ABBYY Business Card Reader app that can be integrated with Salesforce. This allows business cards to be scanned directly, to create a new contact in Salesforce, which saves a small amount of time. However, the ABBYY software can also save more time, such as simplifying a bank registration process by using OCR.
As a result of the discussion, we are curious to see what else we can expect in the coming period. There was a clear hint of new developments in the field of OCR and ICR, but ABBYY was not yet able to provide many details. As soon as we know more, you can read it on Techzine.