Guest Column | October 9, 2019

How To Innovate Technology That Anticipates Customers' Needs

A conversation with Anthony Macciola, ABBYY

Innovations Are Ready To Disrupt The Clinical Trial Process

Anthony Macciola is the Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, a global provider of content IQ technologies and solutions. He holds more than 45 patents for technologies in mobility, text analytics, image processing, and process automation, and is leading AI initiatives at ABBYY. 

Q: What is the number one tip you have for companies to stay innovative ahead of competitors in a fierce software market?

Macciola: Competition in every industry will always be fierce. Not only will existing competitors continue to launch new variations of solutions, but also new entrants may shake up your industry with market-disrupting business models. As Chief Innovation Officer, I’m often asked how to stay ahead of market trends. The secret is to continuously invest in people: researchers in R&D, data scientists working on AI algorithms, marketing for identifying and influencing the pulse of customer behavior and expectations, and sales for their ability to take your vision to market. Human intelligence is the heart for developing and executing innovation, even as artificial intelligence becomes more mainstream.

Q: None of us have a crystal ball, so how can companies assess the market to ensure a new product meets future client needs?

Macciola: Some call it intuition, others call it a sixth sense, but when you identify a simple solution for a complex business problem, say for example how to transform unstructured enterprise content into actionable information, you have to be confident the market will accept it. That’s not to say you don’t conduct due diligence and test the concept with beta users, a customer advisory board, select partners and gain feedback from analysts. Their feedback will help fine tune the product to ensure success in the market.

Q: How do you balance introducing complex AI technology with client ease of use?

MMacciola: AI has been hyped up a lot in the past year so delivering on AI’s promise is a passion of mine. AI consists of several underlying technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision and even robotic process automation with the goal of enabling robots to think like humans. At ABBYY, we refer to this as cognitive skills like learning, decisioning and reasoning.

We’ve found that by making these skills easily consumable and without a person needing to be a technical expert as the best way to introduce complex technology to customers. You want customers to be in awe of the capabilities and excited to use them, not afraid to touch it.

We recently accomplished this by introducing Content IQ skills – a set of innovative AI technologies that can be quickly consumed as a service and carry out a task like reading a document, routing a document, extracting data, or any other task related to understanding and processing content. They offer the cognitive skills enterprises need to make software robots smarter but are as easy to use as adding an Amazon Alexa skill.

Q: How important is it to assess and follow competitors/potential competition in the market?

Macciola: Leaders always need to be aware of what the competition is doing and monitor adjacent markets to see who may be expanding into your market. For example, IBM may have not been expecting Amazon, which started out as an online book seller, to become a leading on-demand cloud computing platform.

Q: What is the impact of AI and machine learning in a constantly changing technology environment?

Macciola: We’ll see exciting changes within businesses as they incorporate more AI and machine learning technologies into their processes. These include seeing humans working aside digital workers, more automated self-service capabilities that give customers a seamless and intuitive experience, more personalized product and service offerings, and of course, more operational efficiency within businesses.

Q: How can companies persuade organizations to implement technology changes in anticipation of their future needs?

Macciola: A survey conducted by Opinion Matters in January 2019 found that nearly half (45 percent) of C-suite executives admit that they are unsure where to start their transformation strategy. You have the opportunity to guide them with expertise and solutions that will address the challenges their organizations are facing. Also, seeing is believing. Share the benefits of your technology at industry conferences, on-site demos and webinars.

Q: What are important factors companies should consider when preparing their overall digital transformation strategy?

Macciola: There are a couple factors to consider during your digital transformation journey: 1) AI is not the answer to everything, and when incorporating AI-enabling technologies such as machine learning and robotic process automation, you will likely find more inefficiencies exposed due to bad data and processes. Make sure your data is accurate with advanced intelligent capture solutions. 2) It’s recommended to take a process first approach to automation efforts to increase successful results. Most people think they know how processes work and unknowingly add opinion and bias, which can result in errors and inefficiencies.

Q: How important are channel partners in delivering innovative products to market?

Macciola: Leveraging channel partners provides your organization the opportunity to be in more repeatable use case scenarios. For example, some partners focus on invoice processing in transportation and logistics while others may focus on the insurance industry. It’s a smart strategy to align with systems integrators, business process outsources, shared services organizations and value added resellers to augment your sales force.