Anthony Macciola Of ABBYY: “We’re changing how people and companies work”

We’re changing how people and companies work. No matter what stage of digital transformation an organization is in, or the level of technical expertise employees have, we make it easier for all stakeholders to achieve their digital future. As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony […]

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We’re changing how people and companies work. No matter what stage of digital transformation an organization is in, or the level of technical expertise employees have, we make it easier for all stakeholders to achieve their digital future.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Macciola, Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, a Digital Intelligence company. He is responsible for the company’s overall vision, strategy, and product innovation leveraging AI enabling technologies that help enterprises realize their digital future. His initiatives leverage machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing and text analytics to identify process and data insights that improve business outcomes. Macciola has more than 45 patents for technologies in mobility, text analytics, image processing and process automation and is an advocate for the democratization of technology.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s been an interesting journey that has stayed relatively within the same technology path but has evolved and advanced significantly over the years. My career path in Content intelligence began in the early 1990s with capture technology. We used neural networks, support vector machines, and machine learning engines to build classification and extraction models — it was not called AI then, but we were using AI to solve document-related problems like accurately digitizing, classifying and extracting data from documents. Now, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are looking for new opportunities to apply AI and realizing what we have known for ages.

As my teams and I innovated technology to perfect the transformation of unstructured content, we’ve advanced it to incorporate cognitive skills that mimic human reasoning, decisioning and understanding. This form of AI is an example of emerging technology available today, whereas people were expecting human-looking robots to mimic humans when in reality, it is software robots accomplishing this.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I recall when mobile apps on smartphones were emerging — mainly games and task assistants. And by the early 2000s we saw consumer companies, like national pizza chains, monetizing their mobile app. It clicked in my mind when I called my local pizza shop and they knew my previous order based on what my son had ordered on the app that the enterprise needed to be doing this. What’s interesting about this is that it takes more than a consumer-facing mobile app to be a digital company. In a typical organization there any many siloed business systems that make it hard for a seamless customer experience. That’s when I realized that no matter how smart you are at digitizing and accessing your enterprise content, if you don’t have process intelligence, it’ll be near impossible to agile and profitable.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Artificial intelligence augmenting human intelligence is currently on the bleeding edge of enterprise digital transformation. The concept of robots taking over humans’ jobs has been predicted and even dreaded. However, rather than mechanical robots at assembly lines within factories, RPA digital workers have entered global enterprises and they will continue to increase by 50% over the next two years. Despite initial fears that this level of automation would replace workers, humans are actually happy to delegate mundane, repetitive tasks they hate doing like reviewing long documents, data entry, electronic filing and even attending meetings.

However, digital workers are not smart — they go where they were programmed to go and often get stalled or repeat broken processes. That’s where we’ve been able to leverage our expertise in NLP, machine learning and AI to infuse digital workers with Content Intelligence. Going further, we’re making these cognitive skills easy for non-technical business analysts to add to any intelligent automation platform. Even developing a virtual advisor for digital workers to seek guidance on types of content they’re working with and the best workflow they should follow.

To further extend the bleeding edge, we’re now using predictive analytics capabilities and AI within business processes for Process Intelligence to truly identify which processes are best suited for automation. Previously, the C-suite would approve the automation of certain processes based on opinion, bias or internal politics and not have the entire enterprise ecosystem in mind.

How do you think this might change the world?

We’re changing how people and companies work. No matter what stage of digital transformation an organization is in, or the level of technical expertise employees have, we make it easier for all stakeholders to achieve their digital future.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

With software robots gaining more human-like cognitive skills, human workers will need to learn new digital skills so they can control and continuously train their digital worker counterpart.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

The driver for innovation is solving a challenge or need. Watching the challenges enterprises had with RPA, business process management (BPM), customer relationship management (CRM), electronic resource planning (ERP) platforms and other intelligent automation systems had with content and processes was the catalyst for ABBYY evolving our core technologies into a Digital Intelligence platform.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Getting heard above unicorns’ and tech giants’ marketing budgets are definitely factors for widespread adoption, however, we have an advantage in that our solutions are used by more than 5,000 customers including many of the Forbes 500 in financial services, insurance, transportation, healthcare and other industries. We also have a global presence with offices in 13 countries. We are also hyper-focused on our customers and partners where they know we have their success as our priority.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

In addition to have a dedicated sales team and educational resources for partners and customers, we’ve made it easy for people to engage with us with a newly launched ABBYY Community, an open source library NeoML, ABBYY Digital Resources Hub and are frequently profiled in high profile media outlets such as Authority Magazine.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When working within a global enterprise and in a highly competitive market, there are dozens of people that have roles in each other’s successes. We very much work as a team where the team’s success is more relevant that an individual’s. With that said, the confidence, guidance and collaboration by ABBYY’s CEO Ulf Persson and ABBYY’s Chairman of the Board Robert Youngjohns have been of great influence.

What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. I started with AI over 30 years ago. Back then the term AI wasn’t used. It was all about neural nets, machine learning, and support vector machines. I wish someone would have told me or predicted that those basic technologies would experience a renaissance and transition from niche implementations to broad market adoption.
  2. More recently, I wish I would have been tipped off sooner to the value associated with the ability to digitally package knowledge and seamlessly disseminate it throughout an organization in the form of digital skills. The value is obvious — package one person’s knowledge and expertise and replicate it throughout the digital workforce. Although we’ve led this initiative throughout the market relative to understanding and processing content and we’re now expanding the concept to embrace process related knowledge and expertise, I would have liked to be a year or two ahead of where we are.
  3. To date in the enterprise, AI is mostly leveraged in areas of analysis, learning and prediction. We’ve also seen it make an impact in collaborative chat related experience. During the same time period, we’ve seen the rise of personal assistants from more of a consumer standpoint. I believe the next area where AI will deliver material value is a hybrid of these use cases. This will take the form on a new generation of enterprise tools that will have integrated digital advisors as part of their design studio and configuration / training tools. As technology is democratized, organizations are wanting to empower business centric ‘citizen developers’ as active contributors to their digital transformation journey. Enabling this broad audience will be dependent on making a casual user and expert. Said another way, transforming individuals and teams into rock stars. To do this, software vendors will need to rethink their approach and infuse the concept of guided user experience that is context sensitive.
  4. Provide the user with advice and guidance as to their ‘next best action’ based on where they are
  5. Automate configuration or recommend optimal configuration choices whenever possible
  6. Monitor system performance and identifying opportunities for optimization and recommending finetuning action

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think in this day and age it’s all about quality of life and establishing an optimal work / life balance. Information is exploding and organizations need to be smarter and nimbler. I keep hearing about robots replacing humans. I think that’s the wrong way to think about things. I think it’s all about making humans more productive by:

● Helping offload mundane, repetitive tasks

● Helping them make better more decisive decisions quicker

● Freeing them up to focus on higher value tasks such direct customer interactions

● Providing free time or down time to think about and look for opportunities to create value and increase customer experience

These sorts of things combined with not having to work 50+ hour work weeks. This creates a happier, more effective workforce and a satisfied customer base.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Listen, plan, act.”

There are tons of opportunities to innovate and create material value. Some folks are gifted with the ability to sit in a room and think things up. My experience is there’s nothing that can replace customer face time. Face time where you’re listening and watching (interacting) more than talking or death by PowerPoint. If you understand technology and you take the time to understand cause and effect, customers can oftentimes help fill in the gaps. Not by telling you what they want but by describing that they’re trying to accomplish.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

ABBYY is a Digital Intelligence company. We provide a Digital Intelligence platform that delivers a complete understanding of business processes and content to raise organizations’ Digital IQ.

Digital Intelligence is important because most organizations have started their digital transformation journey, but many aren’t seeing the anticipated results. They lack the proper tools to discover and analyze insights from data and processes, where automation will provide the most value. With access to real-time data about your processes and the content in the documents that fuels them, you are equipped to transform your enterprise the right way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow everything I’m doing and influencing on Twitter @ABBYY_Software.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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