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Abbyy aims intelligent document processing at business users

Since its birth three decades ago, Abbyy's trajectory has shifted from old-line OCR tech to the forefront of the fast-growing intelligent document processing sector.

As an executive at a partner and reseller of Abbyy document capture systems for 15 years, Travis Spangler has observed the vendor's evolution up close.

Spangler, director of sales and operations at User Friendly Consulting in Lawrence, Mich., leads IT teams that specialize in implementing and managing Abbyy's latest platform, Vantage, and other Abbyy products. Vantage is a drag-and-drop, low-code document capture system aimed at business and nontechnical users.

Abbyy started in 1989 as a purveyor of language and dictionary software and moved into the market for traditional optical character recognition software. The vendor, founded in Russia and now headquartered in Milpitas, Calif., has offices in 15 countries.

Over the last two decades, Abbyy has become one of the most familiar brands in the fast-growing market for AI-based intelligent document processing (IDP) technology that enables organizations to easily digitize complex physical and text documents, such as invoices, driver's licenses and contracts.

"We've kind of grown with their technology as it's developed," Spangler said.

Abbyy first introduced Vantage in 2019 as its first cloud-native platform -- with a host of machine learning neural network-based features -- and also introduced a SaaS version of its traditional FlexiCapture system. The vendor released a major upgrade to Vantage 2 in March 2021, along with the Abbyy Marketplace for prepackaged skills to automate document data extraction and classification.

On June 7, the vendor released a new set of production-ready skills, including ones to extract data from bank statements, tax returns, paychecks and identity documents in 248 countries.

Screenshot of Abbyy Vantage's Identity Documents skill in use
Abbyy Vantage enables mobile and web apps to process ID cards, driver's licenses and passports using the Identity Documents skill.

"We realized that a Salesforce-esque platform was missing from the IDP market," Spangler said, referring to the CRM and customer experience giant's vast ecosystem of software capabilities. "So when we saw this platform from Abbyy, we saw that not only was this a low-code/no-code SaaS offering, but you also had this whole marketplace and idea that partners like us can contribute."

Because of its long history, Abbyy can be characterized as a legacy player in the document capture and processing arena, but it has evolved and stayed abreast of technologies such as AI, said Neil Ward-Dutton, an IDC analyst.

"They've really put a lot of energy into modernizing and revolutionizing the platform," he said. "They've worked hard to stay in the leading pack."

They've really put a lot of energy into modernizing and revolutionizing the platform. They've worked hard to stay in the leading pack.
Neil Ward-DuttonAnalyst, IDC

While younger startups have embraced newer technologies such as natural language processing and AI-powered computer vision from the start, they face challenges in scaling up to meet the needs of large enterprises. For incumbents such as Abbyy, the question is whether they can innovate fast enough, Ward-Dutton said.

"Abbyy is doing really well at this, and they have a huge customer base," he said. "And if they can convert a meaningful percentage of that customer base to Vantage, that's going to keep their shareholders happy."

Abbyy is privately held. Marlin Equity Partners became the largest shareholder with an investment in May 2021.

Abbyy competes with startups and newer companies such as AntWorks, Edgeverve, Indico Data and others, including software automation vendors such as Automation Anywhere, Hyperscience and WorkFusion. Established vendors in the intelligent document processing market include Kofax, Parascript, Datamatics, IBM, Microsoft and OpenText.

"There are specialists who perform better in very particular use cases, like, for example, contract analysis," Ward-Dutton said. "But when you're looking at a sort of general purpose solution, I think Abbyy does a really good job."

Abbyy's journey over the decades is an evolution that its leadership consciously recognizes, as the vendor appeals to the new class of non-data scientists and non-data engineers who are increasingly populating the ranks of enterprises' data workers. Abbyy also relied on its size and stature to offer customers stability along with technological innovation that keeps pace to a large extent with younger vendors entering the market.

"One of the biggest market trends that we've been trying to exploit and accommodate is this democratization trend, the move to low-code/no-code," said Anthony Macciola, Abbyy's chief innovation officer.

"The market that we played in historically, the capture market, couldn't be further from low-code," he continued. "All of our historic competitors, as we did, favored flexibility over ease of use. Now, the business users -- the knowledge workers themselves, who know the processes -- can be empowered to start automating things themselves."

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