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Intelligent Document Processing with Martin Birch

George Grombacher March 30, 2023

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Intelligent Document Processing with Martin Birch

LifeBlood: We talked about intelligent document processing, the importance of digital transformation, combining AI with human intelligence, how this applies to classified documents, elections, and business, and how to get started, with Martin Birch, President and CEO of ibml, a leader in intelligent document processing.   

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Martin Birch

Martin Birch

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well, hello, this is George G. And the time is right. Welcome. Today’s guest strong and powerful Martin birch. Martin, are you ready to do this?

Martin Birch 0:09
Absolutely. Looking forward to it. George. Great to be here. All right, let’s

george grombacher 0:12
go. Martin is the president and CEO of IBM L, their company bringing together artificial intelligence and human intelligence and service of intelligent document processing. He’s a board member, mentor, Martin excited to have you on, tell us a little about your personal life smart about your work, why you do what you do?

Martin Birch 0:35
Absolutely. So, George, I live in Atlanta with my family, I have a wife and an eight year old who’s an absolute Duracell bunny in the USA for seven years. As you can probably tell from my accent, I am not a local, from the from the USA, I like to joke with people that I am from the south. My accent is from the south, but it’s the south of the UK, not the South in the US, but happily living in Atlanta now. And I had an opportunity to come over to the US seven years ago, and I’ve learned that when the universe throws an opportunity at you, you take it and you run with it. And you don’t always know where it’s gonna take you. But the road is always interesting. And so I’m now the CEO and President of idml. And having a great time.

george grombacher 1:28
How does one get into document processing or imaging? Martin?

Martin Birch 1:35
I think is a, someone getting into Well, I kind of stumbled into it personally. But I think digital transformation is something that is front of mind for every business now. Maybe a few years ago, it was something that people hadn’t heard of, or people that didn’t understand. But I think today, digital transformation is front of mind to every every company in the world. And, you know, it used to be thought of as something that will gain business efficiencies, and maybe operational improvements. But now it’s table stakes. And having a digital transformation strategy for your company, is if you don’t have one, it’s your very survival is at stake. It’s it’s that important, it’s on everybody’s agenda. And there’s a lot of buzz right now, about AI, everybody’s throwing out the terms like AI and machine learning and all of those wonderful things. And it’s seen as being a cure for all ills, really. But AI on its own, as you rightly alluded to at the start is not the solution. Artificial intelligence can help automate processes. But to really unlock the power of AI, you need people. So for me, I like it. I like this phrase, it’s ai plus h AI. Artificial Intelligence plus human intelligence, really unlocks the benefits. And, you know, the two things are very different AI is, is is as good as the programmers. And although there are obviously learning algorithms, again, you’re you’re limited to some extent, but human beings, you know, we’re so creative, we can be collaborative, we have great wisdom and experience within us. And that that, that wisdom, and experience, and creativity can really be used to harness the real power of AI, and sell at ICML. We like to use that combination of smart tools, smart technology, plus smart people to really help our clients and our customers are really on unlock the benefits of AI and add value to their business in their digital transformation.

george grombacher 3:59
It certainly makes sense. What is just briefly what is digital transformation?

Martin Birch 4:06
I think is there anything that can basically drive efficiencies and improvements within the business and digital transformation. Some people call it digitization, some people call it digitalization, there’s different different kinds of schools there. But it’s really about bringing tools and systems and technologies to improve the way you do things. And so for example, that I BML what we do is we manufacture the world’s fastest most intelligent document scanning systems. And so we can take paper and we can digitally digitize it. And we can provide insights and we can feed a business process and derive better outcomes for the customer. So from simple things like an accounts payable process where invoices can come into a business invoices can come into business in many forms, they can come in, in paper form, they can come in in via fax, they can come in on an email, as an attachment or Word document or something else. And idml, what we do is we take all those different work streams together, all those different workflows, and we digitize the paper, we scan it incredibly fast, we can understand the paper, we can extract insights and look for fields on there, we can find out, where’s the invoice number, where’s the invoice amount, who’s the who’s the company was the address, and we can do all that automatically, and then feed an invoice processing system. And if the invoice arrives digitally, we can combine it into that same workflow process, resulting in a better outcome for the customer. better accuracy of faster process, and an easier life for the people that are actually doing the process. So that’s just one example of how digital transformation can help a company.

george grombacher 6:04
Yeah, I certainly appreciate that. I imagine then that you’ve been utilizing AI married with HSI for quite some time, where right now I’m not sure where we’re at in the AI arc. But certainly, it’s on the tip of everybody’s tongue with Chet GPT. But how to, you’ve been using it for a long time.

Martin Birch 6:28
We have and, you know, chat GVT is, is is fascinating, and the underlying code in there. Very interesting to see people like Microsoft now adopting it in their search engines and putting big bets in that direction. And fascinating also, to see the work Google have been doing racing to launch their own version. So that type of technology is now is now becoming, it’s now becoming part of our everyday life. You know, we use technology like that AI, not quite in the chat GPT manner that it started a number of years ago, where you could recognize characters on a piece of paper, that simple OCR, Optical Character Recognition. And then it started with being able to look at look at forms, pre printed forms, and know where to look at forms to extract information. And then it’s evolved to where we are today where you can go freeform, where you can have a document where you haven’t seen it before, or the the system hasn’t seen it before. But it’s smart enough to know, if I go back to my invoice example, it’s smart enough to know that on an invoice that you should have a an amount in there somewhere, you should have a an address in there somewhere, you should have an invoice number in there. And the AI will basically look through the documents, Okay, this looks like an address. It’s like an invoice number. I know what I do with those I, I populate my, my system with those with those details. And so that’s that’s kind of trainable AI where the AI algorithms can look at something it hasn’t seen before. But it’s smart enough to know how to how to classify them, and how to extract valuable information out of that document. And that’s really where we are today. It’s that move to AI, looking at what what people call unstructured documents, and being able to basically classify them and provide information that’s useful to the organization. And organizations have. Every organization has documents lying around in both digital form and analog form. And in many cases, they don’t know what’s it, what’s in those documents. And so, using tools, digital transformation tools, you can unlock the insights that may exist in those documents. And there’s also a regulation standpoint here where, with with regulation, government regulation, you need to know what’s in in those documents that companies have personal information stored in there. Is there anything in there that shouldn’t be there is there documents where people have requested their information not to be held, you need to be able to find that stuff. You need to be able to discover what’s hidden in your digital or analog records and then deal with it is appropriately. So you know, when I say digital transformation is front of mind for every company. It’s really driven by those things. It’s driven by business advantage, business efficiency and also government regulations.

george grombacher 9:44
That’s fascinating. It’s something I was curious about our certainly the requirement, is there a requirement to retain physical documents for some industries.

Martin Birch 9:59
There is Isn’t there’s there’s various retention periods? And it’s a great question, actually, because there is a requirement to retain both analog documents and digital documents and the way we treat them, or can classify them all, from legal perspectives can be the same, because the document is a document, whether it’s a paper document or a digital document. And there are rules and regulations around that depending on your your industry, and also on your, on your personal situation. You know, there is a school of thought that says actually the, the less amount of information you retain the better because you can’t be sued for having information if you don’t have it. And that kind of misses the point because there’s value in having this information useful to make sure you have, you don’t hold anything you’re not supposed to hold. But that retention policy framework is an important part of any document strategy.

george grombacher 10:57
So funny, I didn’t I didn’t connect the dots until just a second ago, that we’re also having this conversation here about classified documents and where they’re showing up and what’s in these documents, and where are they being held? And oh, my goodness, yeah. So then, certainly,

Martin Birch 11:15
exactly, exactly, exactly. In some of those cases, I’m sure the, you know, in most cases, when somebody has something they’re not supposed to have, that it’s not deliberate, they don’t have it, because they’re deliberately holding it, they often don’t know what’s in there. You know, so, if you have a box of documents, or a file folder, that documents can be misfiled, you know, the wrong document can find its way into the wrong box, you may think you’ve got something in that box that you don’t have, or you may have something that you think you don’t have. And that’s true of both paper documents and digital documents. And that’s why this is so important. Whether you’re whether you’re a working in a company, or you’re a president, it’s it’s equally important.

george grombacher 12:00
And then there’s a Maine, I live in Arizona, and there is a big conversation about our last election about imaging, and on some of the ballots, it was the wrong size image. And so a lot of them are getting spit out. And this leads to just lots of problems. Whether or not it was nefarious or not, it was still is still kind of a problem. So yet another use case. And then also tracking, for lack of a better term kind of chain of custody with with with information is also a very, very important thing.

Martin Birch 12:35
Yeah, you might raise two really good ones there. George in elections is something in particular, where there’s got to be trust in the process, or the whole thing falls apart. And elections. Ultimately, you’ve always got to be able to go back and have a have a good audit trail. And we had idml, we work with some of the largest counties in the United States, I don’t believe we work with Arizona, actually, we work with some of the biggest counties in the US. And what we effectively do is our high speed documents, documents, scanners basically digitize the ballots, and they digitize paper ballots. And so the benefit of doing that is you can read the ballot very, very quickly. And you can tally the results very, very quickly. But if ever, there’s an audit trail needed, you keep the paper. And you can always go back to that paper. And you can, you know, through the through the scanning process, you can do things like validate signatures, you can look for barcodes to validate that this ballot, who you know what this ballot isn’t official ballot, you can make sure that, you know, a signature only shows up once you can sell it, there’s a whole bunch of things you can do to ensure transparency, accuracy and a fair election. But ultimately, we love the fact that you always retain the paper, because it’s a slower process to manually go through sheets of paper and count them or tally them or look at them. So in terms of an election, you want to be able to get the results fast. And that’s where we come in. And you want to be fast and accurate. And that’s where we come in, but you want it to be auditable. And so having that audit trail that someone can go back to at any point in time, and prove out the result is so so important. Yeah, there’s no doubt

george grombacher 14:25
about that. What is a? And I don’t know if it’s, it’s possible to answer but what is it typical engagement look like if if a county state, whatever it might be says, Oh, that’s interesting. How would we implement that? How would we implement IBM L? What does that process look like?

Martin Birch 14:44
Yeah, so we like to be a trusted guide. And so if any county would like to talk to us, you know, find us through the website. I’d be Mulder calm, reach out to us. We’re very happy to have a conversation with you. We’d love to understand how you due today, and we’d love to act as a trusted guide with you, to help you down the line. I mean, it’s a fascinating, fascinating thing I’ve, I’ve seen the way these these elections work with our customers. And you know, when you have a warehouse full of high speed IBM or document scanners and you have ballot boxes being helicoptered in to this centralized point where they’re digitized and scan. It’s a fascinating thing to watch. As the process happens, it really is it’s Democracy at Work. Yeah, I

george grombacher 15:37
can only imagine. But it is possible for any organization to, to go through this digital transformation.

Martin Birch 15:50
Yeah, every organization should be thinking about it, George, and you know what, whatever size you are, whether you’re, whether you’re a big multinational, whether you’re a government entity, this is a big, it’s a big issue with now with government, especially with NARA, the national national archives are driving all the government departments to digitize and bring their records into Gnar in digital form, whether you’re a small organization or a large organization, there’s things you can do. And going down that digital path will actually make your organization stronger. And as I said at the start, it’s no small claim to say that the very survival of many organizations rests on being able to do this properly.

george grombacher 16:35
Yeah, I think it is. I think it’s absolutely fascinating in so many different use cases. What was the use of Nara? I don’t know what that is.

Martin Birch 16:44
Yes or No? Or is the US government archives, the National Archives, they’re a government body. They basically are the folks that are the keepers of government records. And government departments send them their records. You know, I think they take the presidential records. And they sit at the heart of the of the government record keeping, and they’ve up to now they’ve been taking records in both digital and paper format. They’ve decreed that I think that date is 2024. By 2024. All government records that are supplied to NARA have to be in digital form. So this is something that government departments are having to wrestle with right now. And we work with a number of government departments. Helping them with this with this challenge. You know, I’d be male, we’re fairly unique in that. We work with companies from government on down big multinationals, government departments, government entities, down to smallest companies, and even outsourcing BPO providers. So the the outsourcing BPO providers that you see, in every high speed high street in every town that does kind of scanning services and printing services. We work with all those folks, too. Say Yeah, it’s it’s a challenge that is that is everywhere in front of mine everywhere right now.

george grombacher 18:10
SNL and stuff. Oh, Martin, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you and how can they engage with IBM? Well,

Martin Birch 18:19
I’m very happy to connect with with people. George. So we’re in Birchwood IV mail.com. Or you can find me on LinkedIn, and IV mail, of course, IV mail.com. Reach out to us we’re we’re happy to have the conversations.

george grombacher 18:33
Excellent. What’s your address, which is I did show Martin your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to ibml.com. And check out everything that we’ve been talking about on the show. You could find Martin on LinkedIn as well. And I will link both of those in the notes. Thanks. Good, Martin.

Martin Birch 18:53
Thank you, Jordan was a pleasure being here. Thank you so much.

george grombacher 18:56
And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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