OpenText announces the launch of its AI strategy
At its annual OpenText World conference, the NASDAQ-listed company unveiled how its tech will transform workflows for companies — which include 98 of the Fortune 100.
Sandy Ono, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at OpenText, opens the OpenText World 2023 conference. Photo: OpenText.
It’s 8 a.m. in a still-scorching October Las Vegas. On the strip, limousines pull up and down the asphalt, ferrying passengers still rolling from the night before. Oiled-up men pose for paid-for photos and iPhone-touting crowds snap shots of the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. The early hour doesn’t stop tourists wandering into the casinos that flank the street, moths to the promise of money.
Inside, it’s a different story. Two floors up from the whirl and flash of slot machines in the Venetian hotel, smack in the middle of the strip, there’s serious business. Today marks the opening of OpenText World: the annual conference of the Canadian information management SaaS darling.
OpenText is a name famed not just in the outfit’s home country, but south of the 49th parallel too. As Canada’s fourth-largest software company, OpenText serves customers from international banks to government agencies, tech giants, and some of the most complex organizations in the world, helping to securely capture, govern, and exchange information on a global scale. In 2020, the NASDAQ-listed business passed $3 billion in revenue, boasted more than 14,000 employees, and hosted over 60 worldwide offices.
In other words, when OpenText teases that its conference will announce the company’s launch into AI, it’s time to get on a plane.
Artificial intelligence for enterprise companies
In tech and beyond, AI has become the buzzword of the past year: an annus mirabilis marked by images, text, and ideas prompted by human fingers but realized by algorithms. Businesses, of course, have been first to attempt to harness the technology. Every company is rushing to incorporate an “AI strategy”, with varying degrees of success. And while it’s one thing for a small startup to incorporate new AI-focused workflows, it’s a whole other story when a multinational like OpenText announces it will be building those processes. Not least because its customers include 98 of the Fortune 100.
In many ways, OpenText has been a quiet AI pioneer. Involved in the information management space for three decades, the company has included components of artificial intelligence such as machine learning, automations, and algorithms into various products and integrations. Today, however, marks the first time the company has announced an official AI strategy.
Speaking from the OpenText World stage, its executives demonstrate that they understand that AI isn’t just a project — it’s the end of a long-term data strategy. And boy does OpenText have data.
“No data, no automation, no AI,” says Muhi Majzoub, executive vice president and chief product officer, leading the conversation at an intimate media roundtable. “Find us another vendor in the market that has more data than we do. Every bank in the U.S. is on our platform. Many banks in Europe — the European Central Bank and 164 affiliates — Bank of Montreal, Bank of France, Bank of Tokyo, DBS Bank, Bank of Australia, they're all leveraging [OpenText]. So we are the leaders in information management. And now it's helping us accelerate and deliver more accurate results through our [AI]. Because we already have the data.”
OpenText is thinking long-term with its approach to the technology. Rather than simply an automation tool, the company is focused on achieving a lofty (and currently out-of-reach) goal: artificial general intelligence that helps the business customer. Artificial general intelligence, also known as AGI, can be defined as an autonomous system that is better than people at performing any intellectual task — or, as OpenAI founder Sam Altman puts it, anything that is “generally smarter than humans.” Already, CEO Mark Barrenechea touts from the OpenText World stage, enterprise companies using current AI capabilities have saved employees 75 percent of time, and enabled $4 trillion in new annual GDP growth. Using AGI in an enterprise setting, he believes, offers a promise to change work forever.
“We're using this as an opportunity, quite candidly, to reimagine OpenText,” Barrenechea says. “To reimagine what our customers can do with investing 30 years of innovation into information management [...] We spent 30-some-odd years on automation. We've been spending the last decade working on a component tree for AI [...] So we've spent a lot of time thinking through everything we do, [and] how we want to walk our customers through that.”
OpenText world CEO and CTO, Mark Barrenechea, onstage at OpenText World 2023. Photo: OpenText.
The result is what the company — in-keeping with its pilot-themed branding — is calling Aviators. While AGI remains a far-off possibility, OpenText’s Aviators represent the company’s first foray into AI-powered automation services. The tech can parse through data affiliated with OpenText software, vectorize it, apply a language model to it, and enable customers to ask questions about the information using a conversational interface. In practice, the Aviators for OpenText’s products look somewhat like the Chat GPT landing page, but souped-up to the point that its answers can feed into — and help automate — other parts of an enterprise’s business.
It’s simpler (yet no less impressive) than it sounds. Onstage, Barrenechea darts between two podiums manned by company execs, the suits of each blushed by the blue, pink, and white lighting of the wall of screens behind them. On each stand is a branded laptop, monitors mirrored onto the Vegas-sized display and magnified for the forty-some rows of attendees. Click by click, the company’s leaders run a demonstration of how a biomedical company shipping insulin can benefit from the new Aviator tech.
First, the audience is shown, a single insulin vial is turned into a digital twin stored on the OpenText platform, generating a QR code that contains all of its data. The vial is also linked to IoT sensors which track information, such as the temperature the vial is being stored in, and where it’s located along its shipping journey. Say, for instance, that the truck carrying the insulin got too hot — a disaster that renders it unusable. OpenText’s Aviator AI can flag every other vial in that shipment, so that when hospital workers scan the QR code, they can see the insulin is no good. At the same time, the shipper can check their dashboard to find out where the trucks are on the way to their destination, discover which truck the vial is on, and figure out what vehicle is having the cooling problem — information that can be used to get it fixed. By asking the Aviator AI interface, the shipper can discover how many vials of insulin in the order have been damaged. The AI can then order new insulin automatically, or even open up an automated insurance claim.
“We have no competition in the business Aviator space,” says Majzoub at a media roundtable. “Let me explain why I say that. Today, because we are the leaders in the content cloud, no one has an equivalent Aviator. If you look at who the content cloud vendors that are still in the field competing with us are, [it’s] IBM FileNet, and Box. With all due respect, they have great products, [...] but if you look at them, neither delivers the out-of-the-box integration that we delivered to SAP, to Microsoft, to Google, to Oracle, to Salesforce. You ask IBM to integrate into SAP, and it's a consulting project and a lot of dollars behind it. You ask them to integrate into Box, it's the same thing. To us, it's out of the box. It's a screen to configure and provide the credential for APIs to connect. And we're proud of that. That's a big part of how we differentiate.”
OpenText’s executive vice president and chief product officer Muhi Majzoub, delivering the products and technology innovation keynote. Photo: OpenText
Aviators take flight
In tandem with the OpenText World conference, the company announced six new Aviators for business — IT operations and service management, DevOps and software delivery, content and information retrieval, AI-enhanced cybersecurity, and supply chain operations.
All six feed into OpenText’s Aviators for technologists. Those include the Aviator Platform, which offers a suite of tools for understanding structured and unstructured data; Aviator Search, where users can find content regardless of the format while using natural language to ask questions; Aviator IoT, to offer real-time insights into the location, condition, use, performance, and health of assets; Aviator Thrust and Thrust Studio, which offers API services and developer tools for custom-AI apps; and Aviator Lab, which is a sandbox for those experimenting with building new AI solutions.
Perhaps most significant across these products is how OpenText’s Aviators layer large language models — the framework that allows information to be questioned using natural language — on top of customers’ secured data. “Your data is not our product,” the company’s execs reiterate at multiple occasions across the conference. OpenText instead allows data to flow and be searched across any number of clients’ private clouds; a selling point that has attracted and retained partners including heavyweights like Shell and motorsports giant Jaguar TCS Racing.
“The ability of AI [and] machine learning insights are really key for us,” says James Barclay, managing director of JLR Motorsport and team principal of the Jaguar TCS Racing Formula E. “There are things that AI would look at in the car that we necessarily wouldn't think about. Sometimes, things you maybe have ruled out [are made apparent] with tools like AI. The ability to model competitors — there's a big potential future there as well. Driver integration with the car. It's one thing to say a driver can do all these things, but can they really? And [can they] drive so differently? Can you model that as well over time? There's performance everywhere you look.”
Jonathan Cullender, head of integration technologies at Shell, agrees. Like Formula E racing — characterized by its use of electric cars — Shell has prioritized transitioning away from hydrocarbon-based energy, and its attempts have been buoyed by AI solutions. Speaking in a fireside conversation under the chandelier-adorned ceiling of the conference room, he details how OpenText’s tech is helping the company with everything from cybersecurity to operations.
“AI has so many opportunities,” he says. “We're already on the way thanks to OpenText. Recently, we acquired a lubricants business. It's now fully operating like Shell, but to do that we had to bombard a lot of the old customer processes. And when we took a look, we realized that 40 percent of the orders that we received were coming in [via] email. And given the timelines that we had, we didn't have enough time to copy the previous operating model of setting up the contact center, and training up enough guys to be able to handle 40 percent of the orders manually. So we worked with OpenText. I think we were the first enterprise-level solution to implement the AI-enabled email-to-EDI pipeline. So that was a real win for us.”
CEO Mark Barrenechea traces the history of AI onstage at OpenText world. Photo: OpenText
Earn your wings
As the two-day conference wraps and exhibitors start to tear down their booths, a number of enterprise-grade companies have already signed up to OpenText’s first sales offering for its AI strategy: the “Flight School” program. Offering the chance for businesses to “earn their wings” — with OpenText, everything is airplane-focused, after all — businesses have signed up to load one million documents into OpenText’s Private Cloud to start taking advantage of its AI capabilities. The company promises to make those documents language-model ready in two weeks, including adding metadata, enabling vectors, and setting up Google’s Vertex AI for prompt engineering. The whole package goes for USD $350,000.
There’s no debating that AI has been at the forefront of every conference this year. Booking an artificial intelligence expert is a symbol that your company is moving with the technology tide — a nod to innovation, even if the business itself hasn’t yet made that pivot. But OpenText’s bold approach to go all-in on the tech — and to pour its resources into developing and releasing Aviators in the coming software updates — shows its commitment to not just ride the AI hype cycle, but to transform its products. For Barrenechea, that move to centre AI has been 35 years in the making.
“We've been working on this platform and these ideas for over a decade,” he says. “We've been [...] working on facial recognition, auto-classification, adaptive classification, capture, machine learning, risk. We have over 371 patents in the AI area, and a patent portfolio with overall 3,400 key innovations. We've been working with customers along the way too. The Serious Fraud Office, using AI in the fight against crime. Citrix, which is using our AI technologies today against information threats. The National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development in India, using our AI and intelligent capture for massive amounts of information.”
It’s easy to draw parallels between AI and other leaps forward in engineering. Few are more thematically fitting for OpenText than commercial flight. Only 11 years passed between the Wright brothers taking to the sky in 1903 and the world’s first scheduled passenger journey, and Barrenechea sees a similar timeline for AI. “We will experience 100 years in the next ten,” the CEO tells the audience.
As the conference doors close and the analysts pack up, the clock has started on Barrenechea’s bet — and the company’s AI software has officially taken flight.
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