To innovate, look to your foundation

May 08,2020

Managing projects so that innovation becomes the norm

In 1294, the city council of Florence approved the construction of a grand cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower. Construction began in 1296 but would not end until 1436 — one hundred and forty-two years later.

The Saint Mary’s ambition humbles modern engineering projects. Its architects knowingly designed a building so grand that it would take more than a lifetime to build. And they topped it with a dome so large that Roman civilization lacked the technology to build it.

“We’re not sure how to do it, but we know it’ll take longer than a lifetime.” Imagine pitching that to your board today!

It wasn’t until 120 years into construction that a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi figured out how to build the dome. He won a design competition proposing a clever system of pulleys, tension bands, and concentric shells. His solution worked so well that it’s been used to construct most major domes since, including the United States Capitol.

It’s impossible to read about the Cathedral of Saint Mary without first marveling, and then reflecting on those large and uncertain projects of our own. Do we all have to wait 120 years for a Brunelleschi to emerge, or can we conduct projects such that Brunelleschis become inevitable?

What a cathedral has to say about document automation

Instabase is often involved in a client’s document automation pipelines from design all the way to production. That gives us a vantage from which to study the ambitions of hundreds of cathedral-sized projects and think about the commonalities underlying their successes.

One lesson we’ve learned is that solid foundations are the quiet, predictable guarantors of successful innovation.

Good ideas happen everywhere, all the time. Even brilliant ones. But without a solid foundation on which to build, ideas tend to either pass by like clouds or drown in implementation details.

History remembers Brunelleschi for his brilliance. But had the Florentines not provided Brunelleschi with 120 years of carefully laid cathedral foundation, his dome designs would probably be lost doodles in a forgotten notebook.

So, in an industry that thrives on innovation, in a company founded out of one of the world’s top research labs, we tell our customers: keep your eyes on the foundation. Because instead of placing your bets on a single brilliant insight, you can engineer an environment that empowers all your insights to come.

A good foundation enables innovation by protecting it

A good foundation says to the innovator: you can clear your mind of everything else. Just focus on solving the unsolved piece. In doing this, the innovator attains unreasonable productivity compared to those who decide to do everything themselves.

In our industry, that means protecting your engineers so they can focus their time and creativity on the valuable problems specific to your domain. Processing a loan. Onboarding an account. Interpreting a written trade confirmation. Auditing invoices or doing diligence on a competitor.

Instabase protects these engineers from distraction by providing the hundred years of cathedral foundation that otherwise would have been required. Our platform solves for the complexity of big data (document volume, variety, and velocity) multiplied by all the challenges of systems integration (service connectivity, data format translation), multiplied again by all the challenges of business process management (validation, exception handling, human-in-the-loop entry), so that you can step in and start working exactly where your insight begins.

A good foundation renders easy problems easy

Everyone’s hard problems are hard. But in today’s industry, many of your easy problems are hard too. That’s because you’re starting from the ground-floor each time. A well-built platform makes your easy problems easy again because you’re starting so much closer to the top.

In the document processing world, some of your challenges will surely befuddle world class machine learning experts. But some of your challenges are also solvable with a simple line of code or two. What a wonderful thing if that second category can be taken to production with that little effort.

Demoing this can occasionally cause jaws to drop and applause to break out — something I hadn’t imagined as a part of enterprise sales. Enterprise solutions at startup speed.

Our goal is automating success

The document automation industry is moving rapidly. Traditional OCR is approaching excellence. Handwriting OCR is approaching viability. New extraction approaches appear monthly, and at the same time, traditional heuristics and rule-based systems remain wonderful fits in many situations.
The best way to attain repeated success in such a fast-moving space is to find the foundation that frees you to focus on the important pieces without having to build from scratch each time.

Instabase’s foundation has taken over 100 engineering years and great care to create. Let your Brunelleschis stand atop to make their own amazing domes.