Icertis is a global provider of contract lifecycle management (CLM) solutions whose AI-powered platform turns every contract into a strategic advantage by structuring and connecting the critical information therein. The company’s success is due largely to its cloud-centric operations and services. More than a decade ago, when cloud journeys were just taking off, the founders of Icertis took a giant leap of faith. That smart risk paid off, and today the unicorn generates over USD100 million in revenue, providing contract lifecycle management technology for nearly 15 percent of the world’s Fortune 500 companies.
Icertis’s journey is closely connected to Microsoft’s. “Microsoft has supported our technology journey and shaped our evolution. We have a 360-degree relationship in which we’re both each other’s customer and partner. Our platform natively runs on Azure and we, in turn, have influenced Azure’s evolution,” says Monish Darda, co-founder and CTO of Icertis.
In a conversation with Lathika Pai, Country Head, Venture Capital & PE Partnerships, Microsoft India at Microsoft Future Ready Startup Week, Monish recalls how, as the CTO of a company that was born in the cloud, he didn’t have to worry about managing infrastructure at all. Edited excerpts follow:
On adopting technology to deliver customer success…
I think we had a head start there. We never experienced the pain of managing our own infrastructure, and that allowed us to focus on business problems, customers, and use cases. We got not just scale but hyperscale at our fingertips. We had the entire technology stack, the tools, and the DevOps that Microsoft developed on Azure, as well as the AI.
The Azure Cognitive Services have proved to be a blessing, especially in the past two years, because we’ve been able to infuse them into our platform and deliver great value to customers through a wide range of use cases. Being on Azure addresses the need for scalability and security, while the complexity aspect is addressed by the fact that we’re a platform, not a cloud product.
Microsoft has supported our technology journey and shaped our evolution. We have a 360-degree relationship with Microsoft, in which we’re both each other’s customer and partner.
On AI/ML technologies transforming the business…
I think the first important thing we got right was to identify the business problem. The technology piece then fit in nicely. Once we had a large repository of curated contracts, we knew it was time to employ AI. Now, within AI, you have machine learning, natural language processing, custom algorithms, neural networks, deep learning, and more. All these models are trained on data, and data is often unstructured. As we know, it’s very hard to create a model or an algorithm from scratch. So, that was the first question we faced – how to apply the available models and tailor them to the data we had.
Azure Cognitive Services took algorithms that were already trained on massive amounts of data, including transformational models like GPT3, and used our data to train those models further to help us solve the business problems we had identified.
In doing this, we quite literally redefined contract lifecycle management as the fifth system of record. Almost everything a company does–hiring, sales, procurement, NDAs, mergers, or acquisitions–needs a contract. If you put the rules of every contract in a place like Icertis, every transaction system can come back to it and check whether a transaction is happening as per the contract. AI fits in perfectly here, enabling you to not only memorialize the intent of a contract but also realize its intent on the ground. We bring that intent together.
Azure Cognitive Services have saved us a lot of money, because we don’t have to run GPUs or any expensive hardware. We get off-the-shelf tools that’ve been trained by the best in the business with the best available data, and we can tune it to what we need. That’s the power of Azure AI.
On being future-ready…
Paraphrasing a quote by Jules Verne, I would say that almost everything that happens in life is unexpected. My mantra would therefore be to expect the unexpected, as it’ll give you the ability, the readiness, the tools, and the partners to be ready for the future.
Advice to young entrepreneurs…
As an entrepreneur, you’ll be breaking new ground, creating disruption, and starting on a journey that’s uniquely yours. No one can possible have the exact same background as you; so, you’ll have to chart your own path. There’ll be many people offering advice, but, in the end, you’ll still need to figure it out on your own. It’s incredibly difficult but important.