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An Interview with Anant Kale and Kunal Verma, AppZen Co-founders

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“We use AI to understand and audit every line on every expense report, receipt, invoice, contract, and travel document.”

Artificial intelligence can help organizations find and act on information without interference from their subjective own biases, while still allowing them to be involved and exercise human judgment when needed. It’s becoming the routine spell-check for enterprises across industries worldwide. A prime example of this in the world of enterprise spend audit is AppZen, which has quickly emerged as the leader in artificial intelligence solutions for business processes and back- office functions.

Leveraging patented AI technology, AppZen uses computer vision, deep learning, and natural language processing to automatically read and audit expense reports, receipts, invoices and contracts while cross-checking that information against hundreds of online data sources. This helps companies determine the accuracy and legitimacy of every dollar of company spend in real-time.

AppZen was founded in 2012 and is based in San Jose, California. After graduating from the 500 Startups accelerator in 2015, it raised $3M in seed funding in 2016, and an additional $13M in Series A funding led by Redpoint Ventures in 2017. Furthermore, the company recently announced it raised $35M in Series B funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.

AppZen has since witnessed stellar growth, and now has over 650 customers, and is projected to touch 800 by the year end. This customer list also includes 25 Fortune 1000 companies such as Amazon, Tesla, Intuit, Salesforce, Citi, Hitachi, Comcast, Airbus, and IBM. AppZen was recently named a ‘Cool Vendor’ by Gartner in Procure-to-Pay applications and was included as one of 20 Rising Stars on the Forbes Cloud 100 list.

Anant Kale & Kunal Verma, AppZen Co-founders, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Rewind: Taking Flight

Seventy percent of enterprise data is unstructured and ripe for disruption. It also creates an enormous challenge for companies that wish to streamline and scale, regardless of their size or industry.

We founded AppZen in 2012 with a vision to build the next generation of AI-driven applications for the enterprise. We set out to answer a question shared by every enterprise across the world – why does the enterprise back-office remain outdated in today’s digital landscape?

Companies were already aware that the back office was an outdated and manual system. Expense fraud was going completely undetected, costing companies an estimated $2.8 billion per year. Our proprietary AI-powered platform set out to solve this problem.

Expense Audit: Growing Beyond the Core Business

After 5 years building and piloting the platform, AppZen’s Expense Report Audit product officially launched to the public in 2017. Our proprietary platform combines deep learning, and natural language processing to automatically read and understand expense reports, receipts, and travel documents and cross-check them with hundreds of data sources in real time to determine the accuracy and legitimacy of every expense. This enables companies to detect fraud and compliance issues in seconds as well as provide real-time compliance to IRS rules and FCPA regulations.

AppZen cross-references data from within the company as well as public sources (social reviews of merchants, employees, flight pricing information, for example). Our AI then looks at behavioral patterns of individuals to detect intentional, accidental or opportunistic fraud to produce a full understanding of every expense, in real time. This process then creates a ‘risk score’ for every report, so the audit team can focus on areas that only really need their attention.

First Product Launch: A Terrific Feat

AppZen is already creating hard and fast ROI for our clients – for example, Intuit saw over $200,000 of savings within just six weeks of going live. AppZen’s Expense Audit product reduces audit costs by 80 percent and annual T&E spend by up to 5 percent, while improving financial risk detection tenfold. It also cuts resourcing by 90 percent, freeing auditors to take a more analytical role and make data-driven decisions that are one step removed from the transactional churn of daily data extraction.

One of the biggest advantages of AppZen’s platform is its ability to highlight unusual spend behavior that would otherwise be overlooked by a team of auditors. Large enterprises process thousands of expense reports daily, usually via a team of fewer than ten T&E professionals. Such a large volume of transactions is overwhelming and auditing each expense line item within reporting periods often borders on the impossible. Not to mention the likelihood of human error, the strident regulatory environment, and the drive for faster and more efficient growth.

Products: To Be Launched

This year, we’ve been focused on extending our existing capabilities to other areas of procurement beyond expenses -- there are even larger amounts of unstructured data ripe for disruption, as companies battle with increasing pressure to streamline, scale and compete.

We’re working towards the release of our Invoice and Contract Audit product in the next few months, which will offer real-time audit of invoices, contracts and purchase orders, identify fraudulent merchants, billing mistakes, and payment term violations to decrease spend in the accounts payable process.

Future Roadmap

AppZen is paving the way to show how artificial intelligence will transform enterprise operations while improving processes, management, risk detection and planning across the entire company. AppZen’s artificial intelligence platform emulates human intelligence and reasoning, but does so at a scale far more productive and effective than a large team of auditors.

We hope to continue on our current growth trajectory by expanding our product offerings into other areas of spend and enterprise back-office processes. Our goal is for AppZen to become the platform that audits every dollar of spend across a company, helping companies remain compliant and changing behaviors and the employee experience on a company-wide level.

Leadership | AppZen

Anant Kale, CEO/Co-founder: Anant Kale co-founded AppZen to bring AI into back offices around the world. He’s responsible for the product vision and execution of the company’s broad mission. Previously, he was the VP of Applications at Fujitsu America from 2009-2012; responsible for product management, and delivery of Fujitsu’s applications and infrastructure for enterprise. He has over 15 years of experience in software development.

Mr. Kale has an MBA and a BS in Finance and Engineering from Mumbai University.

Kunal Verma, CTO/Co-founder: As CTO, Kunal Verma is responsible for product development and engineering, technology architecture, and developing the IP for AppZen’s AI technologies. Prior to AppZen, he was a Research Lead at Accenture Tech Labs, leading global R&D teams of engineers; he developed tools used at hundreds of Fortune 500 companies. Mr. Verma earned his BE from Mumbai University in Electronics and Telecom, and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Georgia University with a focus on semantic technologies.

“AppZen integrates with all major expense management systems such as SAP Concur, Oracle, Workday, and Coupa, to make a streamlined end-to-end expense management and audit process.”