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Kognitos raises $20M to help businesses automate back-office processes

Businesses will never not (forgive the double negative) push to improve efficiency. It's their commercial imperative. Sometimes, that takes the form of budget cuts. Other times, it's more drastic -- e.g. layoffs or hiring freezes.

But Binny Gill, the co-founder of Kognitos, makes the case that companies can have their cake and eat it too -- eliminating inefficiencies without having to make tough choices. How? By automating business processes -- which, wouldn't you know, happens to be Kognitos' core function.

"The pandemic created widespread ripple effects on the supply chain that caused many enterprises to grapple with limited resources, surging costs and constrained work environments," Gill said. "This forced many organizations to take a long, hard look at the existing inefficiencies in their business processes, and recognize the importance of embracing new technology -- including the power of AI, in improving productivity, agility and resilience."

Wait, you might say -- doesn't automation oftentimes eliminate jobs? Well, yes. A 2016 study predicted that robotic process automation (RPA), a type of automation that leverages software "bots" to automate back-office tasks, could make as many as 16% of roles redundant by 2025.

On the other hand, job losses from automation could be offset by a retiring older workforce and gains in the gig economy (which isn't necessarily preferable to full-time employment gains ... but I digress). And, people like Gill argue, automation could lead to stronger employee satisfaction and engagement, given that automation technologies tend to tackle mundane and repetitive tasks that aren't especially stimulating -- or fulfilling.

Gill, formerly a researcher at IBM and the CTO of Nutanix, founded Kognitos in 2020 -- inspired by an experience he had with family during the pandemic. As Gill's son tried to program a game of tic-tac-toe in Python, Gill found himself questioning why his son had to learn programming in the first place.

"What if, instead of forcing humans to learn the language of the machines, machines could learn and understand the language of humans?," Gill said. "To turn this vision into reality, I launched Kognitos, which allows business users to automate tasks in plain English."

Kognitos competes with incumbent RPA platforms like UiPath and Automation Anywhere as well as newcomers such as Adept. But Gill asserts Kognitos is more sophisticated -- and intuitive -- than many of the automation products out there. For example, he says, the platform can translate English instructions into workflow automations, automatically flagging errors in those workflows so that a user can correct them and they get better over time.

"No matter what kind of edge case or exception is hit, the business user is always able to understand and handle the issue without the need for IT or developer help," Gill said. "The system learns from the business user -- with permission from the user -- and improves the experience with each new scenario encountered."

Today, Kognitos can automate tasks that touch on an array of markets and modalities, like voice transcription, light image editing, QR code scanning, creating data visualizations and filling out PDF forms.

"Most businesses have hundreds of business processes involving careful examination of documents or emails, enforcement of some validations, processing of some data and updation of systems of record like an enterprise resource management or customer relationships management system," Gill said. "The Kognitos solution is built both for the business process expert who sets the business processes in a company and for the business employees at large, who -- without automation -- find themselves doing things manually. Users with mid-level technical abilities can use Kognitos’ interface with no coding experience required."

Investors see potential, it seems. Kognitos today announced that it raised $20 million in a funding round led by Khosla Ventures with participation from Clear Ventures, Engineering Capital and Wipro Ventures. Bringing the 35-person company's total funding to $30 million, co-founder and CEO Binny Gill says that it'll be put toward product development and expanding Kognitos' partnerships and integrations with third-party business apps.

It likely helped sweeten the deal that Kognitos has big-name companies like PepsiCo and Wipro using its products. Gill wouldn't talk revenue or profitability, however.

"Despite the ongoing slowdown of the tech sector, the roles humans and technology play in business is undergoing a dramatic change," Gill said. "[Kognitos'] unique value proposition will propel Kognitos through the current slowdown into the next era of the technology revolution."