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Artificial Intelligence (AI) has jettisoned upwards as a topic of interest again and again since it became an academic discipline in 1956, garnering massive funding in waves. The waves have remained high the past few years, in particular, with no signs of ebb.

Oftentimes, when we think of AI, we think of science fiction-esque visions of it: a human-like robot with “cognitive” abilities – what we associate as “human.” This isn’t AI the way it’s intended, studied, researched, and created. The realistic goals include reasoning, knowledge representation, planning, learning, and natural language processing based around statistics, probability and economics – along with a variety of other fields, like psychology and philosophy.

It’s like learning the sleight of hand behind a magic trick, though. For some, it can take the magic out of wonders like AlphaZero playing chess or GitHub Copilot autocompleting code.

For those of us in a legal or finance profession, or those dealing with stacks of contracts and documents, the opposite is true. It’s reassuring to know the ins and outs of the words and numbers. Understanding the computer science is more confidently opening the door for AI in Contract Lifecyle Management (CLM).

A Logical Partnership (That Reduces Costs & Optimizes Operations)

Like all technology, AI has undergone massive changes since its inception – not in its definition or goals, really, but due to something called the AI Effect. Simply put, once a technology becomes “mainstream” or “normal,” it no longer retains its “true” Artificial Intelligence label – it’s, for lack of a better word, basic.

Take, for instance, optical character recognition – or the ability to convert printed documents to digital ones. This was considered AI not all that long ago – now it’s standard practice to submit printed checks to banks using a phone camera or scan receipts for business expenses.

AI is realistically everywhere. At this point it’s been seamlessly weaved into many things we use daily. Advanced web search engines like Google and services that provide recommendation options like Netflix are, in fact, AI, highlighting our familiarity, adoption, comfort, and, ultimately, our dependency and expectation of AI to simplify common problems.

What’s further remarkable is that the broader world has accepted the use of AI as a whole without even knowing it and enjoys its benefits daily, but there’s still resistance when AI is named for what it is. This is despite the fact that one day more companies than not will be employing the use of an AI program that’s been declassified purely because humanity is not fascinated by it anymore.

Much like automated movie recommendations, content extraction isn’t the flashiest use of AI, but it can be invaluable to companies whose employees need to pull details from documents regularly, whether they be invoices, contracts, tax forms, or otherwise. This “simple” use reduces costs and optimizes operations while handling issues that companies face across the board, regardless of industry, product, or otherwise.

While it seems like a basic request, the backend is a bit more complicated and is the result of years of progress and hard work. What is really being asked is to “serve up what is in my agreement, making it easier for me to use, manage, and optimize, without having to waste as much time to find it, read it, understand it, and follow-on actions from it.”

Not to mention that there’s also the demand for the AI to understand the content regardless of file format – JPEG, PNG, PDF, Word – as well as through image issues, orientation, format, or otherwise. The lengths that have been crossed to make content extraction possible are truly remarkable – and entirely followable (if you want to go down the long line of evolutions, research, and code behind it all).

Now that the code has been cracked, though, the result is scalable and easy to manage, with AI becoming the conduit to self-enabled actions. The possibilities and benefits of this sort of technology are endless, including support of ESG initiatives, accountability in performance, and increasing business efficiency.

Looking at the digital landscape, it’s clear that AI is trending towards mainstream company usage, but, despite that, less than a third of executives consider it a priority to utilize it for information (content) extraction. *

Is it because this paperwork is often considered a back-office function? Is it the continued heavy (read: sole) reliance on Word and Excel that perpetrates this distrust in using cloud applications that exist purely to improve not only operations but quality of work?

This need to trust in something that isn’t human eyes and minds has led to serious skepticism, but DocuSign’s acquisition of Clause, a platform for creating smart agreements, is bringing an accessible vision of trusted, interconnected AI designed for content extraction to the forefront.

Following the natural progression of AI-created products and taking into account the AI Effect – the future of content extraction is to be declassified as AI, and for this function to become basic. To get ahead of this, to be at the forefront, to be cost effective and operationally optimized, there’s really only one path ahead:

It’s time to embrace Smart Agreements.

Mission: Smart Agreements

Founded with a mission to transition the world to smart agreements, Clause is a company of technologists and entrepreneurs who developed a platform to create smart agreements.

Smart agreements “enable documents to include additional functionality that adds value throughout the agreement process.” The platform takes static text and makes it code, allowing for automated functions to be embedded and executed – contracts become active rather than passive, essentially.

Clause focused on optimizing contracts for financial services, insurance, and healthcare companies, but that the potential spans much farther than that, into ERP and CRM, enterprise-wide, and is likely to be realized very shortly thanks to its acquisition by DocuSign.

The Introduction of DocuSign & Clause.io As One

To talk more in-depth about DocuSign’s intentions for the future of Clause and how it would integrate into the larger CLM world, DocuSign hosted a webinar on “The State of Artificial Intelligence in Contract Lifecycle Management.”

Celine Beck, Senior Director of Product Management at DocuSign, led the webinar for the introduction of Clause as a part of DocuSign, using the evolution of GPS to take such a complex topic and boil it down. The leap from paper maps to devices was sudden and explosive and, less than 25 years later, most people rely on their cellphones to travel just about anywhere.

The goal is that using AI for documents will work the same way.

Tram Phi, DocuSign’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, shared the guiding principles that DocuSign has for their CLM solution, which include:

  • An integrated and unified experience
  • Democratization of AI

That second one is enormous – and enormously exciting. In this democratized world, AI would be consumable and available for all companies, regardless of maturity, industry, size, or location. AI can be used across the functions within a platform, not just for one isolated use-case or capability.

This segues neatly into the prospect of AI applications outside of the legal and financial offices, into considering how the DocuSign Agreement Cloud can integrate with CRM and ERP solutions, fulfilling the idea that the platform supports agreements across the enterprise. Often, we think of “buy or sell side” as binary, but, in fact, CLM today can address both and more.

The Future of AI & Spaulding Ridge

AI is going to continue to develop. As you embrace utilizing the benefits of AI technologies, start small with a focus on a quick win to show value. Be realistic about the resources (skill and amount) as well as the timeline in implementing a CLM solution.

Regardless of size, small to enterprise, AI can help your company optimize operations and reduce cost – and Spaulding Ridge can get you up and running with innovative, best-in-cloud applications that use Machine Learning (ML) and AI to realize your full potential, such as DocuSign’s CLM, coming soon with Clause.

For more information and individualized advice, contact Rebecca Yoder at [email protected]

*PwC, AI Predictions 2021

About Spaulding Ridge

An award-winning provider of Cloud solutions and advisory services, Spaulding Ridge helps leading companies deploy Best-in-Cloud™ solutions on a global scale. Spaulding Ridge enables organizations to accelerate operational efficiency, drive digital transformation, and increase competitive advantage.

Spaulding Ridge partners with digitally savvy companies to help:

  • Finance to gain control: Increase top-line revenue, gross margins, and profits through better insight. Connect financial planning to strategy and automate financial close processes.
  • Sales to increase productivity: Manage quota and territories more consistently and effectively, automate customer contracts and onboarding.
  • Operations to drive efficiency: Improve supply chain agility, automate strategic sourcing and purchasing, deliver superior customer service experiences.
Rebecca Yoder
Rebecca Yoder
Associate Partner, Spaulding Ridge
About the Author

Rebecca Yoder is a legal technology and legal operations executive with 25+ years of experience. A legal industry influencer, Rebecca supports growth. As an Associate Partner in the DocuSign practice at Spaulding Ridge, she provides executive-level service to scale businesses.