You’d think that we would no longer depend on paper. It’s flimsy, easily destroyed, and a pain in the ass to store or handle. Unfortunately, paper continues to dominate as the primary method of capturing and storing information, at least partially because it’s so cheap and was the best solution for a long time. Businesses can digitize their existing paper-based records, but that can take a while and is rather tedious work.
Captricity, a service that wants to make the paper-to-digital conversion faster and cheaper, is today announcing an investment from the Knight Foundation’s Enterprise Fund. Combined with earlier investments from Atlas Ventures, Founders Fund, Social+Capital, Greylock Partners, and Kapor Capital, this investment brings the company’s total funding to $1.6 million. The service is essentially a copier-slash-translator that grabs data from paper-based records and converts it into an electronic database.
The service is a result of cofounder Kuang Chen’s trip to Tanzania, where he worked at an HIV treatment center. After being tasked with finding patients that had started on anti-retrovirals, but for one reason or another had stopped taking them, Chen had to work his way through scattered papers and attempt to gather as much data as possible from them. He decided that it was time to bring digitization that would be powerful enough for enterprise customers but cheap enough for third-world organizations, and Captricity was born.
Customers are able to scan or take a picture of their paper-based forms and select specific areas for digitization. By allowing the customer to select a specific area to be digitized the company can avoid the timesink of converting a company’s name over and over again. This could be useful for digging through a series of names, as Chen was trying to do in Tanzania, or for data from forms. If it’s on a piece of paper, and you’d rather have it in a spreadsheet, Captricity fits the bill.
Once an area has been selected Captricity processes its data through a process that Chen calls “human-guided machine learning.” The service starts digitizing the forms autonomously before having a human worker – hired via Mechanical Turk, for now – double-check the computer’s results. Once that is finished, the machines take over again, compiling the data and triple-checking it to insure accuracy before exporting the content as a database or spreadsheet.
To maintain a customer’s privacy each document is “shredded” into various stacks of information. A worker digitizing health records, for example, might be able to see a name but not the name of the organization or other personally identifiable information. These snippets are encrypted during transfer and while the data is “at rest” in Captricity’s database. Chen likens the process to creating a puzzle that can’t be solved. I’d say it’s more like making a puzzle, shipping the pieces via armored car, and storing the pieces in a bank vault.
This security is crucial to the service because certain organizations, especially those within the government or healthcare realms, have strict security and privacy standards. Chen hopes to have the service HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) -compliant soon, which would require these security standards and the hiring of a full-time staff. (Work that is outsourced to Mechanical Turk workers, despite Captricity’s security methods, is considered a deal-breaker for some agencies.)
All told, Captricity is likely to be one of those companies that seems boring to anyone that isn’t drowning in a sea of paperwork. Chen seems to be aware of this, and the company is specifically targeting enterprise companies and organizations.
“We’re going to do for data extraction or document capture what Twilio did for telephony,” he says.
Building an infrastructure company around databases and digitization may be decidedly un-sexy, but the people that won’t have to dig through paper records anymore will probably appreciate the effort. It’s not quite the “save the world!” service that most volunteers would think of a they work in an HIV clinic, but it is useful.