SA firm offers AI-powered contract management service

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 12 Oct 2023
Norman Kretzmer, founder and CEO of Contract Understanding.
Norman Kretzmer, founder and CEO of Contract Understanding.

Technology start-up Contract Understanding is targeting regional expansion of its artificial intelligence (AI)-powered contact management solution after its debut in the local market.

This is according to founder and CEO Norman Kretzmer, speaking to ITWeb ahead of the launch of the software-as-a-service solution that shares the same name as the start-up.

Contract Understanding is a local software development start-up that began developing its solution three years ago, says Kretzmer.

Targeted primarily at small to medium businesses – typically those with 30 to 40 contracts of different types – Contract Understanding was yesterday introduced to the local market, with plans to offer it in Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia and Singapore.

Kretzmer says organisations typically spend a lot of time and effort negotiating a contract. However, when the contract is eventually signed, it is filed away somewhere – either in a filing cabinet, or scanned and filed on a drive.

Some of the pain points are managing the benefits and obligations of those contracts, including losing track of the physical paperwork, missing deadlines to renew or cancel contracts, or incurring penalties for non-compliance with terms and conditions.

“We founded Contract Understanding to help other businesses optimise contract management, so they can avoid expensive legal pitfalls,” he states.

“Contract Understanding is a cloud-based depository to store contracts. We use AI to extract pertinent information from those contracts and then workflows to manage the various terms and conditions of the contract as it goes through its lifecycle.

“The solution is designed to alert the user, for example, a month before, to say this contract is going to auto renew for 12 months, do you want to let it auto renew. If the answer is yes, then there’s no need to do anything. But if it’s no, it can set up workflows to ensure the supplier and accounting department are notified.

“Contracts are the backbone of every business. When you hire staff, you enter into a contract with them. You enter into a contract for the business premises, there are contracts with service providers, etc.”

The launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT language model-based chatbot last year brought to public attention the power of generative AI technology, with new use cases emerging daily.

Since then, the world has witnessed accelerated interest in natural language processing tools driven by AI, with tech giants Google, Microsoft and Meta adding AI into their product offerings and services.

Kretzmer explains that Contract Understanding software uses optical character recognition to extract and repurpose text from scanned or e-mailed PDF documents. Once a contract is uploaded in a format the system can use, AI algorithms and machine learning techniques extract key information from the text and provide an understanding of the agreement.

Contract Understanding hosts contract information on the Microsoft Azure cloud, with SSL standard certification for protection. As an additional layer of security, two-factor authentication is used for user logins. Customers can use permission-based access to limit access to confidential contracts to certain designated users.

Contract Understanding is available on a monthly subscription-based model for $95 (R1 786) for up to 100 contracts, $350 (R6 580) for up to 500 contracts, and $600 (R11 283) for up to 1 000 contracts.

Commenting on why it was decided to use the US dollar exchange rate, the CEO says: “Because we are appealing to a bigger market, we have to have a common trading currency, which is typically the US dollar.

“A fair amount of our costs are in dollars. We’re on the Microsoft stack, so we use Microsoft Azure and Microsoft AI services, and those are all charged in dollars.”

In the short-term, the company aims to reach150 businesses across the region, Kretzmer states.