At Itemize, we are constantly brainstorming, testing, and developing. For us, innovation is a daily commitment. For us, innovation is a value.
Mike Haley, Chief Data Scientist at Itemize, was recently working on the Itemize engine when the system encountered a new challenge: reading British National Rail receipts. British National Rail receipts are unique. They are shaped like a credit card with an orange header and footer. There is a subtle green lettering watermark on an ivory background. Tickets are printed on dot matrix printers, and document text is not always properly aligned. Nowhere on the tickets do the words “National Rail” appear. How could a piece of paper with all those quirks come through the engine and be identified correctly as a National Rail receipt?
Haley thought through his options and chose the counter-intuitive approach. What if he made the image fuzzier? Normally, we look for clear images which are read by the proprietary OCR with high accuracy. Fuzzier images have lower resolution. The lower resolution actually eliminates much of the noise and color. And it worked! The lower resolution allowed the proprietary OCR to pick up keywords that the Machine Learning engine was able to use to identify the document as a rail ticket. The engine then knew where to look for price (in ￡). Overall, this increased the readability of British National Rail receipts and improved the engine’s accuracy and knowledge base.
In this particular story, an innovative idea worked quickly, but Haley admits that innovation does not always work that way. Innovation is a process, starting with the clues and working from there. “On a daily basis, you might have multiple ideas and only one might work. But the one idea that works makes the whole process worth it,” explains Haley. Haley knows that he has the support of the CEO and the company behind him to keep on innovating.
All ideas are innovative – and the ones that don’t work don’t discourage the team, but rather encourage them to trek towards really good ideas, building off of the information they already have. And when things don’t work as expected, well, “that is where innovation meets humility,” Haley says.
At the end of the day, Itemize does not rely on big, singular innovation. Instead, there is a daily focus on innovation and moving the core engine forward. To be innovative is to be adaptable, quick-learning, and willing to try different things. And that is exactly who Itemize is: as individuals, as a company, and most importantly, as a team.