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Is the use of OCR back in fashion?

In today’s world, almost everything is digital. Photos, music, video, documents and others all have their own digital counterpart. Is OCR returning?
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Is OCR on the way back in?

For the modern business, complete digitalisation of the business and its assets is increasingly important if they are to remain competitive in the modern era.

For firms with a lot of paper-based sensitive documents, this can mean a lot of manual data entry to “go digital”. Many of these firms waste precious time digitising data and with more and more workers wanting to access information remotely, surely there’s an easier alternative?

Enter, Optical Character Recognition, otherwise known as OCR.

What are the advantages of optical character recognition for businesses?

OCR simplifies the data transference process by enabling the extraction of information from hard-copy content items.

It converts hard-copy content items into fully editable, digital files – making it easy for businesses to digitise their content assets.

Using an OCR-driven solution allows businesses to make sense of the processed document, removing the need for manual data entry and allowing the digitisation process to be automated. Businesses can start to redistribute employee resource to other critical operations.

As OCR can quickly analyse and scan hard-copy content items, convert them and extract the necessary information, it is particularly useful for (but not limited to) business activities such as:

  • Invoice processing
  • Document classification
  • Mailroom capture

Flat / image-only documents to be turned into searchable files, allowing businesses to readily locate the information they require, turning hard-copy business documents into digital files, that can be accessed anywhere, anytime.

From a customer service perspective, this level of capability is tremendously useful as businesses can quickly process and locate specific information relating to customer queries – delivering greater value.

But OCR on its own doesn’t offer any benefits. To drive productivity, efficiency and deliver a greater quality of service, businesses need to couple it with other technology for OCR to be truly useful.

While OCR provides the means to automatically digitise paper-based documents, it needs to be coupled with an automated solution that can then validate those documents and store them correctly if businesses are to truly benefit.

Combining mobile OCR with the right technology to drive productivity

One such example is ABBYY’s data processing and document capture solution, Flexicapture. It intelligently extracts, classifies and serves critical data from incoming image, email and document streams to decision makers – for better performance, document workflow process transparency, and workload predictability.

While ABBYY’s solution provides the necessary functions, businesses need to digitise the document management process, without an automated solution to validate these documents and ensure that the information is 100% correct, the validation process becomes manual.

For example, A financial services firm uses OCR technology to digitise invoices, enabling them to rapidly process and archive documents. The processed invoices are stored on the firm’s electronic document management system (Invu), where anyone can access that information as and when they need to.

But, as OCR only digitises document content and not the validation of the content, the information could be entered into the system incorrectly or be incomplete.

However, by utilising Invu’s fully automated Accounts Payable (AP) solution which is powered by ABBYY, validation checks are built in to ensure that the information is 100% accurate. Information such as supplier info, invoice number, date, PO Ref, Net/Vat/Gross and much more, are assigned to appropriate fields within the solution and checked to ensure accuracy.

Research shows that on average, it costs a business approximately £15 to manually process an invoice – and this process could take anywhere from two to five days.

On the other hand, with an automated solution that utilises OCR technology and automated AP, the time spent processing an invoice is reduced significantly, resulting in cost savings of over 50 per cent and best case, 75 per cent.

OCR can be used to drive invoice capture and data extraction, automatically pulling information from invoices to deliver an electronic and fully automated invoice payment process.

So, is OCR back in fashion? The short answer is: yes.

However, for businesses to truly benefit from OCR, it needs to be combined with validation tools and automated solutions to accurately process information.

OCR should not be looked at as a simple means to an end, but as an opportunity to improve efficiency and aid mobile workers.

Businesses should use a combination of OCR and invoice process automation and validation to not only do more for themselves, clients and customers, but also identify new opportunities to drive value and establish a robust automated invoice processing regime.

Ian Smith is finance director and GM at Invu

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