“I cannot find Mrs. Lash’s file” said the secretary, while holding several beige folders in her hands. Sadly, statements like this are still heard multiple times a day in an office but many organizations have invested in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software and technology to lower costs, increase efficiency, and generate more revenue through digital transformation.
When OCR software isn't implemented into your critical business processes, it's not uncommon to see precious hours wasted on tasks that don't help the company grow because employees are spending time in non-revenue generating activities such as transcribing information, retyping documents by hand, and other manual data entry efforts.
What is OCR Software?
OCR is a technology that enables computers to see and read data from documents as humans would. Using OCR, computers convert images of documents such as PDFs and TIFFs into full-text searchable digital files or they can even extract critical information in real-time for export into backend systems to kickoff automated workflow processes.
In other words, OCR is a technology you have 100% used yourself, but might have no idea it exists all around you in today's world of digital transformation.
Have I Ever Used OCR Myself?
Yes! We all use OCR software every, single, day. You don't have to be at a business to benefit from OCR either.
You have used OCR if you have ever:
- Used mobile check deposit from your smartphone
- Uploaded a document to the cloud that later became a searchable PDF
- Scanned a QR code for more information
All of these processes are made possible through OCR software.
OCR software essentially tells computers to transform tiny pixels from a traditional image, into actionable data such as text or numbers. Depending on the OCR software, computers can even read cursive and sloppy handwriting faster and much more accurately than a single human, or a team of hundreds of humans, ever could.
What Types of Documents Can I OCR?
When referring to text-based images, some of the most popular documents to OCR include invoices, POs, financial statements, business cards, tax documents, payroll, and much more.
Technically, you can attempt to process any type of document that is a TIFF or PDF file with OCR, however, bad quality images and samples will lead to poor accuracy and performance.
To overcome these challenges and implement OCR software solutions correctly so that you may increase your revenue, we must first understand how it works.
How Does OCR Software Work?
Automated data entry with OCR is a process that consists of three stages:
First, the software will pre-process the document. This step makes the images clearer and text more readable to the computer. For example, by de-skewing, the computer aligns the text into perfectly vertical and horizontal lines, in case it was a little tilted. Then, the computer will do binarization. This consists of converting a document from color to black and white to entirely separate the text from the background, making the process of recognition much easier. It will also get rid of smoothing edges and lines to remove everything that isn’t a readable character to do a layout analysis, identify paragraphs, captions, columns, and more as distinct blocks. Moreover, it will do a line and word detection that will result into character isolation.
Secondly, after the pre-processing has taken place, one of the two OCR algorithms –Matrix Matching or Feature Extraction– is used to start the conversion. Matrix matching works by using a series of stored glyphs and comparing them to the elements on the document being converted. This means that Matrix Matching works best with documents where a traditional font was used, since the recognition process will be much easier for the software. On the other hand, Feature Extraction is much more accurate, since it divides the stored glyphs into smaller and more specific elements. Due to its higher accuracy, it is also much more demanding when it comes to the requirements an image must fulfill in order to be converted. For instance, the image must be clean and that its resolution must reach a minimum of 300 Dots Per Inch (DPI). In conclusion, for more accuracy, Feature Extraction is the way to go, however, Matrix Matching is much more useful when the quality of the document is not optimal.
Apart from OCR, there are other types of Optical Recognition technologies. As we now know, OCR reads one character or glyph at a time, however, Optical Word Recognition focuses on the entire word. This technology is useful when it comes to languages that use space to separate one word for the other. These two types of Character Recognition softwares, only work on typewritten texts, but, the third type, Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) can also read a handwritten text –only if it was written in combed fields like a healthcare form)– and cursive fonts, focusing on one glyph or character at a time. The last type is Intelligent Word Recognition (IWR), which can also target cursive fonts and handwritten text, with the difference that it reads one word at a time.
After understanding OCR technology, we can now explain the benefits it implies and how its usage will represent an increase on your revenue through the increase of productivity within your company while saving money and getting your Return on Investment (ROI).
Let’s check them out:
Better Business Efficiency
OCR will greatly reduce the time that processing a document requires. This means that your employees can make a much more effective use of their time by saving them the process of transcribing endless document, forms, and pieces of information. The monotony of data entry will disappear, productivity will increase, and inevitably your revenue will too.
Moreover, your employees will be happier and that is always a great plus. A company with unhappy employees is doomed to fail. The opening and closing of cabinets while looking for a file will be gone forever.
Dramatically Cut Costs
Yes, we can sit here and write, "have you ever wondered how much your company spends each year in printer ink, paper, and other office supplies or their maintenance? Or how much you have spent just shipping large documents? A company saved over half a million dollars in a year after using OCR!" While that's true, it's actually small-sighted and short-term thinking because OCR is just one major cornerstone of your digital transformation journey.
More On-Site Storage Space
Many companies are trying to go paperless due to renewed and growing interest of taking care of our environment. OCR makes this goal entirely possible while, at the same time, saving you the money that would be wasted on extra personnel with larger overhead or the dreaded purchase of more filing cabinets.
Having all of your documents digitized means they are much more immune to natural disasters or thieves. Your secure firewalls and protocols ensure that this sensitive data will never be accessed outside of your organization. It also means that you can access these documents and data from anywhere in the world at any given time, at the office or the beach.
People make mistakes. It just happens.
TyP0s are a part of our everyday life and regretfully, we do not always notice them, not even after going over a document precisely looking for them multiple times.
With OCR software, since we are getting rid of the process of manually entering data by hand, these errors are avoided. This simple benefit costs industries millions in wasted dollars every single year.
The healthcare industry, for example, is saving a lot of money by skipping the, “make a mistake and then fix it,” step. They are saving themselves from potential suing threats by the clients victims of the mistake, and that is a great burden to take off one’s shoulders.
Spending time and energy on tasks that represent an increase on your company’s productivity will inevitably bring positive consequences to your revenue with refreshed culture and adoption of digital transformation practices. This will also be a source of motivation for your employees, who will see firsthand the results of their job in a more rewarding way.
Cut costs, reduce errors, and increase your revenue today through better business efficiency thanks to digital transformation and OCR software.