Image by Joel Bez, CC license

Digital commerce isn’t just about selling your goods on the internet; it’s also about digitizing the whole flow of information in your company. Loads of activities within your enterprise can benefit from simple digital technologies, such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR).

Writing about OCR is right up there with writing about advances in FM radio, right? OCR is like what, from the 70s? And haven’t most companies digitized most or all of their paper documents?

No.  Where studies have been done, they have found that, for example, more than half of U.S. businesses still use paper invoices, and globally less than 10% of total estimated invoices are paperless.

And, OCR + software = big benefits.  Advanced OCR has

  • Template-matching so that the software looks for and finds the right value in the right place on the page;
  • Self-learning whereby word and character images are compared to a standard over time and the software learns which images have high probability of a match; and
  • Re-purposing of the digital content created from paper scanning.

These advances have opened three large avenues of opportunity for nearly every business.

Audit.  Anything on paper documents can be compared to digital contracts, shipping documents, tax laws, official government documents, calendars, tariffs, tax tables, utility rates, pricing tables, or any other established numeric parameters.

Exception Management.  Everything that is digitized and audited against numeric parameters will have a result: the value is within the contract limits, matching the contracted rate, etc.  Exceptions can be identified, routed to email, returned to sender.  Reports can be written that summarize number of invoices processed and paid according to contract parameters, and number rejected, along with the contents of the rejected invoices.

Analytics.  Tens of thousands of paper documents (like Bills of Lading) of which thousands may have adjusted quantities or notations can be isolated, summarized and categorized.  Patterns can be established depending on the item, customer, delivery point, or mode of transportation.

Plenty of vendors will sell you software, but why bother – its much easier to contract with service providers. Better yet, outsource the whole business process; this has at least three advantages: 1) no software to buy and maintain; 2) low per-document and per-transaction costs you could never achieve on your own, and 3) flexibility to apply a variety of business rules to filter, sort, check, route, summarize and analyze data from documents.

Use a service provider with solid technology credentials and demonstrable abilities to do more than just convert paper to digital files. Your provider should be able to demonstrate profitable “use cases” where other companies have already achieved success. And the service partner you choose should have multi-language capability and knowledge of legal document retention rules for countries around the globe.