Picture this: Stacks of paper piling up on your desk while a buzzing symphony of scanners fills the air. Each piece demands your attention as you navigate through the maze of paperwork, hoping you haven’t overlooked anything as the thought of repeating this laborious process lingers at the back of your mind. Sound all too familiar?
For many, this is a reality.
Even in today’s digital-driven world, some organizations still process large volumes of data through paper. In fact, it’s predicted nearly 80% of this data is in unstructured formats, including handwritten forms, paper receipts and physical notes. Lacking the right resources makes it harder for machines to read and analyze, which is why Forrester predicts 60% to 73% of data just sits there unused, collecting dust.
There is a solution to break from this bad cycle. The combination of optical character recognition and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies can help you reduce manual extraction, halt repetitive work for your employees and discover insights from data you thought lost. Retire your old processes in favor of a more tranquil workspace where productivity and innovation thrive.
What is OCR?
Optical character recognition (OCR) is a technology that helps you convert unstructured documents, images and handwritten text into structured formats that are legible to machines. Examples of unstructured data and document types it can convert include:
- Multimedia content (digital photos, audio and video)
- Text files and digital documents (PDF files, notes and presentations)
- Survey responses (open-ended comment fields)
- Scanned documents (handwritten notes, forms and invoices)
What is OCR in automation?
In automation, OCR plays a crucial role in digitizing paper-reliant processes. By extracting integral information from your documents and converting it into machine-readable formats, OCR helps eliminate the manual data entry required from human users and, instead, facilitates faster and more efficient data transfers throughout your business workflow.
While OCR is an impressive tool, its full potential is realized when combined with other applications and automation tools. This is where RPA can help.
What is RPA?
RPA stands for robotic process automation. It uses software robots to automate digital activities that a human worker otherwise performs. RPA software robots imitate human behavior, enabling them to take over routine and recurring tasks where human intelligence isn’t needed. For example, they can source data from documents like invoices and check them for rejection or further approval applications.
Why is OCR used with RPA and automation?
Again, OCR is limited when alone. But together with RPA, it can go much further. RPA and OCR are complementary technologies that, when put together, can automate manual processes end-to-end. They can help you create an efficient workflow with limited human interaction, so you can unscramble your data — giving you a competitive advantage.
How Does OCR Work With RPA?
They work in tandem with OCR acting as a foundational enabler for RPA. OCR first analyzes the patterns in non-digital documents to translate them into legible, editable and desirable formats. RPA then process this further, editing, moving and uploading the information into required systems and tools.
You can think of the pair as a puzzle-solving duo. RPA starts assembling the pieces together as OCR deciphers and hands over any missing pieces. RPA relies on OCR to build the bigger picture.
RPA and OCR can be included in the even larger picture of intelligent automation (IA), a combination of cognitive technologies that streamline business processes and decision-making. Other core technologies in IA can include business process management (BPM), artificial intelligence (AI), process intelligence, no-code development, machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP).
Benefits of OCR and RPA
There are several benefits to having this duo on your automation team. Here are some key features:
- Faster workflow: By far, this is the most prominent benefit. OCR and RPA work together to enter and process data much faster than a human. Your workers save hours (maybe even days) of the time it takes to recognize, extract, analyze and organize data.
- Increased accuracy: With so much paperwork involved, traditional data entry, processing and analysis methods are riddled with human error. Essentially every touchpoint is error-prone, particularly when dealing with huge quantities of data. RPA and OCR reduce errors like typos, misinterpretation or data input mistakes. Coupled with more advanced AI technologies, it can conduct even more accurate data processing.
- Added value over time: This technology will only get smarter, more accurate and more efficient. With other technologies integrated, such as ML and AI, it has the potential to take on more complex documents.
- Frees staff from mundane tasks: As OCR and RPA require limited human intervention, it frees your employees to focus on more value-adding work. This extends beyond just retyping information; with technology like desktop automation, employees effortlessly process OCR-captured information through centrally developed and audited automation processes from their computers.
- Improves customer satisfaction: Employees can now spend more time helping customers. Having data flow faster through OCR and RPA means effective document management, so you can gain timely insights into your customers and better support them when needed. Nordea, the largest financial group in Northern Europe, accomplished this with SS&C Blue Prism.
- Creates accessibility: OCR allows your employees to consume information in a way that best suits them. OCR and RPA can turn data into visual or auditory insights for consumption, opening information to the relevant people.
- Additional physical space: Say goodbye to huge mountains of paper documents and endless filing cabinets. OCR and RPA ensure your documents are categorized, saved and uploaded to the right digital space. This also makes it more functional as documents are easily searched and updated.
- Superior accountability: Having digitally indexed and edited documents means you can now have one source of truth. You can easily see originals, find edits and keep auditability of your data flow.
OCR and RPA Use Cases
Those benefits become evident in a real-world context. Let’s quickly explore some use cases:
KFM, a wholly owned subsidiary of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in the U.K., discovered the benefits of OCR and IA in their invoicing processes. SS&C Blue Prism digital workers read, converted and uploaded critical information in compatible digital formats for further applications. It saved staff from manual processes and repetitive tasks so they could focus more on negotiating with preferred suppliers. Other healthcare use cases include:
- Patient registration: Registration forms with handwriting can be captured through OCR, and RPA can digitally catalog and work through information.
- Electronic health record updates: OCR can help capture progress notes, medication information and diagnosis records and feed it to RPA bots to update digital records.
- Resume uploads and screening: OCR can easily scan information on a resume and RPA can verify that information.
- Expenses management: Bills, receipts or invoices can be uploaded with OCR and then RPA can check the information and ensure compliance and proper indexing. This information can also be transferred to your existing systems, such as other accounting software.
- Employee profile management: Keep up-to-date information on employees by using OCR and RPA to facilitate data extraction and population as information comes.
Finance and banking
- Fraud detection and account verification: OCR and RPA can quickly recognize and analyze various forms of data to see patterns. Digital workers can flag fraud potential and risk if the pattern or behavior is abnormal.
- Cheque deposits: It’s much easier for customers to cash in cheques. OCR can accurately read and recognize numbers, letters and special characters. RPA then takes this information to process further.
OCR and RPA in banking have already seen digital success. For example, with the growing use of different formats in banking, such as image-based PDFs, Nordea, a digitally enabled bank, needed help to process the information they received. They chose SS&C Blue Prism to successfully integrate OCR into their current systems and bridge the gap between their text-based systems and image-based formats.
OCR also plays a vital role in supporting the broader landscape of finance automation. Through intelligent automation, financial institutions can bring huge gains in efficiency, accuracy and cost savings in their entire end-to-end processes, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, purchase orders and more.
A digital worker picks up the graphical file, converts the whole document with OCR. It then reads it and transforms it into an output that we can use because it’s now become text.Agnieszka Belowska Head of Robotics, Nordea
- Claims processing: OCR captures and extracts relevant fields from claim forms. RPA bots then match this data and take it further to validate information and process claims.
- Underwriting: OCR and RPA help extract data from various sources to speed up the assessment of risk and policy approvals.
What Are the Different Types of OCR?
There are several OCR software options in the market currently.
OCR technologies are a varying spectrum, ranging from basic software that matches text word by word to more intelligent OCR software that uses advanced technology to support more complex recognition capabilities. More advanced OCR is occasionally called intelligent character recognition.
We have SS&C | Blue Prism® Document Automation, a comprehensive solution that turns handwritten documents into decision-ready information. To maximize the effectiveness of RPA, we recommend SS&C | Blue Prism® Decipher IDP. Decipher IDP uses OCR and AI to read, extract and analyze complex documents with extreme accuracy and speed.
Sight Beyond Sight
OCR serves as your torch in the darkness. It illuminates the hidden images, texts and patterns concealed in your documents. With the added support of RPA, this transformative duo brings order to your process by turning unstructured chaos into structured, searchable and actionable insights.