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Giving Shape to Ideas

Barcode Recognition and Zonal OCR in a scan workflow

In today’s age of automation, scanning offers a great way to capture, store and manage information. Scanning non-digital sources (such as paper sheets or shopping bags made of fabric) can be straight forward – all one needs to do is hold them against a hand-held scanner or laser. Businesses and workplaces, however, may need to access and process information stored in non-physical (i.e. pre-scanned) forms as well, like PDF files and digital images.

To scan and decipher information from such sources, one obviously can’t use the afore-mentioned instruments. And printing them back to paper just to be able to scan them isn’t a smart answer. Thankfully, there are solutions in the market that offer a way out. Of them, two popular approaches are (built-in) Barcode Recognition and Zonal OCR technology.

Let’s look at each.

Barcode Recognition: Pros & Cons

Barcode Recognition Software – which belong to the larger family of data extraction software – can identify, translate and extract a range of information locked in PDF or image form. Advanced versions let you transfer the scanned and extracted data into a variety of file formats, turn the data manipulable (ie, index-able, searchable, editable & sharable), recognize characters even from partially damaged source files, customize extraction protocols and forward-integrate the extracted data seamlessly into workflows.

The downside is the reverse of this: In other words, regular versions may not carry the same versatility or offer the full suite of features.

Installing a Barcode Recognition Software into your hardware is easy. Once operational, they can process documents in large quantities (batches) – replacing manual data entry with reliable and automated workflows and saving the business substantial amounts of time, money and manpower.

Zonal OCR: Pros & Cons

Like Barcode Recognition, Zonal OCR’s also scan and read information (from PDF & image files) and convert them into index-able, searchable, editable & sharable digital formats. The big difference is that it allows one to extract information only from specified areas or ‘pre-defined data fields’, saving the time and cost of scanning the entire source document. Pre-defining the extraction zone can be as simple as drawing a box around it with a marker or stylus. What’s more, when data fields follow a consistent spatial pattern (as is quite often the case with receipts, vouchers and Purchase/Sales Orders), the system can be trained to focus only on those areas, streamlining things further.

Advanced Zonal OCR versions also let you scan and extract data from compound fields and custom-combinations (such as, say, a first name along with its corresponding pin-code and date). When you add this to their ability of processing large batches in one go, it translates into a fast, accurate and highly efficient way to automate data-entry or database creation.

What about the downside? Well, Zonal OCR works great when the source PDF or image has a set pattern. When the layout or structure of the source changes – thus shifting the location of the data field – Zonal OCR may falter. Clarity (such as resolution or blurriness) of the source image or PDF can also affect performance.

Both Barcode Recognition and Zonal OCR offer a smart route to automation in the workplace. By increasing speed, reducing errors, freeing up resources for more critical tasks and enabling better decisions, they can aid collaboration, amplify efficiency and boost ROI of businesses… manifold.

Benefits of integrating Paper with Digital Documents for successful automation

Be it smart apps, wearable tech or the cloud, the ‘future of work’ increasingly looks and smells like an automated one – in a digital kind of way. Hyper-connected and always-on technologies are expediting innovation in real-time. Virtual sync-ups, blurring the borders of office and home, are ushering better work-life balance. Knowledge sharing beyond natural workgroups is fostering collaborative growth cultures. From all angles, the ‘digitally automated workplace’ appears like a natural progression from a past that has been dominated by paper. The big question, however, remains:

Does automated mean paperless, or simply less paper?

At one end of the spectrum, the case for going 100% paper-free is growing shriller every day. From greater speed to highly efficient workflows to cost savings to easy shareability & access to accurate monitoring to environment friendliness, the advantages of this inevitable transition seems – at first glance – unimpeachable.

And yet, paper remains a reality in the modern workspace.

A little scratching-under-the-surface explains why. For one thing, the dicey nature of ‘cybersecurity’ (with virus and hackers a constant threat) is a big issue why companies cannot afford to put all their paper eggs in the digital automation basket just yet. A high initial Capex, long learning curves (and the human errors it accompanies) and the cost & complexities of building internal IT expertise all make a case for paper in their own way.

There are other reasons too. Paper is delightfully simple. It doesn’t require passwords, scanning or charging. There are no systems to learn, formats to follow or shortcuts to memorize. Sure it’s perishable, but in a predictable and comforting kind of way (digital files, on their part, may go corrupt or get compromised without warning, with unsettling consequences for the business).

Perhaps the most powerful reason why the paper isn’t going anywhere soon is its psychological legacy: Society’s collective consciousness – and its various arterial processes – is still designed around, and dependent on, paper. Legal Documents & Wills still need to be signed with a pen- with a copy going to each party. A customer still feels uncomfortable walking away from a transaction without a paper receipt in hand. Vendors still raise paper invoices. Human nature, after all, is coded to trust something we can feel and touch – more than something that prides itself on being able to disappear into thin air (read cloud) at will.

So while teams and businesses can certainly stand to benefit from digital automation, it is important to appreciate that change takes time. And till that happens, the wise way out is to simply manage it better.

Reimagining workplace documentation and processes in a way that dovetails paper and machine equitably and intuitively is the best way forward.

There are solutions available today that can be tailored to precise organizational requirements – no matter how unique. The first extract and capture data from a wide variety of paper inputs (such as invoices and challans) with the help of technologies such as multi-copiers, scanners, and OCR. The data collected is then converted into familiar and easy-to-use digital formats (such as MS-Word and MS-Excel) that enable rank-wide adoption and seeds an automation culture. In the final leg, the information is interpreted by mapping it to each step in the process, sequentially aligned to stakeholders involved, and distributed along the workflow.

A happy duality

With physical storage and retrieval systems becoming advanced, and with paper products such as notebooks and pens coming with built-in digital integration features (like auto-scanning or cloud), paper can happily co-exist with digital. As long as each can ‘read’ the other well and switch/interchange avatar according to need, this symbiotic dichotomy can bring integration, balance, and efficiency to the workplace.

Look at the paper and digital as two sides of the same coin, and the transformation to a 100% automated workplace becomes a lot more welcome.

Why should documents be digitised at the start of a workflow?

Businesses are constantly evolving to keep pace with new technological advancements. However, if you are smothered by documents, that you are unable to manage, then chances are your paperwork is still stuck in the past.

The advent of technology and the digital media has brought in innumerable advantages for organisations. The world has realised the importance of digitisation and almost every organisation is embracing and reaping its benefits. Gone are those days when truckloads of papers and files used to occupy space and consume a chunk of time in daily operations. Today, storing and tracking paperwork is extremely quick and simple. It’s the rapid usage of the internet using smart devices that has made this possible.

However, there are many companies that still rely on filing cabinets and extensive paperwork that take up precious space and slow down processes. Paper heavy processes also involve desk-to-desk paper-pushing which invariably causes bottlenecks and delays. No doubt, paper-heavy departments such as Legal, Finance or HR may never go completely paperless, but they can digitise a lot of day-to-day documentation and vital contracts to ensure compliance.

So why bother about digitising at all?

If you are looking at speeding up processes, enhancing collaboration between teams and tightening security then transforming your paper workflows by thinking ‘biz out of the box’ is a practical and cost-effective step. Going the digital route speeds up processes, as multiple stakeholders can work on the latest version of the same document and always find what they need in a few clicks. Furthermore, it lowers costs and gives you complete control over rights and accessibility.

Digitisation is much more than just a trend!

Digitisation may sound like a trend but the fact remains, by digitising paper workflows, organisations only stand to benefit. With our smart Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions such as e-BizVAULT (on-cloud) and FingerTips (on-premise), you can be assured of best-in-class security and backup along with gleaning insights (via dashboards) that will give you an overview of performance – helping you plug in gaps that arise.

Our Solutions

ECM is an organisational process methodology designed for end-to-end content management and e-BizVAULT is the perfect offering for organisations eying a scalable and secure content management solution over the cloud to fetch more agility and operational efficiency. Organisations with multiple branches can leverage e-BizVAULT for smooth and seamless business operations across scattered offices.

FingerTips is an on-premise/VPS (AWS, Azure, etc.) ECM that enables capture of documents through multiple channels, managing documents in a centralised repository. “It allows creation of document centric workflows, while improving overall process SLAs.” With rich features and intuitive UI, it also seamlessly integrates with Konica Minolta bizhub MFPs.

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