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Bidding adieu to manual document processing

automation
(Image credit: Image Credit: MNBB Studio / Shutterstock)

Traditional document processing units required staff members to manually read and key in relevant information from purchase orders, quotes, invoices, remittances and other documents – every day, year after year. This process lowers both staff morale and productivity, and often leads to unwanted errors and increased costs. 

Thankfully, there’s now a better way. Intelligent document processing (IDP) is a next-generation approach that uses automation to quickly extract information from business documents. Here are 10 things you need to know about IDP and how it can enable end-to-end process automation for your organization.

1. Overcome the pitfalls of OCR  

The first wave of IDP was driven by template-based optical character recognition (OCR) technology. However, the approach had its pitfalls. Staff members needed to manually create templates to extract data from invoices and other documents based on the incoming document layout. And the whole system would fail when the business received invoices with different layouts. The staff then scrambled to build new templates. 

In addition, traditional OCR resulted in very low extraction accuracy, error rates were high and the logic of interpreting the extracted text was primitive. Building an OCR with embedded AI, machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities opens up a new world of opportunities and paves the way for intelligent capture. 

Eliminating repetitive, manual and time-consuming tasks with AI-driven automation has become a crucial driver of growth for digital-native businesses; it helps reduce costs and achieve unrealized productivity gains. Businesses can now incorporate agility into the process core, enhance productivity and improve customer experiences – and in the case of accounts payable, bring in more early-payment discounts.

2. Achieve high extraction accuracy  

Higher accuracy rates are possible by combining OCR with AI, ML and NLP capabilities for document data extraction. Supervised learning ensures that the AI engine continuously learns from minor adjustments and tweaks done by operators. It detects unclear data or results outside of its predetermined learning and notifies operators for correction or decision-making. The system continually gets smarter. 

A mature IDP solution achieves higher extraction accuracy rates than traditional OCRs out of the box. Moreover, the system seamlessly validates the extracted data with existing systems-of-records – such as content management, enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting and other back-end systems. It builds an added layer of advantage over operators keying in data manually.

3. Reduce document processing cycle time 

Cycle time is a key metric tracked by enterprises to measure effectiveness across all recurring processes. Reduced document processing cycle time opens new opportunities for higher profitability. It helps build resilient business processes and makes a company more competitive. 

An IDP system can eliminate many of the process bottlenecks associated with physical document handling, extra data faster from documents and automatically process that extracted data based on business rules before publishing it to end systems. It also can detect anomalies from that extracted data and recognize (and classify) multiple or single page documents based on the type.

4. Process many documents coming from multiple channels 

Document processing workflows too often suffer from a lack of streamlining, something that IDP addresses. An IDP solution, in contrast, can process multiple document types from various channels continuously and automatically capture documents from emails (aliases), FTP sites and SharePoint. Documents in almost any format, be it PDF, XML, HTML forms or something else, can be seamlessly processed and interpreted. 

5. Detect errors and anomalies before they reach end applications 

AI and ML capabilities mean an IDP solution can automatically detect anomalies from the extracted data, and notify the operator. And not only can the solution identify the factors that can affect your business operations immediately, but extracted data also can be processed based on custom business rules before publishing it to the system-of-record. 

Advanced IDP anomaly detection frameworks work in synergy with your predefined business rules, making them easy and cost-effective. Machine learning algorithms look at the data from multiple angles to spot complicated anomaly patterns. As a result, your approach to detecting anomalies is robust, precise, resistant and adaptive.

6. Complete visibility  

An important element of an IDP solution is that it empowers process owners to gain insight across the global process to gauge health and monitor performance. An intelligent document processing system has built-in, user-friendly consoles that let you oversee and track the entered documents, batch status, operator statistics and extraction accuracy. Prebuilt reporting and analytics tools provide users with daily insights about global operations 

7. Mitigate risks and ensure compliance standards  

Data integrity may be compromised if multiple humans are in the loop and are processing critical company information. Intelligent document capture mitigates the risks with an automated workflow. It seamlessly integrates with the systems-of-record and supports access provisioning based on user privilege to index, search and compile the data. 

It’s crucial to monitor, track and generate reports on the multitude of physical and digital documents entering your enterprise daily and about the subsequent actions taken. Adding to security standards, it automatically creates and maintains logs of user activities; that can be used to determine actions performed and by whom.

8. Measure and track your savings for faster ROI 

Organizations measure investments by drawing an inference about potential gains – estimated by understanding the impact across efficiency, cost control and revenue generation. Traditional OCR solutions have definitely delivered cost savings and efficiency gains, but intelligent document processing takes this to a whole new level. The return on investment (ROI) of intelligent document processing technologies is usually 6-12 months, although most customers achieve ROI sooner. 

9. Build resilient business processes  

Next-generation intelligent document processing solutions offer three important automation benefits: 

  • AP Invoice Automation – Automated workflow to extract and validate the header amount, line-item data from supplier invoices, and then match it with existing purchase order (PO) data residing in the ERP system. This exponentially minimizes processing time while reducing costs. 
  • PO processing automation – Automated order data extraction from physical, scanned, and faxed POs. Extracted data is automatically matched and validated against existing catalog databases 
  • Quotation processing automation - Automate the manual data extraction process across all quote processing workflows. Then process the data based on business rules and publish the data into the enterprise system of records. It fastens the quote processing workflow and ensures high data accuracy. 

10. The ability to scale and re-scale 

The next generation of IDP solutions are scalable, cloud-based products that combine AI, ML, OCR and NLP technologies with automation. They’re built with the understanding to accommodate the changing influx of documents that enterprise often experience. 

Companies with global operations witness a changing inflow of handwritten and electronic documents from multiple vendors in regional languages. Businesses should start small by paying only for the current document volume and eventually adjust the capacity based on expected changes.

Focus on what’s important 

Today’s digital transformation push has become a business necessity. Efficiently and effectively processing documents must be included in this transformation. Combining AI with automation provides the much-needed decisioning and analytics capabilities to reason and achieve seamless task completion. IDP empowers organizations to automate high-volume, repetitive, manual workflows to enhance process efficiency and increase productivity so they can focus on business goals rather than processes and become or remain competitive. 

Dr. Akhil Sahai, Founding member, Kanverse