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What is Optical Character Recognition (OCR)?

One of the biggest problems that most organizations deal with these days has less to do with the sheer volume of data they're working with on a daily basis and is more about just how much of it is unstructured.

Unstructured data, as the term suggests, is that information that either doesn't have some type of pre-defined model, or that isn't organized in any pre-determined way. Typically, this information is very text heavy and contains not only dates and numbers, but other pieces of critical insight as well. Unstructured data can also come in the form of text in a scanned document, or some other type of photographed image.

That, in essence, is what Optical Character Recognition (otherwise known as OCR) is designed to help with. It's a technological process that can actually convert the text in those documents into something that can not only be edited and stored but searched for electronically as well.

What is Optical Character Recognition (OCR)? Breaking Things Down

By far, the biggest reason why OCR is so important is because it A) helps to eliminate the types of manual data entry tasks that eat up too much of your employee's valuable time, and B) assists in capturing critical information in a way that makes it easier than ever to extract raw value from moving forward.

Typically, the process goes a bit like this:

  1. First, documents will be scanned (or photographed) into some type of electronic form.
  2. Then, Optical Character Recognition is applied.
  3. The text contained in that document is then saved as text with searchable metadata.
  4. This can then be used to initiate workflows and better support processes across the board.

Indeed, Optical Character Recognition is designed to eliminate the need for manual data entry by automatically recognizing characters like letters, numbers, and symbols. Then, that information can be easily worked with on a digital platform. It can even be stored in an intelligent information management platform like M-Files, dramatically increasing the ease at which you can search for and retrieve that information.

All told, Optical Character Recognition brings with it a wide range of different benefit that organizations of all shapes and sizes can make use of. In addition to improving the ease at which you can find information, OCR is also at the heart of many developing processes like machine learning.

Take document management, for just one example. Machine learning is a critical component here because it helps to eliminate manual tasks that are both redundant and time-consuming, thus freeing up as much time on behalf of your employees so that they can focus on those matters that truly need their attention.

In addition to intelligent character recognition for handwriting, OCR (when paired with machine learning) can help improve sentimental analysis, object recognition and more. It can even become the cornerstone of your data privacy protection policy, as if you know exactly what information you're working with and where it is stored, you're in a far better position to actually keep it safe from those who want to do you harm.

Optical Character Recognition is even at the heart of many digital transformation efforts for companies. Remember that the first part of any successful digital transformation involves digitizing all of those paper-based documents that you're working with, all so that you can properly store them and make them available to those across your organization who need that information to do their jobs.

With the right OCR solution by your side, you can do this by digitizing things like meeting notes, agendas, letters, client records and even photographs. At that point, it can all be inserted into your digital content management system so that it can move freely across your enterprise as needed.

But in the end, the real benefit is that Optical Character Recognition is the first step towards kicking off larger workflow automation projects within your business. A lot of the manual tasks that your employees are responsible for may be important, to be fair — but they also take up far too much time and leave open the door to issues like human error.

With workflow automation, you have none of these side effects to deal with. The processes themselves get completed faster, more efficiently and more accurately than ever before — all by way of steps that are easily repeatable as well. So not only do you get guaranteed consistency, but your employees can now focus on those matters that are actually generating revenue for your business — which may very well be the most important benefit of all.