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Intelligent Data Capture: Fulfill the Promise of BPA

9 May, 2011 By: Charles Kaplan, Brainware imageSource

Intelligent Data Capture: Fulfill the Promise of BPA

For decades we’ve been anticipating a “paperless office,” the expectation
that technology will render paper documentation obsolete, paving the way for
electronic information to pass from supplier to manufacturer to consumer without
the costs and the hassles of physical delivery.  Yet despite constant
innovation, businesses remain swamped with as much or even more paper than
ever.  The key to creating efficiency within an organization’s essential
operations is therefore found in spite of paper, not instead of it.

Early optical character recognition (OCR) technologies provided a step
forward, but carried inherent limitations.  Such applications could extract key
data from structured forms where the layout didn’t vary from one document to the
next.  As these initial OCR-based solutions tried to tackle the complexities of
unstructured documents such as invoices, remittances, orders and others, they
could only succeed after establishing templates or rule sets to recognize each
individual form and the precise location of each data field on the document. 
The process of creating these templates was time and labor consuming, inhibiting
any demonstrable return on investment and generally falling short of promised
efficiency gains.  For departments processing tens (or even hundreds) of
thousands of uniquely formatted documents, such preparations were unfeasible.

IDC Technology

Intelligent data capture (IDC) technology brings automation into the 21st
Century.  Sidestepping the template method, IDC employs a “fuzzy search” and
pattern matching approach that “reads” each document much like a human would,
interpreting field data on the basis of a small, sample learn-set.  Employing
complex algorithms that recognize patterns regardless of file type, layout,
language or poor imaging quality, the solution can extract header and line-item
data immediately and with a high degree of unaided accuracy.  IDC enables a
single input channel for all of the documents that drive accounts payable,
accounts receivable, mailroom processing and other key business operations,
converting documents into usable intelligence from the moment of receipt and
normalizing their output into a standard electronic format regardless of their
business purpose or type.

Companies across the industrial spectrum have benefited from IDC’s
superlative capabilities for field data extraction, typically 80-90% and often
in the range of 94-99%.  By enabling the automatic matching and reconciliation
of incoming data against master data, the solution enables “touchless
processing”—the end-to-end processing of transactional data with no human
intervention whatsoever—with very little dedication of time and labor required
for implementation.  Using an intelligent, pattern-based approach, the solution
is able to reconcile line-item data, even when such text is not entirely
consistent.  (For example, it will recognize that an invoice field of “BLK PEN -
7” satisfies a purchase order for “7 black pens” without requiring
pre-definition of keywords, dictionaries, or other taxonomies.)

Intelligent data capture provides a complete platform for end-to-end document
processing, integrating with all enterprise resource planning (ERP) and content
management applications to ensure an efficient, accurate process that transforms
a cumbersome, error-prone, manual entry routine into one consisting mainly of
exception handling—those cases where data cannot be reconciled with a level of
confidence predetermined by users.  This streamlined process allows
organizations to handle increased workloads associated with mergers and
acquisitions, reconcile processing across disparate ERP systems or reallocate
personnel to other value-added activities within the company.  Furthermore, the
digitizing of paper-based data at the front end enables heightened process
transparency, as data can be recalled, measured and analyzed more readily,
empowering department managers with greater insight into their operations,
opportunities to optimize working capital and an increased ability to
troubleshoot process deficiencies in accordance with the principles of Lean and
Six Sigma.  Clerks will spend less time answering inquiries and hunting for
misplaced documents.  Management will have an easier time enforcing compliance,
and responding to internal and external audits.

Client Productivity

Consider the case of Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL), a major trucking company
based in Thomasville, North Carolina.  To boost remittance processing
productivity beyond levels attainable through manual routines alone, ODFL
implemented an intelligent data capture solution to streamline the process. 
Accuracy and accountability are critical in the trucking industry because a
customer’s shipment might be flagged and delayed due to late payments; as IDC
technology is able to capture and match remittance detail with electronic
payment information received from the lockbox provider, cash application is
faster and more accurate, avoiding such scenarios when possible and clearing
delinquent accounts at the earliest possible moment, releasing their shipment.

“Eighty percent of our remittances are handled before (our accounts
receivable staff) have even walked in the door,” said Ken Erdner, Old Dominion’s
VP of IT, speaking to intelligent data capture’s agility in processing data
hands-free.  “The automation we’ve deployed prevents delayed shipments due to
late payments and helps us maintain our commitment to providing customers with
the industry’s highest service levels for on-time and claims-free deliveries.”

“When automation enables you to handle four or five times the volume that you
did previously with a good process alone, it really makes a big difference to
the company because it’s allowing us to grow without having to add to our
monthly overhead,” Erdner added.

The easily configurable nature of intelligent data capture as a platform for
across-the-board efficiency lends itself to increasingly innovative business
applications.  For example, leading operations are embracing IDC as a tool for
mailroom automation, interfacing with mailroom processing hardware to extract
key information from incoming paper mail and enable the swift, digitized
transfer of intelligence from the mailroom to all areas of the enterprise, a
streamlining of communications that in turn offers opportunity for widespread

Scalable Platform

Such was the case with Rabobank, a major international bank headquartered in
the Netherlands and one of the world’s 25 largest financial institutions. 
Rabobank implemented an IDC solution to support an initiative to reduce its
physical mail distribution by 85% within three years, with an overall objective
of applying the technology as a scalable platform to act as a driver or
efficiency throughout the organization.

“Prior to this initiative, we had a very time-consuming routine in place
which included receiving, analyzing and sorting documents before manually
entering the data into our system,” said Bart Groenewoud, Product Manager ICT at
Rabobank.  “Upon introducing (intelligent data capture) into this environment,
we’ve witnessed a remarkable decrease in processing time and the effort required
to manage the mail.”

While paper still remains a constant for many businesses, intelligent data
capture delivers the desired benefits of the “paperless office” today. 
Efficiently processing documents regardless of volume, format or structure, this
technology enables a level of efficiency and visibility that stands head and
shoulders above the rest. 

Charles Kaplan is VP of Marketing at Brainware, a provider of intelligent
data capture solutions.  His experience includes 15 years in IT and applied
information analysis in such areas as product marketing, product management,
revenue management and financial analysis. Brainware automatically extracts,
processes & retrieves data from any source, and with no capital expenditure.  At

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