6 Ways Optical Character Recognition is Used

A woman organizing paper documents on a tablet with technological symbols around it to symbolize digitization using optical character recognition

The old adage “time is money” never loses its relevance. In fact, most of the technological solutions for offices and workspaces are aimed at saving time and reducing effort. Optical character recognition is one such technological development.

Optical character recognition (OCR) makes managing documents more efficient. Considering that many businesses depend on thousands of documents that accumulate every year, OCR is beneficial for nearly all workplace environments. 

At Busys.ca, we believe in leveraging the best of modern technology to propel businesses to success. In this article, we talk about the fundamentals of optical character recognition and the six ways it can level up your operations inside the office and beyond.  

Let’s get started!

Symbols of documents floating in front of a laptop to represent OCR driven document digitization

What is OCR in Simple Words?

Optical character recognition, shortened as OCR, is a technology commonly used with scanners to recognize text in scanned documents and images. Through the use of OCR programs, a paper document or an image can be transformed into a more accessible format. 

In some instances, OCR technology can also be used through mobile apps wherein the image is supplied through the phone’s camera. 

How Does Optical Character Recognition Software Work?

Traditionally, a printer will only create a digital image from a paper document if you scan it without using OCR. Although scanned file formats may differ (i.e. .JPG, .TIFF, .PDF), the new electronic file is still just a static image of the original document. This is where optical character recognition comes in.

This scanned image can be loaded into an OCR program which processes the text and turns it into an editable format. OCR is able to locate and recognize characters within a digital image, such as letters, symbols, and numbers. Some of the most advanced OCR software can even export the size and formatting of the text while maintaining an accurate layout, as found in the original document.

What is the Advantage and Disadvantage of Optical Character Recognition?

Advantages of OCR in the Workplace

Get Monetary Savings

According to a study, finding a lost document costs a company an average of $122. Considering that many companies have thousands of documents that could get lost amidst messy filing cabinets or buried under some desk clutter, this estimated cost can easily multiply.

Moreover, the cost racks up when certain documents are never found. By using OCR to digitalize paper documents, you can supercharge your file management system and look forward to speedy document retrieval. 

Better Business Relationships

Of all the advantages of OCR-driven digitization, this is the one that is the hardest to quantify due to its compounded benefits. When documents are lost or damaged (without a digital copy to either take their place or serve as backups), this incident can compromise relationships with stakeholders who actually need those files. 

For example, if a contract with a client is lost or damaged and they request a copy that you cannot readily provide, the client will undoubtedly get upset and may distrust the business moving forward. The same goes for other stakeholders like partners, suppliers, contractors, investors, and so on.  

Save Space

Documents have varying levels of importance. Some documents must have a physical counterpart readily available, while others may not. 

Through digitization (via optical character recognition), you can easily access digital copies of all your documents. The ones you no longer need to keep a hard copy of (because they’re safely stored on your computer instead) will help you save on space in your file cabinets.

Disadvantages and Limitations of OCR

Now that we’ve talked about the major pros of using OCR, here are its limitations: 

Not Always 100% Accurate

Optical character recognition is not always 100% accurate and therefore, it is recommended that OCR-processed documents be reviewed. Still, this process is faster and more economical than hiring someone to type out the physical document manually. 

Blurry Physical Documents Will Likely Yield Less Accurate Results

Another limitation is that you are likely to get inaccurate outputs when processing blurry physical documents. Mistakes can still happen even with advanced OCR programs; therefore, checking the output is highly recommended for blurry inputs.

A woman scanning a foreign document for translation via OCR

Examples of OCR Applications

Here are some popular uses of OCR within the workplace and beyond: 

1. Translating Written Text via Google Translate

So far, we’ve talked about how OCR can make your workplace’s document management more seamless. But did you know it can give you a better travel experience in foreign countries as well?

OCR enables the Google Translate application to process foreign text so that you will be able to understand what various signs mean—even when there is nobody around to ask. 

This OCR-driven translation feature can also be used on images or static files that contain a foreign language.

2. Faster Airport Processes

OCR is also used at airports to extract passport information from passengers in a much faster way. Though the difference might just be a few seconds faster for each passenger, think about the compounded amount of time saved throughout the day! This also prevents employees’ mental fatigue from getting in the way of accuracy. 

3. Aiding the Blind

OCR is also the technological lego-block that allows the blind to scan printed text and have it read to them via synthetic speech. Imagine how this helps them read prescription labels, public signages, and more. So if you’ve ever encountered an app that’s designed to aid the blind, there is a high likelihood it relies on OCR.

4. Invoice Capture

Invoice data can be extracted with the combination of OCR and various AI techniques. It works by feeding data from printed invoices straight into digital systems. This makes it possible to process invoices much faster.

5. Digitizing Handwritten Notes, Letters, and So On

Though different OCR programs have varying capabilities, some are powerful enough to process handwritten text. Whether you are trying to digitize a handwritten authorization letter or seminar notes, OCR enables you to store such information digitally so it can be easily retrieved.

6. Digitizing Contracts, Tax Forms, Blueprints, and More

OCR helps you digitize various physical business documents. Some of the most common uses are for digitizing contracts, application forms, tax forms, receipts, and so on.

However, more complicated documents like blueprints, maps, and charts can also be digitized by a compatible OCR program. Whatever type of physical document you’re scanning, OCR is the first step to making them easier to store, safer from calamities, and readily searchable.

Supercharge Your Business’s Documentation System With OCR

It’s clear that optical character recognition is a true game-changer in this digital world. This technology enables easier digitization of paper documents and creates a more seamless document management system. 

As we’ve mentioned earlier, OCR gives numerous advantages, including monetary savings, smoother business relationships, and space savings. If you’d like to explore all the ways that OCR can be integrated into your workflow, we’re here to help. Busys.ca is a trusted provider of office solutions for document security, document management, and seamless printing systems. 

Ask our team about optical character recognition today!

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