Document Extraction: How To Automate Data Extraction from Complex Documents
Business processes fed by complex documents are a bear.
In a place where complicated can slow things down to a crawl, complex documents suck the life out of productivity.
Sure, you might have an OCR system in place that processes your documents.
And OCR is a good technology...for structured documents. But what about those complex, unstructured docs?
Or heck, maybe you're still manually processing your documents. Good ol’ human effort is a tried and true way to key a document into the system that runs your business process. A human can even find the right data in a sea of complex data. Eventually.
But, humans are slow, error-prone, inconsistent, and expensive. (And, in some cases, perhaps not so excellent after all!)
Then, there are all the challenges.
Can have multiple formats
Can’t be forced into a template
Might have tables...or worse! Nested tables!
Could feature images
Might include hand-writing…or worse! Messy handwriting!
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The worst part? OCR systems definitely hit a wall when documents get too complex.
So much for automation, right?
(Alas, fine reader...there is hope.)
A study by Accenture found that companies that automate their data extraction processes can reduce processing times by up to 80%, resulting in significant cost savings.
What is a document-centric workflow?
In its simplest form, a document-centric workflow is one that executes a business process. In almost all cases, documents feed the process, which includes capturing content, extracting information from the content, and taking some action based on that information.
For example, here’s a document feed process that probably sounds familiar....
I submit a healthcare expense to my health insurance to get reimbursed. I have to:
Copy the receipt
Print out forms
Fill out the forms
Get an envelope and stamp
Figure out the address
And, that’s just my end.
In process-centric workflow use cases, content contains data and information that’s contextually relevant to the process and the business.
"Data is the new oil. The companies that extract it best will thrive." - The Economist
The content we’re all using has value trapped in it...value that’s tough to release.
Documents can be classified into various forms and types. Documents can be images, text, numbers, videos, or a mix of types.
Classification can be based on any number of things, including:
And a whole lot more!
Information trapped in the documents can be extracted using a manual process, OCR, or some other technology. When deciding which of these to use, it’s important to know if we can extract all the information in the doc and how accurate that information is.
Then, extracted data and information are fed into a process. Think Mortgage Processing, Itinerary Processing, Loan Processing, Claims Processing, RFP Response Processing, Financial Compliance, Auditing, Expense Management, Invoice Processing, and so on.
You likely have been executing processes that require data extraction for some time. If you’re like most, you’ve run into roadblocks. And because of those roadblocks, your automation plans are stuck.
The culprit? It’s probably complex data.
How to Tell if Your Complex Data Blocks Your Automation Goals?
There’s a good reason for more process automation where possible. 10x+ improvement in efficiency, productivity, and/or cost savings sounds incredible, right?!
If your goal is to automate more of these document-fed processes that now require humans for data entry...or the ones that OCR proves it can’t handle, how do you diagnose the problem so you can meet your goals?
And, how do you know when complex data is creating a process bottleneck?
The complexity of your data likely indicates the level of difficulty you’ll face when trying to extract the data and draw insights from it.
What are some factors that make documents complex to process?
Content is free-flowing
The document is unstructured
It contains handwriting
It is made up of multiple document types
Formats change in the same doc
Fonts change in the same doc
The document has complex tables
Tables are in different locations
There is missing information
Pictures and images are present
These are document types where OCR fails, and manual processing becomes overly complicated.
What is the Business Result of Complex Documents?
When you have complex documents that cannot be automated, your business suffers.
What does it look like?
High operational costs
Low process efficiency
Long process completion times
Extraction accuracy that’s too low to be useful
I think these customers nailed it when they said...
“As a financial company, our employees spend a lot of time rewriting invoices.”
“We want to extract all the info from docs, so we can automate more processes and use all the info to build insights. But our analysts use only 10-20% of the data in the documents because we cannot extract the rest.”
Solutions for Complex Data Processing
The industry has evolved from OCR to solutions that use multiple AI technologies to address the bottlenecks. These solutions are categorized by:
The old-school approach: OCR The modern approach: Various names, including:
Elsewhere you will read how AI technology is being applied to solve unstructured data problems. Be cautious here; AI has become a buzzword some vendors deploy to cloud the waters when it comes to describing how AI plays in their solutions.
Infrrd has worked hand-in-hand with hundreds of enterprises and companies to solve complex data problems. We have lots of stories to share. For now, let's review the top three use cases we encounter most often.
A financial services company provides business loans.
The bank both originates and services the loan. The firms they lend to must submit financial reports so the bank can ensure financial soundness and compliance.
Pretty straightforward, right? So what’s the problem?
Financial reports (annual reports in this case) have no universal standard; They usually come in different formats, have non-standard taxonomies, and can vary year-to-year. These reports include graphics, charts, and tables, which are also inconsistent.
The complexity of these documents requires manual processing because OCR can’t handle the doc with so little structure. What’s worse? This manual process is always more costly, slower, and inconsistent. Even the smallest error can call into question the bank’s entire financial evaluation.
But, without the information trapped in these documents, the bank cannot determine how well the firms in its loan portfolio are doing and why. And when the information isn’t delivered on a timely basis? That’s when the bank introduces unnecessary operating risks into its system.
"Document extraction is not just about saving time, but also about reducing errors and improving accuracy." - Jason Bloomberg, Forbes contributor
Infrrd worked with this bank to extract data from their complex documents. The bank now uses Infrrd's Intelligent Data Processing solution, which applies a multi-layered sequence of AI models. The result? This bank no longer has an annual report processing problem.
A panel drawing is an image that describes the layout and components of a control panel, a distribution panel, or an electrical panel.
The sample below shows there are part numbers and specifications for the components as well.
So how do you extract usable data from these panels? Are they too complex to do so?
A supplier receives an RFP package from a builder which includes documents and panel drawings. The supplier needs to read the drawings, build a quote, and send it to the builder. If the supplier has the best quote, they win the business.
But when the RFP package (docs and lots of panel drawings) is processed manually, it takes weeks to build a quote.
We found out from working with this supplier that they tried OCR...and failed.
OCR cannot process panel drawings because it fails to:
Identify line style and thickness
Understand text orientation (top, bottom, side of drawing)
Differentiate symbols from numbers and letters
The supplier—after partnering with Infrrd—learned how to use an AI-native information extraction platform to address the unique challenges of even the most complex panel drawings. As a result, the supplier automated their RFP process. Today they respond to the builders they serve 20x faster and with higher accuracy.
Contrary to popular opinion, YES. You can automate data extraction from panel drawings.
Problem 3. Data Extraction from Tables
Tables are everywhere. You’ll find them in annual reports, financial statements, invoices, bills, receipts, and management reports.
Tables help structure information, so we humans can more easily understand it.
And...tables really are everywhere. Odds are they’re in the very documents that contain the information you want to extract!
The biggest challenge with tables shows its face as complexity increases. Here’s what that looks like:
Tables don’t appear in the same place in reports
Fonts vary in the same table
There are numbers and letters in the table
Tables show up with and without borders
You find tables within tables (nested tables)
Tables go on for tens—or even hundreds—of pages
Manual processing of tables may work in the case of a simple table with limited rows and columns. But when tables extend across many pages, anyone reading the data can make mistakes.
As you’d imagine, OCR is challenged by tables, too. When a table is without borders—like below—an OCR fails to identify the information as a table...and, of course, the table type.
OCR also fails when it has to identify if an entry is a zero or an “O.”
Infrrd and our clients have been successfully extracting data from tables for a long time. It takes a different mindset and an approach completely different from OCR to consistently get it right.
Dropping Knowledge Bombs on Information Extraction
In this blog, you’ve learned some basics of data extraction from complex documents.
Remember the three challenging use cases (Annual Reports, Panels, and Tables)? Most people who experience these throw up their hands in frustration…and walk away. They never tap into the true value that’s trapped in their documents!
Can you extract the full value of data and information from complex documents?
YES. YOU. CAN.
Explore our blog posts to learn how to solve each of these unstructured data problems.
We’ll discuss it all in more detail.
And, you’ll see just how to make AI technologies work for you.
You’ll become the complex data extraction maestro of your organization. And the automation angels will sing your name in unison.
But, look out! There will be quizzes, and you’ll have to put on that thinking cap!
Until then, ponder this: What else could we achieve if we could extract all the data and information from all of our complex documents?
The answer to that will likely astound you.
Until next time... unless you want to chat with an expert now:
What is document extraction and why is it important?
Document extraction is the process of automatically identifying & extracting data from unstructured or semi-structured documents such as PDFs, invoices, receipts & forms. It's important because it saves time and reduces errors compared to manual data entry, improves data accuracy & enables better data analysis & decision-making.
How does automated document extraction work?
Automated document extraction uses machine learning algorithms and optical character recognition (OCR) technology to scan and analyze documents, identify key data elements, and extract them into structured formats such as spreadsheets or databases. It can also validate and verify data accuracy, handle variations and exceptions, and learn from user feedback to improve performance over time.
How can automation improve document data extraction?
Automation can improve document data extraction by increasing speed, accuracy & scalability. It can also reduce costs and free up resources for other tasks.
What are some popular document extraction tools and software?
Some popular document extraction tools & software include Abbyy FlexiCapture, Kofax, Ephesoft, Rossum, Docparser & Amazon Textract.
How accurate is document extraction?
The accuracy of document extraction depends on the quality of the document, the complexity of the data to be extracted & the accuracy of the extraction tools & techniques used. With modern tools & techniques, the accuracy can be as high as 95-99%.
Frequently asked questions
What does your pricing model look like?
We price based on the annual volume of pages and complexity of document type. We can get you preliminary pricing once we outlined a solution. Let's do this.
How can I try Infrrd before I commit to a full deployment?
Sure. The first step is to schedule a guided demo where you get to jump into the thick of it. After you explore our solution you can try a proof of concept. When you're ready, you can deploy the system to one use case. Then more use cases. Then across your enterprise.
Glad you asked. Our data extraction process runs on servers. We have found performance and accuracy decline when running on a desktop or mobile device. (Remember Infrrd is running a powerful AI stack).
In a fast-paced world filled with never-ending rivers of documents and data, organizations continuously need smarter ways to work. Teams need flexible solutions that enable them to work faster while delivering higher levels of reliable accuracy than ever before. At Infrrd, we empower teams with Intelligent Document Processing Solutions for Intelligent Work™.