ocr

What is OCR and why does it matter?

OCR, or optical character recognition, refers to software that’s able to convert written text or printed letters into a digital format. It’s one of the most important technologies behind lots of products but is rarely given the attention it deserves.

That’s why it’s time to zoom in on this incredible feat of digital automation — what it is, how it works and why we decided to make it a central part of Rydoo.

OCR - The intelligent computer

We come across text-based documents in almost every part of our lives — from sending work emails to signing an employment contract.

A lot of them live digitally on our laptops, phones or in the cloud, but others are physical hard copies having been printed or hand-written for example.

This highlights an important disconnect and brings with it a unique challenge — while the information in digital documents can easily be read and used by computers, this isn’t the case for physical analogue text.

Taking a photo of a document with a camera or a flatbed scanner doesn’t really help because this simply produces an image that a computer can display, reproduce or edit, but not understand.

In order to allow computers to make sense of the image, the device needs the ability to look at it and recognize the abstract shapes we call letters and numbers — in short, it would need to be able to read and process the information intelligently.

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Expanding possibilities

Originally OCR was developed as a way of increasing accessibility for users but it quickly became clear that this technology could be used for more than just accessibility purposes.

At the turn of the millennium, companies started experimenting with OCR in computing, enabling them to turn paper documents or image files into data that could be edited, processed and stored by a computer.

Today, you’ll find OCR in a wide variety of applications some of which are obvious and some not so.

Typically you’ll find OCR tech being used in;

  • Automatic number plate recognition by traffic police
  • Digitizing entire libraries of books by services like Google Books
  • Reading passport information at airports or border control
  • Converting handwriting into digital text
  • Helping blind and visually impaired people with reading documents
  • Scanning documents to help an organisation go paperless
  • Clearing cheques by automatically confirming handwritten information

Why we chose to use OCR

One of the most popular uses for OCR is data entry.

Ever since computers were invented, people have been looking for ways to get them to handle boring and repetitive jobs and data entry is one of the best examples.

Having to manually enter information into a computer can eat up a lot of time, especially when you have to do it on a regular basis, like when you are processing expenses claims. But almost everyone who uses a computer for work has to do it sometimes — no matter if it’s copying data into an Excel sheet, transcribing interview notes or filling out an expense form.

When we developed Rydoo it was with the aim of totally changing the way that people do the time-consuming task of submitting their expenses.

We had the benefit of having a blank sheet of paper so we chose the best technologies for each aspect of our app with OCR being a clear “must-have” for expense management.

Why should people have to enter data from a physical receipt manually? And why should they have to keep the physical piece of paper? It simply didn’t make sense.

We realised that if we could make it easy to get the data into digital form then Rydoo could easily handle the processing aspect.

And that’s where OCR helped us to transform the way that expenses claims are submitted and processed.

Say goodbye to crumpled receipts attached to spreadsheets.

Supercharge your expense management with OCR

In our experience, expense management is one of the tasks that can benefit the most from automatic data entry.

In the old days, it was a matter of getting out your stack of receipts and invoices to manually copy every line item, and if you travel a lot for work, chances are you would need to do it at least once a month.

At Rydoo, we use the power of OCR to make processing your expenses a breeze.

Users download the free expense management app which turns their smartphone into a cutting-edge receipt scanner.

They simply take a picture of the receipt and our sophisticated recognition algorithm gets to work, finding the relevant information and then automatically entering it into Rydoo.

Whilst many OCR systems require the user to return later to select the right expense category, the relevant project, and the payment method, our app allows users to enter this whilst the decoding is going on in the background.

Within seconds (16s to be specific) the expense is registered and, if required, sent to the relevant manager for approval.

Instead of expense claims being a once-a-month chore, the user can now scan their train ticket and have it automatically entered into Rydoo by the time they get on the train.

It’s that easy!

Why you’ll love using Rydoo’s receipt scanner

Advanced OCR technology means that Rydoo can totally transform the way you think about expenses.

In the past it has meant saving up lots of pieces of paper, potentially losing some along the way and then manually entering the information once a month into either an online system or a paper claim form.

Either way, expenses become just another chore that takes the users away from doing their real work.

With Rydoo, we find that users typically collect information as they go along, scanning receipts and invoices at the time of purchase which means that they are unlikely to lose documents and give the finance department a more accurate forecast on expenses.

Once the information is digitally stored in Rydoo, the claim goes through the authorisation process which in many cases is automated meaning that the time to receive your payment is cut dramatically.

With almost all tax authorities, scanning a receipt into Rydoo is acceptable proof of expenditure so that means no need to keep hundreds of pieces of paper.

Take a picture, save it to Rydoo and throw out the receipt — you’re done!

No matter how much you sweat the details, everyone makes a typo once every while — but it can be problematic if you accidentally write down the wrong numbers from your payments. This is a thing of the past thanks to our accurate character recognition as now you’ll always get reimbursed the right amount.

Another annoyance is having to deal with currency conversion. With Rydoo there’s no need to look up current rates anymore because it’s all handled automatically. Our scanner instantly recognizes the currency on the receipt and converts it to your home currency, saving you precious time.

Want to see OCR in action? Why not book a free demo now and see how our truly advanced OCR technology is transforming finance departments all over the world.

Originally published 2019-08-07 , modified 2021-09-30

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