Document Digitization: Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Never Told

Introduction

In the age of rapid technological progress digital technologies cover more and more spheres of human life: from finance to space travel. So it is logical to use all the advantages of digitization and document scanning.

Document scanning is one of the best ways to make an enterprise’s workflow as efficient, convenient, and fast as possible. Even a decade ago, this process was quite expensive for non-specialized organizations because it required trained personnel, equipment, and specific software.

However, there are a lot of vendors that provide a document scanning service. It is no longer a luxury. Now scanning is available to every business.

Nevertheless, alongside with the technological changes, more and more shortcomings of document scanning had begun to appear. Today the document scanning approach is significantly outdated and does not help the business fully achieve its goals. Today it is not enough to scan the documents. You need to extract data from these documents.

In other words – turn unstructured text information into structured like CSV, XML, JSON, XLS,  etc. This process is called document digitization, and it is fundamentally different from document scanning.

In this article, we want to shed light on what document digitization is and why it’s better than document scanning.

Common reasons to digitize documents in 2019

The main disadvantages of document scanning formed the basis of the popularity of document digitization.

Let’s take a closer look at why exactly this method is so trendy today.

1) Ease of data processing

The main feature of document digitization is that this method not only translates documents into a digital format (jpg/png/bitmaps) but also prepares data schemes. These schemes can include all the data required for machine algorithms to extract necessary information from the document.

Document digitization helps not only turn on-paper information into electronic documents but also translate data from these documents into machine-readable formats (XML, JSON, CSV, TXT). The data in these formats is much easier to process using both business intelligence software and manually – using appropriate software (for example, all data in CSV format can be easily processed in Excel).

2) Low data processing costs

The second reason for document digitization popularity comes from the first one – if the data is converted into a convenient format, it is cheap to process.

The main idea here is that if you have a large number of complex documents, it is not necessary to assign the processing of these documents to a dedicated employee. It’s much cheaper to develop software or a custom search algorithm or data processing tool to accomplish this task. Even from scratch, the developing of such software is cheaper than hiring a human for a month or two.

Hence, the entire treatment process of digitized data requires fewer resources: human, financial, and time. After all, it’s much easier to create a search engine based on ElasticSearch and then look for all the related data with a single query.

3) Cloud data warehousing

A common problem with paper documents is that you have to keep all of them in one place, which takes quite a lot of space. Moreover, there are different risks to lose or deface them. After the digitization process, we can store not only scans but also the extracted data from these documents. Therefore, you can receive all valuable data from anywhere in the world via the Internet, while the originals are available only in one place on a material media.

Another reason to use cloud data warehousing – is the exchange of digitized documents. Even today, the Internet connection is rather unstable and heterogeneous. Depending on the differences in the connection quality (which can vary in some regions), it becomes impossible to process scanned documents efficiently.

The main reason why it happens is the fact that the scanned documents with good quality take a large amount of space on the hard drive. So, “heavy” files relatively hard to transfer via the Internet, especially with a poor connection. That is why large companies often send volumes of data by mail or courier delivery.

During the digitization process, special algorithms extract data from documents, significantly reducing the amount of transmitted data. While the size of the original raster-scanned document is 3mb, the amount of extracted data from this document can be about 30-50kb.

Of course, transferring 10,000 documents as 50kb each via the Internet is much easier than transfer the same amount of documents but 3mb per each.

How to extract data from on-paper documents

There are a huge number of documents, and each of them requires a special method of digitization. The method selection depends primarily on the complexity of the document, and then on the data that needs to be extracted.

Let’s look at the most popular document digitization methods.

1) Inexpensive or even free software appliсations

There are a large number of software solutions on the market that are designed to digitize a variety of documents. The main feature of this software is that it was made without sticking to any document type. It may seem that such software can process any document, but this is not entirely true. For the sake of justice, it’s worth to say that such software coping well with its task.

The majority of people are looking for a one-time way to extract information from a small number of well-standardized documents.

Of course, to solve such problems, there is no need to buy an expensive solution or even develop custom applications. People can process the entire volume of documents manually, and it just takes more time.

Here are some applications to help you process a small number of simple documents:

Office Lens (free)

  • Recognizes: camera shots;
  • Saves: DOCX, PPTX, PDF.

This service from Microsoft turns a smartphone or PC camera into a powerful document scanner. Using Office Lens, you can recognize text on any material media (primarily paper) and save it in one of the “office” formats or PDF. The resulting text files can be edited in Word, OneNote, and other Microsoft services integrated with Office Lens.

Adobe Scan (free)

  • Recognizes: camera shots;
  • Saves: PDF.

Adobe Scan also uses the smartphone’s camera to scan paper documents, but the main disadvantage is that it saves them in PDF format only. It is convenient to export the results to the cross-platform service Adobe Acrobat, which allows you to edit PDF files: select, underline and cross out words, perform text searches and add comments.

Free OCR to Word (free)

  • Recognizes: JPG, TIF, BMP, GIF, PNG, EMF, WMF, JPE, ICO, JFIF, PCX, PSD, PCD, TGA and other formats;
  • Saves: DOC, DOCX, TXT.

The Free OCR to Word desktop program recognizes user-selected images by extracting clear text without formatting. It can be copied to the clipboard, saved in TXT format, or exported to Word.

FineReader Online

Free: 5 pages/month + 10 after registration

Standard: 2000pages/ year – $50

Business: 5000pages/ year – $80

Enterprise: 10000pages/ year / one year – $275

  • Recognizes: JPG, TIF, BMP, PNG, PCX, DCX, PDF (not password protected);
  • Saves: DOC, DOCX, XLS, XLSX, ODT, TXT, RTF, PDF, PDF / A.

It is an online service that converts not only texts but also tables. Unfortunately, the free features of FineReader Online are limited. After registration, you will be able to process only ten pages without payment. But each month the service will charge another five pages as a bonus. Hence, free version of FineReader is more suitable for those who do not need recognition services too often.

Although applications are relatively inexpensive or even free, it is challenging to adapt these applications to process a vast volume of the data. They all require user participation in the process. Therefore, the process cannot be fully automated.

2) Specialized OCR software

As an alternative to low-cost software, there are more highly skilled solutions on the market. As a rule, these solutions solve one very narrow problem, but they do it very well.

Not so long ago, our specialists faced one problem: our partner wanted to extract data from more than 250,000 technical plans, which are replete with a large number of tags, maps, abbreviations. It is obvious that the usual solution will not be able to recognize such complex elements.

To solve this problem, we have created a custom document digitization platform based on machine learning.

We are among the first who successfully implemented computer vision (CV) technologies to power artificial intelligence to process a large number of documents with flexible structure and custom abbreviations.

Our engineers developed a custom set of machine learning models that determines the template of the document, accurately extracts data, links, and maps into the complete datasets.

Today it can be complicated to find a local vendor who is faced with the digitization of your documents type. So, if you have problems with the digitization of large volumes of documents – contact us. We can try to adapt our technology to your needs.

3) Human-powered document digitization.

It’s not always possible to find a vendor who has already solved your problem or a company that will be ready to adapt its solution to your documents. Do not despair.

There are a large number of companies (they call themselves data entry vendors) from India or the Philippines that without any problems digitize your documents exclusively with human resources. This becomes possible due to the significant difference in the cost of labor.

How it works:

– Every single document is divided into a large number of small pieces/parts.

– Each part is transferred to an employee who extracts information from this document. Thus, it becomes impossible to identify the document and maximum confidentiality can be achieved.

– After that, using specialized software, the pieces are reassembled into one document.

Unfortunately, the possibility of disclosure, theft or loss of some information cannot be ruled out. Also, this method is illegal for companies that work in the European Union. In particular, it contradicts the GDPR. However, some European companies continue to outsource this process to third countries.

Summary

Today, we use document digitization quite often. The simplest example when you need such a service is when you need to send digital copies of documents.

Sometimes you need to digitize old documents, especially different drawings, tables or schemes which, of course, must be converted to digital format without any changes or missing details.

In this article, we tried to answer the basic questions that we hear from our customers regarding the digitization of the documents. In general, this process is not as complicated as it seems at first sight and does not take so much time.

By the way, if you have any questions or the information seemed to you insufficiently accurate – be sure to contact us and we will answer all the questions and clarify necessary details.