Digital Ink – it’s not OCR or ICR

Feb 03

Digital ink is the approach of having a touch screen device that monitors a users movements with a stylus on the screen to determine character was written. This is not OCR or more specifically ICR. Very often companies have asked for OCR technology when they meant digital ink and vice versa. OCR and digital ink overlap but not always. There are cases where you simply cannot do away with paper, and not to mention digital ink does not process typed text.

The first time the technology was seen was back when Apple released the Newton. The newton was the first PDA that had a touchscreen and stylus. Later Apple sold Newton to become Palm Computer. At that time you had to re-learn how to write characters according to a guide. The characters were specifically structure to provide the best recognition and then had to be completed in a single hand-stroke. When mastered, the recognition was very good. Now any tablet PC has a basic version of digital ink software. Digital ink competes with ICR intelligent character recognition or hand-print. Whereas ICR technology is looking at an image of characters written, digital ink is monitoring hand strokes as the character is being written.

The accuracy difference between the two is an argument that can very easily be lost for both sides. There are times when digital ink is way more accurate and times when ICR of paper forms is more accurate. The key really is the business process that the technology is fitting into. Both have their place. Digital ink is usually combined with an elaborate data entry and content management process. Most often digital ink is not about getting a substantial amount of text from the operator but more about the operator answering quick, simple questions usually requiring no writing at all. The amount of characters entered in a digital ink scenario vs. a ICR of a form scenario is many times less. You will not see tablet PCs sent out in the mail to survey a customer base.

The biggest place digital ink is used today is in health-care where the drive is to increase it’s adoption even more. The purpose of the technology in this space is to rapidly populate medical records at the point of examination. However health-care still remains to be one of the top paper generating industries requiring OCR and ICR. This shows that the technologies both satisfy very different needs and should not be confused with each other.

Chris Riley – About

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Path to simple yet robust document routing

Dec 30

When it comes to the input path that documents follow, for many it’s as simple as scan, convert, save, but others require more complex work-flows. The good news is there are tools out there to perform even the most advanced work-flows you could imagine. The bad news, they are expensive. I’m here to tell you about a way of combining your scanner and data capture, OCR, and document conversion software to make more complex work-flows without the premium.

By using settings that come with most document scanners and the ability of most data capture, OCR, and document conversion products to utilize hot-folders ( watch folders ) you can create robust multi-step work-flows out of the box. What you need is a scanner that supports multiple destinations usually 9 or more. This is indicated by an LED on your document scanner which at the point of a batch scan allows you to pick a destination number. Second you will need all the software required to perform the conversions needed for final result. In our example we will want to be able to OCR, data capture, compress and archive.

Basically the task is to create a funnel for your documents and the end result is saved where you want final destination to be. If your scanner supports what is called duel-stream then you can be working with two funnels simultaneously making your work-flow all the more robust. The first part of the funnel is identifying the document type. Each of the 9 destinations on your scanner should be configured for one document type ( you may want it to be one destination per business process instead ). The configuration would include the scan settings, 300 DPI of course, and what folder the document will go in. This is just the staging folder for the next step. Lets assume that we setup destination 1 for invoices and our scanner supports duel-stream. We want the invoices when it’s all said and done to have one copy to saved in a search-able directory, where the file is both compressed and in PDF/A format. Then we want another copy of the same invoice to be data captured and put in a working directory for someone to review. Lets put it all together.

Destination one on the scanner is configured for invoices. The first copy of any invoice will be saved to a hot-folder that the PDF conversion utility is watching, the second copy will be scanned into a hot-folder that the data capture product is watching. Because these are hot folders, both copies are picked up instantly and processed by each application. Our requirement for the second copy was only to be data captured and exported to a working directory, so we have now completed it’s task. For the first copy we have more conversions to do. The PDF conversion utility saves the OCRed search-able PDF to a hot-folder for the compression utility, the compression utility compresses the PDF and saves it to a hot-folder for the archive utility, and FINALLY the archive utility saves the result in our final destination for all invoices. Below is a basic diagram of the work-flow we created for invoices ( destination 1 )

Scan >PDF Creation >Compression >Archive >Final Result
> Data Capture >Final Result

Although it may have been slightly difficult to read, hopefully it’s clear that above is just one work-flow getting the most out of the tools offered by both the document scanner and conversion software packages. Now you can proceed to program each other destination with different document types and their associated work-flows. Programmers and tech savvy individuals will be able to easily envision ways to add scripts to make the process even more robust with email notifications etc. This approach is not a replacement for advanced work-flows but a middle ground between no work-flow and very pricey work-flows.

Chris Riley – About

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Hand-print or Handwriting, makes a big difference

Jan 14

When it comes to forms processing and data capture, working with documents that have hand-print vs. handwriting is a huge difference in accuracy and validity. Sometimes the difference between these two is not so clear. So how do you tell if your form is hand-print, or handwriting, or better yet both!

ICR ( Intelligent Character Recognition ) is the algorithm used in the place of OCR for characters generated by a human hand. The algorithm is more dynamic as a persons hand-print changes slightly by the minute. It’s possible to be very accurate when processing hand-print forms when the form is designed correctly. When doing this type of forms processing you will always have quality assurance steps, but you can get close to the accuracy of any OCR process. Very often forms that were not created with data capture or automatic extraction in mind will contain handwriting. The reason for this is that hand-print is usually guided by the form itself. Forms without hand-print cannot expect to be processed at a high accuracy. So what makes hand-print, hand-print?

Mono-spaced text: What this means that each character as it’s filled out is the same distance apart as all the other characters. In handwriting very often you will have characters that connect, in the extreme form this is cursive. When characters touch or are not spread out equally you get improper segmentation and get characters clumped together as one or split in half during recognition. Mono-spaced text is usually achieved using boxes on the form guiding the user to fill within the boxes.

Uniform Height and Width: Similar to mono-spaced text the text as it is filled in should have a more or less uniform height or width. This forces the completer to not introduce as many variable elements as they would in straight handwriting and increases accuracy. This is also accomplished using boxes on the form keeping users within boundaries.

Stable Base-Line: This aspect of hand-print is the lessor thought about but very important. Text must always be on the same horizontal base-line. What happens typically in handwriting is a user varies up and down on an invisible baseline. You may have noticed sometimes when you write that the end of any line is lower then the beginning. Baselines are important for OCR and ICR to get proper character segmentation and recognition of a few key characters such as “q” and “p” the “tail” characters.

Sans-serif: The last element is keeping characters sans-serif. The reason for this is the extra tails to characters can cause confusion between certain characters like “o” vs. “q” and “c” vs. “e”. The way to achieve this is less obvious, it is by putting a guide on the top of the form that shows a good character and a bad character.

ICR is a technology for Hand-print recognition and can be very accurate when having the proper guides. Today handwriting and cursive automation is not complete and usually only successful when augmented with other technologies such as data base look-up and CAR and LAR. Sometimes the difference between the two is unclear, but the above 4 elements provide a clear definition of hand-print. The best hand-print that can be found is by the highly training creators of engineering drawings whose print is so perfect it resembles very closely typographic text.

Chris Riley – About

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Multi-Pass document recognition

Nov 04

When accuracy is the primary concern in document recognition, the best technique is multiple passes of the OCR or recognition process. Similar to how you would have a document manually entered two to three times, why not have an OCR engine convert it 3, 4, or even 5 times all with different settings?

The important thing to note in multiple pass recognition is that you NEVER use a different engine for the same process. Reconciling results from two separate engines is self-defeating. This is often called voting and does not work because of the fact that each engine represents the confidence of characters differently, so you might end up always picking one engine that is less accurate just because it told you it was more confident than the more accurate engine. But using the same engine multiple times with different settings is consistent and a good idea.

An example of a scenario where this is being used successfully is with documents that have both machine and hand-printed text. A first read can be done with an OCR engine with settings A and a second read can be done with the same OCR engine but with settings B. In the areas where both produce just garbage text might indicate that in that area is hand print. Now you can use ICR ( hand-print engine ) in that region to pickup additional information. That is 3 total passes of recognition. The results are combined to make the final document.

At minimum, 3 runs of the same engine would be ideal as the statistical chance of two different settings producing the same error reduce drastically and the final output is nearly as good as it’s going to be. Some document types lend themselves to multiple pass recognition over others. Sometimes its determined by the environment, for example, environments that have a lot of traditional documents mixed with invoice looking documents would benefit from having a full-page read with standard settings on every page and a full-page read with special document analysis designed for documents with lines and tables.

While multiple pass OCR slows down the entire process, it’s still faster and more accurate than manual entry most of the time. I recommend this approach for any organization where accuracy is the primary concern.

Chris Riley – About

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