Advantages and disadvantages of optical character recognition

Optical character recognition also known as text recognition is a technology that is used to convert images and other scanned documents into computer-editable text. The OCR technology uses software and an optical character reader to convert images, handwritten, and scanned documents into machine text readable documents.

An optical character reader is categorized as an input device of the computer since it allows scanning and inputting the images to the computer as text.

OCR’s main benefit is to automate and increase efficiency in the data entry process. It also reduces the cost of data entry. However, the technology is expensive to implement when using advanced software. It also has limited languages that it can recognize and it doesn’t necessarily maintain the original document formats.

How OCR technology works.

To use the technology you will require a hardware optical character reader or a document scanner. You will also need OCR software and the document or image to be scanned.

First scan the document or the image using the scanner, then import it to the OCR software. The software uses databases of characters to try and recognize the scanned image with the respective text from the database.

The software categorizes the scanned image into dark and white parts of the document. The dark parts are the text to be converted while the white is the background. It then uses either pattern or feature recognition of the dark parts to convert them into text.

Pattern recognition uses a database of text in the software to compare with what is in the document. Feature recognition on the other side uses predetermined rules about the specific character to recognize them.

Before the conversion, the software cleans the image and tries and remove errors. More advanced OCR systems are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to recognize the language, style, and fonts used among other features. This technology is called Intelligence Character Recognition (ICR).

Uses of Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Optical character recognition technology has wide application areas, especially for those who deal with a lot of bulky data entry. Some of the uses of OCR technology include the following.

  1. Automation of data entry. Organizations or businesses that deal with a lot of documents that need daily data entry can use OCR. the document can be scanned and then the software is used for advanced conversion and processing to convert images into text. This saves time compared to using manual data entry.
  2. Improving document accessibility for people with visual impairment. When a document is in image format computer cannot use voice to read the image. However, when it is converted into text then the narrator of other text readers can be used to read the document. This makes the document accessible to all users.
  3. OCR converts hard-copy documents into editable text formats. When a document is printed it cannot be edited unless it is converted back to soft-copy. OCR can be used to convert printout text back to machine-readable documents.
  4. When dealing with a large volume of documents you need to search the document for information. OCR converts a document into a searchable format. You can convert a document from an image into text and search for data from it.
  5. Optical character recognition technology can be used to convert handwritten manual scripts or notes into text-editable documents. This saves time, instead of typing the whole manual script.

Advantages of Optical Character Recognition.

  1. Using OCR for data entry increases the speed of data entry since the process is automated. Instead of keying in all the data, it is scanned and converted to editable text.
  2. Since the process is automated it reduces the number of data entry clerks that would have been required for data entry. This reduces the cost of data entry.
  3. Compared to manual data entry use of OCR is more accurate. OCR reduces human data entry errors.
  4. By converting a document from an image to editable text the system makes the document searchable. This makes it efficient to find data even in large achieve of information.

Disadvantages OCR

  1. Acquisition and maintenance of an OCR system are expensive. Advanced software such as Intelligence Character Recognition (ICR) is even more expensive. 
  2. The quality of the scanned document determines the quality of the output. If the document is not clear or it has errors, they will be reflected on the output document.
  3. The system is limited to only characters on the database of features and patterns. If the character is not on it database it may not be recognized.
  4. OCR is only limited to a few languages that they can recognize.
  5. The software’s main focus is character recognition hence it doesn’t necessarily maintain the formatting of the original document. The font size, style, spacing, and indentation are not considered. This means you require more time to format the document.

Examples of OCR Software

  1. Nanonets
  2. ReadIRIS
  3. ABBYY FineReader
  4. Kofax OmniPage
  5. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
  6. Tesseract
  7. SimpleOCR
  8. Amazon Textract