An intelligent approach to information capture, and why RPA isn’t ideal

Designated ‘the world’s most extensive work-from-home experiment’, the COVID-19 crisis compelled millions of people across the globe into remote working almost overnight. Inevitably, some organisations were better prepared than others to manage this transition, and able to demonstrate greater resilience during these unpredictable times.

Pre-Covid research from Gartner revealed that nearly 90 per cent of senior business leaders consider digital transformation as key to their organisational success and a top priority. Nevertheless, just 40 per cent had achieved scale with their digital initiatives. With the pandemic acting as a stress test for businesses of every size in every industry sector, it rapidly became clear that those organisations that had been slower to embark on their digital transformation journeys proved less resilient. So how can such organisations turn things around?

Embrace digital

A surprisingly large proportion of organisations still rely too heavily on paper-based processes. In today’s digital world, this is setting them back. The companies that shifted to remote work overnight were able to do so because their processes enabled them to continue with business as usual – even from “afar”. Beyond improving operational resilience, fully embracing a digital-first approach offers data-driven insights, improves collaboration across departments, fosters a digital-first culture and transforms the customer experience.

Most CIOs and business leaders already know they need to digitally transform their operations – now more than ever with the global pandemic piling pressure on organisations in a bid for their very survival. But they’re not always sure which tools are best suited to help them deliver on this objective. This lack of focus on making information usable is why approximately 84 per cent of digital transformation projects have traditionally failed. One key to avoiding DX failure is to ingest and extract information as soon as it comes in contact with an organisation. Incoming documents need to be turned into business-usable content immediately and integrated into standard business processes in order for an organisation to achieve a meaningful digital transformation.

An intelligent approach to information capture

One tool that allows enterprises to extract information, route it to where it needs to go and store it for longer-term retrieval is Intelligent Capture technology. When people hear the term ‘capture’, they often think of optical character recognition (OCR) solutions, which have been around for 25 years or more. But Intelligent Capture encompasses much more than OCR. It includes creating metadata and routing content to the right person or system.

OCR is still part of the basic capture process, creating digital copies of documents. But the ‘intelligent’ portion occurs after documents are captured electronically with the solution automatically extracting keywords, classifying documents, connecting content to business processes and ensuring information gets to the correct systems.

Intelligent Capture can also be augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve even greater automation. AI can enable an Intelligent Capture system to understand human syntax, even in unstructured data such as an e-mail or tweet. A full-featured AI solution will have true language processing, allowing it to correctly interpret an author’s sentiment (happy, upset, positive, or negative) and separate factual statements from opinion. A combined AI and Intelligent Capture solution allows enterprises to route information without having to re-train their system and establish a true foundation for digital transformation — flexible, automated technology that gets information to the users and systems that need it most in real time.

Why RPA isn’t ideal

One of the trendiest digital transformation technologies currently is Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which uses software-based robots that boost the efficiency and accuracy of employees working with large volumes of standardised data. While the term may conjure futuristic images of robots automating all kinds of processes, the reality is much different. RPA is ideally suited for backwards compatibility and the automation of labour-intensive manual processes – for example, capturing data from third-party systems.

An RPA solution can be very useful in some applications because it can capture information from standardised documents efficiently. But it’s not as effective in digital transformation projects as many observers believed it might be a couple of years ago. The technology has gaps. Unlike Intelligent Capture, RPA has difficulty handling non-standard information, including unstructured data such as e-mail. RPA providers are trying to get past this shortcoming by partnering with AI and capture providers, but if RPA requires two additional solutions to be bolted on in order to truly achieve digital transformation, it’s not a solid investment.

A fast lane to digital transformation

Intelligent Capture, combined with AI, offers a range of benefits that can speed an organisation’s path to digital transformation. These include:

  • A single point of capture — All paper and electronic documents are transformed into business-ready content without user intervention. Information is automatically routed to the appropriate systems and users in real-time.
  • Eliminates tedious tasks — Users no longer need to undertake tasks such as entering metadata. It’s automatically captured allowing employees to be redeployed to higher-value activities.
  • One platform for all departments worldwide — All users and processes are supported by one system, no matter where they happen to work. Human Resources, Accounts Payable and Customer Service can all leverage the same solution.
  • Simpler compliance and information management — Content is classified as soon as it enters an organisation – whether it’s e-mail, paper, or a PDF attachment — based on security and compliance tags, Personally Identifying Information and geography.

Deploying Intelligent Capture allows organisations to make better, faster decisions. For example, in the financial services industry, employees could conduct better background checks for loans based on information from both unstructured and structured data sources. For fraud detection, Intelligent Capture solutions can determine customers’ purchase patterns and location to instantly trigger an alarm if it detects an anomaly.

In healthcare, Intelligent Capture could be used to gather all information pertaining to a particular patient and store it all in a secure, digital format, giving clinical staff instant access to the information they need. The solution could also be set to automatically apply restricted access to sensitive information, ensuring private patient information is handled correctly.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp relief the need for organisations to digitally transform. Ultimately, enterprises undergoing digital transformation will be better positioned to not only face adversity but make the most of the upturn in a post-pandemic world. The simplest way to achieve this goal is to automate as many processes as possible and get information to where it’s needed, quickly. RPA is great at automating simple processes, but it doesn’t work well at performing more complex tasks without significant re-engineering and investment. Intelligent Capture is more flexible and can transition with an organisation as it evolves.