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Understanding the Importance of Forms Workflow Automation Tools

Forms have long been used to provide organizations with important information about their customers. For a financial services or insurance company, that information might be used to determine eligibility for a loan or set a policy rate. Legal teams and healthcare providers, on the other hand, often use them to quickly gather information that could be relevant to a client’s case or a patient’s care. By building forms workflows into their applications, developers can provide these organizations with the tools they need to improve efficiency and provide better service to their customers.

A Better Way to Capture Data

At its core, a forms workflow is designed to capture data from completed forms and route that information to the appropriate destination. That end point will vary based on the application. In some cases it could be used to autopopulate database entries. Other systems may feed it into machine learning algorithms to identify trends or provide predictive insights. Before any of that can happen, however, automated workflows with forms recognition capabilities need to be in place to identify various form types and extract information from them using various forms of optical recognition.

The primary benefits of workflow automation are speed and accuracy. By building a forms workflow within their applications, developers can help their customers process submitted forms much more efficiently than they could by hand. Even if manual data entry wasn’t so prone to human error, it would still be a waste of valuable resources to have skilled employees performing such a repetitive, routine task. Automating this sort of work is often the first step in maximizing performance in other areas of an organization because it frees up resources that can be directed toward higher-value tasks.

Say Goodbye To Paper (Mostly)

Organizations have talked about going “paperless” for decades, but they frequently find it much more difficult to do so in practice. That’s largely because physical forms continue to be used across many industries. Converting these paper forms into digital format as quickly as possible is critically important. Without some way of incorporating them into an automated workflow, inefficiencies and manual errors will continue to creep back into business processes. 

A forms workflow needs to be able to handle scanned forms images in addition to purely digital documents. Robust forms identification tools are essential for this process because they have the ability to match any submitted form to a library of predefined templates. Without identification capabilities, applications would need to be given specific information about every form. At best, submitted forms would need to be manually presorted before they could be scanned and uploaded for processing rather than being converted into digital format all at once and identified automatically.

Recognition and Extraction

Once forms are scanned, uploaded, and identified into an application, the data capture process can begin. While digital forms can easily send information contained in fields to the proper destination, a scanned form is just a static document image. Even if the form was filled out digitally and never existed as a paper document, the fields may not be responsive or the entire form may be nothing more than a flattened PDF image. In these cases, the only way to reliably capture data is to implement some type of optical recognition.

Optical Character Recognition

For machine printed text, forms workflows can deploy Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to identify and extract information from an identified form. High-quality OCR engines can read multiple languages, allowing them to capture data from almost any source and send it to the next phase of an automated workflow. When extracting text, OCR tools can be set to carry out full-page extraction, which pulls text from the entire form, or zonal extraction, which focuses the data capture effort on a smaller, predetermined area. The latter approach is much more common with forms processing because it allows the application to set parameters on each zone to enhance performance. If the OCR engine is instructed to look for only numbers in one field and specific regular expressions in another, it will be able to identify and extract text faster and more accurately.

Intelligent Character Recognition

Of course, many physical forms submitted for processing will not be filled out with standardized digital fonts, but rather by hand using a pen or pencil. For these handwritten forms, Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) will need to be deployed to read and extract field contents. Although identifying handwritten text is a much more challenging undertaking, the combination of a powerful ICR engine and good form design can greatly improve accuracy and processing times to keep information moving through automated workflows.

Optical Mark Recognition

Forms frequently use checkboxes or fillable bubbles to indicate important information. When scanned images are run through a forms workflow for processing, applications need to be able to quickly identify the presence of a mark and apply the conditional information associated with it. Today’s forms workflow tools utilize Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) to detect the presence or absence of marks automatically. They can also check the entire form to determine what information might be missing, such as essential fields or signatures.

Unlock Your Forms Workflow Potential with the FormSuite Collection

Building an automated workflow for forms processing requires a variety of software tools and specialized imaging expertise. It’s a challenging task that becomes even more difficult when developers are facing tight deadlines for other application features. With the right forms workflow SDKs, software teams can rapidly integrate the features needed to identify a variety of forms and capture vital data using full-page or zonal text recognition.

Accusoft’s FormSuite Collection bundles our powerful forms toolkits into a single, easily deployed package. Whether you’re using FormFix to identify and align forms, cleaning up scanned images for better recognition results with ScanFix Xpress, or deploying fast, accurate OCR and ICR with SmartZone, FormSuite provides all the SDK resources your team needs to unlock your application’s workflow automation potential. Learn more about what’s included with the FormSuite Collection by downloading our detailed fact sheet.