Data extraction from paper forms – a rethink on best practice


Imagine if supermarket checkouts relied on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to scan the printing on product labels instead of scanning barcodes. Speed and accuracy would be so utterly compromised it’s difficult to conceive the chaos.

As ludicrous as this example seems, it illustrates what frequently happens in document scanning operations where OCR is used to extract data from paper forms. Organizations design and publish PDF Fillable forms that can be completed digitally, then use OCR to extract data from the printed forms when they’re returned. This more or less achieves the result, but the question remains: Why use OCR for data extraction when faster and more accurate technology exists for printed PDF Fillable forms? If your organization owns, designs and publishes the form, then it makes sense to apply technology to the form before it’s printed rather than after.

Consider the typical scenario of an organization that publishes forms. Form-issuing organizations publish forms as PDF files on the website for general access, or perhaps email a PDF form to clients to complete and return. Assuming PDF is the chosen publishing format, customers are better served if the form is published as a PDF Fillable form which can be completed onscreen before printing. The text filled to a PDF fillable form produces a neat and tidy printed form which is essential for OCR. More significantly, however, PDF Fillable forms can be enhanced to dynamically render a 2D barcode symbol containing all of the data entered by the form user.

Ultraforms® is technology that does exactly that. Ultraforms generates 2D barcodes that are essentially a portable database of the form’s contents. The 2D barcode symbol is categorically the fastest and most accurate technology available to extract data from a printed PDF fillable form. A printed form with a 2D barcode means that the variable data contents of the form are instantly machine readable with 100% accuracy, simply by scanning the 2D barcode.

2D barcode technology for PDF Fillable forms has been used successfully for more than ten years in high-performance forms processing environments. Because the technology is fully contained within the PDF file, it can be used offline and has little or no impact on wider IT architecture in an organization. As a result it’s quick to implement. 2D barcode technology can be added to existing PDF Fillable forms and therefore does not require form redevelopment. There’s no server or desktop software to install and no plugins are required. The 2D barcode data output can be configured in any format that’s required by a line of business or ECM applications.

Business benefits include:

  • 100% accurate forms data capture (compared to the data entered on the form).
  • Lower costs due to elimination of manual data entry, including key-from-image, and complex form scanning preparation and templating.
  • OCR not necessary when data captured from printed PDF Fillable forms with 2D barcode.

Some business processes, and even technology solutions, persist due to historical precedent or inertia. The most efficient method of forms data extraction involves an intersection between forms technology and scanning technology. Today, relatively few forms issuing organisations have exploited the benefits of dynamic 2D barcodes within their PDF Fillable forms. If your organization publishes PDF forms and wants to reduce the cost or improve efficiency of forms data capture, serious consideration should be given to 2D barcode technology within PDF Fillable forms.

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