Nowadays, many business clients are willing to replace paper documents with digital to optimise processes and budgets. This tendency seriously affects worldwide invoice scanning growth. In addition, the active usage of modern technologies fuels the development of particular solutions that automate document processing.
Also, the situation with COVID-19 has had an impact on the invoice scanning market. Due to social isolation and lockdown series, many companies have applied modern solutions such as invoice scanners for easier and remote document processing. Currently, the global document scanner market size is predicted to expand at a CAGR of 12.86%, reaching € 90.40 million by 2027, considering the Industry Research report.
In this publication, we make an overview of invoice scanners: the technology definition, use cases, the work process, the benefits, and the limitations.
Invoice scanner definition
An invoice scanner is a unique device that converts document data from paper into a digital machine-readable format. This solution transforms a two-dimensional object, for example, an invoice, into a flow of bits by raster scanning and quantization. Document scanners are a part of document imaging systems (COM) as facsimile machines, multifunction printers, and archive writers. Modern document scanners include physical devices and special software.
Invoice scanner types
Depending on the level of a technological combination, invoice scanning solutions can be shared on specific groups. There are commonly three types of invoice scanning solutions that businesses widely implement:
1. Scan invoices and capture vendor and total data with optical character recognition (OCR). Such solutions allow organisations to add some level of automation and efficiency. They scan invoices with a copier or scanner and move them through a particular application. Users can point and click in the interface to fill fields, manually type information, apply ERP and accounting system search for vendors, and move scanned invoices into structured folders, accounting libraries, or another content management system.
2. Capture an invoice header with document analytics software and OCR. With these solutions you can extract the following information automatically: an invoice number, an invoice date, an invoice vendor name, and an invoice total. Modern solutions use analytical algorithms to improve accuracy and reduce end-user interactions. In the end, all information is sent to a unified accounting storage.
3. Capture an invoice header and line item data with the combination of advanced solutions.
Advanced invoice scanning software captures all invoice data automatically. They take all data mentioned above and line item/table data of invoice. Then this software allows you to extract data into a system and save it using storage technology. For example, you can use the extracted data to compare an invoice to a purchase order. Moreover, OCR data can be moved to an ERP or accounting system for further data updates.
Invoice scanner use cases
Use cases of invoice scanning shares into two groups considering invoice formats. Some formats are known and usual for company document processing, and some are unknown and new. 1. Known invoice format Some companies work with the definite bunch of vendors and suppliers that do not change fast. These businesses process invoices from the same set of organisations month after month. In this case, businesses know invoice formats well and consider them to scan invoices. This known invoice format is widespread in well-established constructive, legal, wholesales, and other large businesses. The usage of automated invoice scanning is perfect in this predictable scenario. For such tasks, companies can choose between different solutions:
- In the first step, companies can use pre-trained invoice scanning provided by automated OCR software.
- In the second step, they can upgrade the pre-trained invoice scanner for recognition and capture data from the specific types of received invoice formats.
In both situations, when different invoices are known in advance, it is pretty simple for automated invoice scanners to find data fields and extract relevant data. 2. Unknown invoice format Some businesses, for example, in e-commerce and other online sectors, often have to manage a quickly changing list of suppliers. These organisations work with many different invoice formats. They can receive invoices in a new format unknown to their invoice scanning solutions. The help of a pre-trained invoice scanner might not provide relevant results in this case with unknown invoices. Improving an invoice scanner with a template-based approach could not be very useful. In this situation, an advanced way to scan invoices can be very effective.
- Firstly, invoice scanning software trains on a representative set of invoice formats and improves AI and ML abilities to work with these unknown formats.
- Secondly, software to scan invoices learns permanently from processed invoices and becomes more accurate with time.
When invoice scanning software deals with the unknown format, it is better to apply a validation interface to review and validate extracted data rapidly. It is available to set validation rules that will trigger alert flags about possible errors and inaccurate extraction.
Invoice scanning process
You can easily share digitised invoices, but the data they contain is not accessible for the digital business process. Invoices represented in PDF or scanned JPEG files cannot be seamlessly moved into ERP systems because they are not machine-readable. In this case, special software can scan invoices, extract data into ERP systems, and provide it in a machine-readable format for further iterations.
Invoice scanners use OCR technology to take information from digital versions of invoices. OCR gives invoice scanners the ability to recognise and capture data. In our publication about OCR tools, you can get more detailed information about this solution.
Invoice scanners can combine the abilities of AI and ML with OCR. In this case, they can be trained to extract only relevant data. This invoice scanning software can work «out of the box» using pre-trained invoice scanning algorithms.
Notification: The process of automated invoice scanning.
There are general steps of its work:
- You need to upload invoices into the scanner.
- The invoice scanner extracts relevant data according to your business rules.
- The data is represented as a machine-readable structured output (CSV, JSON, DOC).
- The data can be moved into ERP software for other digital business processes.
Advanced invoice scanning software lets you construct and train customised invoice scanning models. There are some usual steps to build and train custom invoice OCR:
- You need to upload invoices to use as a training set.
- Teach algorithms by marks and annotations of key invoice data fields on the training set.
- Train your invoice scanner considering your custom inputs.
- Test the custom invoice scanner on your actual invoices.
- You can use your custom invoicing scanner if the result is accurate.
- You can repeat the pre-training process with more sample invoices if the result is not satisfying.
Benefits of automated invoice scanning
Invoice scanning software provides valuable advantages. Understanding these features can help businesses make balanced decisions when they choose document processing software. Benefits of invoice scanners:
- Higher speed and accuracy, fewer errors in comparison with manual solutions.
- Ability to extract invoice metadata (a vendor name, an invoice number, and a date) and line item data.
- Reduced invoice processing time to take early payment discounts.
- Cost savings by eliminating ineffective manual processes.
- Optimisation of employees’ time on strategic tasks than on repeated and monotonous tasks.
- Easily scaled process depending on data volume changes.
- Ability to integrate with an ERP system to create permanent digital workflow.
- Ability to automate different types of data verifications.
- Advanced invoice scanners apply algorithms that learn permanently.
- Advanced scanning solutions not based on templates. They can learn to work more accurately and effectively.
- AI, ML, and DL technologies allow invoice scanners to work effectively with limited data.
- AI and OCR solutions extract tabular data and finer details surrounding line items.
Alternatives to automated invoice scanning software
Some organisations are not ready to apply automated invoice scanning software. In this case, they can use some methods mentioned below to process their invoices. These methods have noticeable limitations in comparison with automated software.
- Manual data entry. This method takes a lot of time and sometimes leads to mistakes. Also, it makes post-processing and validation very difficult.
- Outsourcing data-entry. This method helps to cut data extraction costs, but data security and quality can be at high risk.
- Online converters. This solution can manage not many files simultaneously and provide low accuracy.
- Table extraction tools. For integration into current business workflows, it needs additional development resources. This solution works with native PDF files and cannot effectively process invoice scans.
- Electronic data interchange (EDI). This process allows companies to exchange invoices electronically. Need to be adopted by every related party.
Invoice scanning technologies have made a noticeable impact on the document processing market. Improved levels of accuracy and effectiveness brings valuable results to various sectors of businesses. This technology optimises document processing expenses, time, and human resources required.
Among different types of solutions to scan invoices, your business can choose the most appropriate depending on invoice types, volumes, and technological possibilities. For example, the Graip.AI platform combines the power of rules-based robotic process automation and self-learning artificial intelligence. It provides Sales Request Automation for sales tasks that reduces document processing by 85% and Invoice Automation for accounting that provides 99% accurate invoice processing.