What is Optical Character Recognition Technology?

If you have worked in an office of some description and a document scanner has been present, you might well be familiar with the phrase Optical Character Recognition (OCR). If not, and you’ve seen this buzzword talked about more regularly of late, let’s outline what OCR technology is used for and some of its most beneficial uses found in recent years.

OCR: What Does It Do?

First things first, what does OCR technology actually do?

In essence, OCR is used to convert written text from images and video into text data that’s readable by machines and software programmes. It’s akin to facial recognition technology which helps to build databases of faces instead of digitised text documents. Arguably the most iconic use of OCR technology in recent decades was the attempt to digitise classic newspapers that had historic headlines and news stories which were a piece of our nation’s heritage.

More recently in historical terms, OCR has been utilised by the British Library, as it seeks to digitise and digitally preserve images and materials that are of fascinating historical value. The British Library has its own in-house digital preservation team which specialises in OCR technology, helping to ensure our past is still a very important part of our present.

Applications of OCR You May Not Have Heard Of

The financial and banking industries are very familiar with OCR technology. Increasingly, OCR is being used to improve the efficiency of handling and clearing handwritten cheques. A cashier will scan a handwritten cheque, the contents on the piece of paper will be converted into digital data, the signature will be verified and matched ready for the cheque to be cleared immediately in real time. All of this occurs without the need for human involvement. If this process becomes even more efficient over time, cheques could once again be a viable payment method for many, thanks to the reduced time it takes to transfer funds from payer to payee.

The online gaming industry is another surprising sector that’s benefiting greatly from this advanced technology. In recent years, live dealer casinos have cropped up, allowing players to sample their favourite casino games on their computer or smartphone at home, watching their games play out in a studio in real-time, managed by professionally trained dealers. It creates a slick, land-based casino experience that people are starting to enjoy without having to drive to their nearest brick-and-mortar establishment.

OCR tech has its pros and cons in the iGaming scene. One of the main cons is that most live table games like blackjack allow half-a-dozen human players to play alongside you, slowing your gameplay down. That’s why the classic version of one of the world’s most popular card games, as it is Blackjack, is still a popular alternative for people that don’t need the human interaction with the dealer to have fun.

Looking back at more practical uses of OCR rather than entertainment purposes, the healthcare sector is also heavily involved with using OCR today. While in the past doctors and surgeons had to rely on folders and files of patient data, all of this can now be digitally scanned to create a single digital store of data including previous treatments, illnesses, insurance payouts and so forth. It’s felt that OCR is playing a key role in improving the epidemiology of hospitals, curbing the spread of diseases and illnesses and improving the logistics of drugs and consumables orders.

Last but by no means least, the legal sector is also a benefactor of OCR technology. Given the reams of paperwork that solicitors handle on a day-to-day basis, whether its wills and statements or court judgements and filings, the ability to digitise all documents helps to create a highly efficient and organised document library. OCR in the legal sector and other important sectors benefit from the technology’s ability to make digitised versions searchable via key. Quicker access to legal documentation from thousands, even millions, of previous legal cases must be seen as a benefit for businesses and individuals alike.