Mobile capture: pushing the boundaries
From Document Manager Magazine Vol 19 No 03 - May/June
Dave Evans, Regional Sales Director at ABBYY UK Ltd., analyses how the rapid growth in smartphone use - and in the sophistication of the devices - might impact how we capture data
Technology - Mobile capture: pushing the boundaries
Mobile has been a significant growth area in communications for a long while. The rapid shift towards mobility can be seen globally. India's mobile subscriber base rose to 771.2 million at the end of January 2011, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which revealed that mobile penetration reached 64.7%. In Western Europe, Smartphone shipments reached 25.6 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010, up by 99.4% on the same period a year earlier, according to analyst firm IDC. And according to Canalys, almost 300 million smartphones were sold globally in 2010, which is 80% more than in 2009.
As the way we use our devices evolves, the importance of application mobility expands and now permeates a much broader range of industries. Mobile phones have become 'smart' - they have morphed gradually into the ultimate digital toolkit and personal assistant. From a device designed purely for taking calls, we now rely on our smartphones as our primary communication tool, for business communications on the go like email correspondence, mobile banking and social networking, with an ever-wider array of functions. This opens doors for different types of businesses to take advantage of the mobility phenomenon.
Mobile capture is one of the technologies expanding our horizons and delivering tangible benefits to businesses by unlocking innovative new functions for devices and connecting them with enterprise data management systems for advanced document management.
OCR: THE KEY TO UNLOCKING DATA
The concept is relatively straightforward - mobile capture refers to the process of using a camera to capture an image on a mobile device and transform the raw data in order to provide it in a useful format. To manipulate the textual information contained within the image, it must be converted to a recognisable digital format. The key component of this process is Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. OCR is digital analysis of a photo or scanned image - the process of reading and converting it to text in an editable and searchable electronic file format. Once OCR is performed on an image, a wealth of possibilities opens up. OCR technology is now so highly sophisticated, that mobile software is able to capture various types of data with an increasingly superior degree of accuracy, paving the way for ever more clever mobile services.
THE ENDLESS POSSIBLITIES OF DATA CAPTURE
To mirror the staggering growth of smartphone usage, there are now numerous examples of mobile capture projects making use of OCR technology, and many more in the pipeline. Technological advances mean that all smartphones now have a camera with an auto-focus lens, and growing numbers of pixels, with some already offering HD video. This extends OCR's capability of capturing additional information from a shot. For example, a mobile phone can 'read' business cards, extracting a person's details and saving it straight to your address book. ABBYY Business Card Reader for instance is an application which deploys OCR software to recognise, digitise and import information to the correct fields of the mobile address book. It can recognise business cards in 17 languages, and its high accuracy means that users don't need to spend time editing and correcting contact data.
The possibilities for deploying mobile capture in business environments are extensive and several businesses are actively deploying it. For example, mobile capture is being used to aid insurance and tax claims. Customers can photograph or even record a car accident on site, then fill in a digital form using insurance company software installed on the device and send a claim immediately, via mobile Internet. Similarly, taxpayers can file their taxes using their mobile phone. They can take a photo of their filled-in form and an OCR app makes sense of the image and automatically populates the digital tax form with the data, which can then be sent directly to the tax offices. Customers reap the advantages of a simpler and quicker settlement of their claim, while insurance companies and tax authorities are afforded significant time and money savings. This currently works for the less complicated tax claims and as technology drives forward it will be used for more complex scenarios in the future.
Mobile: ENHANCING DATA MANAGEMENT AND CUSTOMER SERVICE
The rise of mobile capture is expected to continue throughout 2011, with businesses realising the benefits and taking advantage of the technology at their fingertips. Mobile capture will particularly be welcomed by industries which rely on the fast processing of documents to boost quality of service. Mobile capture automates the data entry process, reducing manual workload and freeing up resources. It saves time and money and enables companies to optimise their workforce more effectively, especially when it comes to field sales forces. When visiting customers, sales representatives can scan, digitise and return contracts on the spot to the document management system, which then processes the forms. This means instant feedback can be obtained if the information is incomplete, saving the sales representative a trip back to the customer at a later date to collect missing information.
A key advantage of mobile capture is it allows immediate exchange of data between the supplier and end user as well as instant feeding of data into an enterprise data management system, in turn streamlining and enhancing document management. This will be a business driver in the coming months and numerous scenarios could come into play. For example, employees can photograph a receipt whilst travelling on business and enter it directly into the expenses handling system. One German train operator already uses mobile capture for maintenance work on wagons, reporting problems immediately via images. Thanks to OCR, traffic wardens can report parking offences and file them on the spot with the improved reliability offered by photographic proof.
THE FUTURE: SAAS DATA CAPTURE AND THE CLOUD
Mobile services have the power to integrate categories that were previously siloed, such as social media, business networking and Cloud Computing. For example, by sending business card data instantly to different accounts, like Salesforce and LinkedIn, users can thread together previously disparate connections. As Cloud services mature, mobile capture offers opportunities for businesses to host SaaS applications. We can expect more and more Cloud-based mobile data capture, where images will be processed, stored and accessed from anywhere. Cloud mobile capture could also prove to be a business model modifier, catalysing the development of software packages that are sold via subscriptions or on a pay-as-you-go basis as opposed to individual licence charges. It's certainly a 'watch this space' area for the future.
As technology advances and people live and work increasingly on the go, their social and business interactions will continue converging, and the possibilities offered by mobile devices will keep expanding. Mobile capture is a key instigator in opening doors to businesses wishing to streamline data management processes or offer innovative customer services. It also enables businesses to become more responsive and agile in the world of people on the move.
More info: www.abbyy.com