The Multiple Methods of Data Capture

ProcessFlows frequently gets asked about the different methods of data capture.  Malcolm Wilkes explains them simply.

Malcolm Wilkes

Business Process Automation projects have to begin with capturing the data.

  • Capturing data from business systems has long been considered the cheap easy option to start a process, because the data is there, it’s free!
  • But how did it get there in the first place?
  • In many cases the data has been input from unstructured, semi structured and structured sources (letters, invoices, email, fax, forms etc).
  • When you consider the effort required to manually key the information, is it free, really?
  • The good news is that there are lots of ways to capture data from documents which can save you a lot of money!
  • The cost saving that can be achieved for your business is likely to be more important than the cost of the method employed.
  • This is a general guide, which will hopefully outline the choices and help you decide which capture method or methods are best suited to populating your business process automation projects and your budget.
  • The £ symbol against each method is a very basic indicator of the cost associated.
  • The more £’s, the higher the cost of the method!


  • The trick is therefore to ensure you employ the method that provides the best balance between business efficiency and cost.
  • Identifying the correct solution for your situation is key to a winning project.

Manual data entry (keying): £££

This is the labour intensive manual entry of data from sources/documents. Used where volumes of data are low and the cost of alternative methods cannot be justified.

Offshore data entry (keying): ££

As above, but outsourcing the task of manual data entry (keying) to a third party organisation (often overseas). Suitable for higher volumes of unstructured data (invoices, purchase orders, statements). More cost effective than doing it yourself. Also used in applications where no one individual should be keying all data. For example, account number and sort code.

Single click: £

Single click is an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) tool that can be used to capture machine produced characters (typewritten) and populate fields in any Line of Business application through simple mapping. Ideal for low volume desktop, ad-hoc capture applications.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition): £ to ££

OCR technology allows you to capture consistent machine produced data as pages or characters in preset zones. Automatically recognises machine produced characters (computer fonts). Suitable for all volumes of consistent data. A large range of OCR tools exist all with differing strengths, weaknesses and costs.

ICR (Intelligent Character Recognition): £££

The ‘thinking’ version of OCR commonly used for semi structured document types such as Invoices. As above but also ‘translates’ hand written characters into computer language. Where appropriate ICR technology can drastically reduce data capture costs usually in high volume application. For example 30,000+ invoices per annum. A range of ICR products exist with the most advanced incorporating “learning” capabilities to help increase the level of success over time. Software which has the ability to “learn” is very important to hit ROI (Return on Investment).

Bar code recognition: £

Barcodes are quickly and easily acknowledged by recognition software, this is why we see them used for stock tracking in supermarkets, shops and baggage at airports. They work wrapped around a tin of beans, so they can work on your documents! Barcodes can very easily be introduced to documents such as proof of delivery notes, membership forms, application forms, gift aid etc.

Form based intelligent capture: ££

Suitable for a range of consistent document types like forms, questionnaires, application forms, test papers, this list goes on. The Forms software products are rules based, template based or a combination of the two. The selection of the correct product is key and dependent upon the forms that you ingest.

Intelligent Document Recognition (IDR): £££

IDR software automatically identifies and captures information from multiple types of unstructured documents, letters, emails etc. Therefore ideal for applications such as automated Digital Mailrooms.
Rules, specified by users, allows it to find specific text, key words, number strings (e.g. I’d like to notify CHANGE OF ADDRESS or any combination of these words) on a document, identify the document type and extract the relevant data. It learns as it goes and remembers anything new for the future. Ideal for high volumes where classification and indexing of incoming documents is key (e.g. customer services).

Methods of capture from electronic formats – £ to ££££

  • Capturing data from source (digital) documents and forms
    Capturing digital data directly does away with the practice of turning digital data into paper just so it can be captured! Tools such as Formate automate the capture of multiple types of digital data and utilise it within the business process. In addition Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) technologies are designed for two systems to talk to each other and are not human readable. Formate can capture and format an EDI stream to create human readable documents and upload them to a document management system to store along with your scanned documents.
  • Legacy data import
    You can capture and more importantly positively index the data held in legacy systems (mainframes), which is typically hard to access (unless you are in the IT team), and pull it into the everyday business systems. Products such as Alchemy(Datagrabber), Formate and Onbase do the job. The full ‘live’ content of mainframe documents is made available for rapid search reducing access times in real life from hours to seconds.
  • Voice Capture
    In addition to the more familiar forms of communication which are captured as part of business process automation (email, web forms and fax), voice commands can also be captured and used to automatically initiate a business process. You will be familiar with the technology if you have updated your electric or gas meter readings by phone!
    Applications such as CallXpress provide the ability to capture voice commands – not just for business process triggers, but to store voice records alongside all other forms of communication in a document management system for future reference and to convert speech to text.

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