When we are using an optical character recognition system, sometimes we get the feeling that epithets like “one-trick pony” or “fair weather friend” are appropriate. OCR is excellent when things are going well, but when things are not going well, there is some risk of being left in the lurch.
Suppose that the client has very heavily annotated the bank statements. OCR will be useless, even when we can scan each statement on our blink comparator and make direct amendments to what we see based upon the ability of human beings to compare patterns. In this circumstance, we do not want to fall off a cliff edge.
We have taken a lot of time to develop other systems. In the case of the bank statements, we would have to type it in, but we would do it by the column in the order numbers, dates and narratives. We have lots of devices to help out here, so although we will take a bit longer to do the job, it won’t be disproportionately or catastrophically longer. Technologists call this graceful degradation.
In fact, we would be very competitive with our non-OCR systems even if other accountants were using OCR and we were not. One big alternative to OCR is Narrative Prediction. After we have typed in a few narratives, we can get the computer to guess the rest, and then just overtype the ones that it gets wrong. Often this gets it all right first time, or with only a few amendments needed. With the narratives being typed in last, it is obvious how NP will work with standing orders, but with other transactions our software can do a statistical analysis and make a prediction. In practice, we use NP all the time, even when we could have used OCR.
The combination of OCR and NP definitely isn’t a one-trick pony. NP is relatively invulnerable to poor scannability and can do handwritten records, so it is only in processing numbers and dates that we can have problems. We only really need to process about one in ten dates of material items, and can interpolate for the rest. As for numbers, well accountants can expect to have to deal with them. We normally enter numbers in debit-positive convention, which is fast and minimises the number of keystrokes required.