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It may not be rocket science, but it can be complex

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Reading documents may not be rocket science, but computers struggle to do what humans find simple. Is technology finally able to read documents in the same way as humans?

CloudTrade are in the business of extracting and interpreting information out of documents which have been written can be understood not by people, not computers.

This is probably one of the most frustrating problems in the history of IT.

Reading stuff out of documents feels easy to us, as people. Nowadays anything to do with people communicating to other people feels easy, and we ultimately think that since computers are cleverer than we are (in many ways), that if a person finds a task easy, then a computer should find this no trouble at all.

The problem is: we tend to forget just how clever people are. Even if you struggle with long division, that brain of yours which controls everything from getting out of bed in the morning, to washing, driving to work, eating lunch, watching TV and so on, leaves the most powerful computers in the world floundering at the starting pole like electronic tortoises.

Communicating with other people, in speech or in writing, falls into that category of stuff that your brain is very good at but computers struggle to do. People get a lot of practice at it. No computer in the world could have read what you’ve read so far and have any idea of what I’m talking about, but you’ve understood me completely (well I hope so!).

CloudTrade aren’t in the world of building robots, of course, not even robotic tortoises. Neither are we trying to write a full natural language processor which could understand everything that a human being might want to say to it. These sorts of achievements are truly well within the realms of science fiction. However, what we have built at CloudTrade, is a natural language processing engine which can understand those documents which we have programmed it to understand. This is much more sophisticated than the approaches which are otherwise prevalent in the marketplace.

For example, just hoping that a particular bit of information on a document (for instance, a VAT number) might always be found on the same place on a page, just isn’t going to work. Neither will the idea that you might be able to go hunting for some unique piece of text and then look in some predetermined distance and direction to find what you’re after. These sorts of techniques work occasionally, but most of the time pages jiggle around and the chances of being able to find something which is not only guaranteed to be unique, but also always in the same location relative to what you’re looking for is tiny.

We frequently get people coming to us after they’ve tried these sorts of solutions and then given up in frustration and I sympathise with this scenario. Often, they thought that the problem they had was an easy one so they bought into an easy solution, more often or not wrapped up with some sort of neural network element, which then proves unhelpful. They’ve then discovered that this easy solution didn’t work and that they had to spend all of their time filling in for its mistakes, or being told that they had “yet another” special case which would require costly scripting or programming.

CloudTrade are simply not like this.

Ok, I know anyone can make that sort of claim, but I like to think that we put our money where our mouth is by offering our solution as a full service, rather than as a software licence where you may be left to find out for yourself whether the solution works effectively or not. We configure it to fit your requirements and when it’s up and running we correct its mistakes and maintain it for as long as you stay with us. Furthermore, we’ll charge you the same price for every document we handle, no matter how awkward or complicated it may be.

We’re the only company prepared to do this because we know, ultimately, that we’ve built the right solution. It may not be rocket science, but it’s actually pretty clever, and it turns out that you need to be pretty clever if you want to solve this problem.

CloudTrade specialises in converting documents (with 100% accuracy)

so humans can read them.

Learn more about CloudTrade and our technology here.

Self isolation? No problem – keep your business running 24/7

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Remote Working

With the world slowly putting itself into self-isolation, never has it been more evident that digitisation of your business practices enables increased flexibility in where your team works and helping to keep it ‘open as usual’. Here, David Cocks, CloudTrade CEO, discusses how the move towards digitisation and automation can not only help keep your business running during times of crisis such as these, but can also benefit your business in the long run.

In the modern world, customers have come to expect services 24/7. Companies like Amazon have set the bar very high when it feels like that drone delivering the next brown parcel is already overhead before you have even clicked “proceed to checkout”. However, not every company has the luxury of scale to ensure they always have staff ready to complete the onsite business processes, whatever the peaks in demand.

Some companies now incorporate flexible working strategies to encourage home working where it fits with the business needs, but many tasks remain dependent on the physical presence of staff within the business office. This often includes the need for access to paper documents or the use of on-premise technology, be that computers, printers or even scanners.

In these difficult times, we are also forced to accept the real possibility of large numbers of staff not being able to travel to the physical business office through actual illness or community health protection necessities. The more we modernise our business so our staff can work from anywhere, the more we are resilient to the threats of massive disruption.

The state-of-the-art way to ensure your business meets scalability and business continuity demands is to automate fully the critical processes. Persisting with manual, repetitive tasks in the spirit of “it ain’t broke, why fix it” will not work when faced with a global crisis that is emptying streets, offices and leaves the commuter train ghost-like. Also, your customers will not tolerate whatever reasons  as to why you’re unable to deliver the goods and services promised, especially if these business critical – they will look to others who have identified the risks of reliance on outdate manual processes and have taken actions to mitigate these issues.

What do I mean by ‘automating the critical processes’?

Firstly, look at your internal processes and understand why things are done manually. This is often because of external factors, notably data not available in a form or quality that is consistent with the requirements for straight through processing (STP).

Just think of a sales order arriving by email. The customer service team have to open the email, save the attachment, scan the PDF, correct the OCR (scanned data) and finally upload the data into the fulfilment system. One person can process maybe 10 orders an hour – max! If staff are not available or not on-site, then there are no orders in your system, unhappy customers and loss of revenue. All you really need is the correct data in a machine-readable form without the reliance of scanning equipment, and you can go straight through to fulfilment. Your order is shipped in minutes, and not days.

Second is to use the right technology, designed to automate and deliver touch-free processing. I don’t mean systems designed to make a manual process more efficient, where you still need elusive staff to complete routine tasks. Systems that are designed to achieve guaranteed high levels of automation and accuracy are essential for the true, scalable, high-volume straight-through process. A system that can guarantee quality must be deterministic. That is, it must be clear how it works, why it works and (probably just as important) when it fails, why it has failed. If your business systems are non-deterministic, the output cannot be predicted and you don’t know how it works, then you can’t drive for full automation. Perhaps you already have an invoice scanning/OCR service – think how annoying it is when sometimes it gets the data correct, and other times it corrupts or misses information that appears clearly on the original document. The result is you need to check manually each document. It is only when the mechanisms of automation are transparent that you can achieve continuous improvement. A system that is best endeavours and (maybe) improves in an obscure way can never deliver the straight-through processes you should strive for.

So, business leaders think automation and think STP. Modernising your business is not vanity, or even just a way of improving margins, it is a necessity to survival.

I wouldn’t want you to be the next Kodak, Blockbuster, or more recently, Thomas Cook.

CloudTrade specialises in automating traditionally manual business processes

such as invoice processing.

Want to know more about electronic invoicing and the different methods available?

HI, the new AI – What the Terminator got right.

Reading Time: 2 minutes
HI, the new AI – What the Terminator got right.

Ever since Schwarzenegger told a desk Sargent that he’d be back and then was back 5 mins later crashing through the wall of police station, the world has been in love with the idea of AI.

And why not? The prospect of machines taking away the mundane tasks of the day-to-day, freeing civilisation to live a decadent and carefree life is a dream to aspire to – right?  And if some of those machines turn out to be human hating cyborgs then surely that’s a price worth paying…

Generations have been working away to create that first version of Skynet (the fictional superintelligence system). But rather than looking at teaching the system how to co-ordinate a nuclear strike (hopefully we have learnt something from the film War Games) companies have instead focussed on the more mundane but ultimately monetizable day-to-day tasks that occupies the humble office worker.

While not something that generally lends itself to a big budget movie, it’s obviously a subject that people are hoping will create a big budget company.

One area in which companies have focussed is on the world of data extraction from documents. Around the world, millions of documents are having their information extracted and placed into a target system. Sometimes they are using new technology to perform the task but often (more than you would think), data extraction is carried out by people just keying in the data.

A prime target for termination you might say? But this is where we begin to see more parallels with a movie script than you would expect, as m­­arketing teams in these companies polish the reality of AI into something Oscar worthy.

A quick google for AI data extraction will fill your screen with companies using buzz words like they are going out of fashion: Neural Networks, Deep Learning, Powered by AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, Document Understanding Platform, Set and Forget, Pre-trained AI models… The list goes on and on.

But the reality is that AI hasn’t quite lived up to the dream that Hollywood has sold us. Despite the claims out there that AI is still in the early stages, nobody has created a truly work-killing system. Either AI is only involved in a small part of the end to end process or it needs a large amount of human interaction to train and review the output, simply moving the human costs of processing from one area of a business to another.

So while we wait for AI to catch up with it’s own hype, and that might be 2030 or even 2060, we need to look for solutions that harness current technology to solve today’s problems. And perhaps we need to harness HI (Human Intelligence) to do this while the machines catch up with us.

Computers can already do amazing things when given the proper guidance. That is how we approach problems here at CloudTrade using our patented data extraction and interpretation software, coupled with the in-house expertise, to quickly and efficiently teach our systems without the trial and error that AI needs.

So maybe Terminator did get something right. You need something part-man and part-machine to deal with difficult problems…