OCR and AI for Parcel Freight Invoice Processing
OCR and AI for Parcel Freight Invoice Processing
OCR and AI for Parcel Freight Invoice Processing 800 494 Tim Robertson

OCR is still predominately used for parcel freight invoice processing (invoices in either paper, PDF or image files format), turning the information on the invoice into data that can be integrated directly into a buyer’s TMS or ERP.

But even though technological advances have reduced the errors encountered with OCR technology, there will always be an inherent percentage of error in OCR that requires the information be validated or enriched manually. So not only does OCR require manual resources, it also needs defined process steps to make sure you capture and validate the data you need.

It’s claimed that the best OCR on the market is 80-90% accurate. That means you’re going to have to touch every invoice you process to validate that data.

That’s because OCR “reads” information on a freight invoice as an image. It is not a direct transfer of data, which means that a small percentage of essential and crucial information could get “lost in translation”.

Bad data is not good data

Bad data entering your TMS or ERP means your decisions in the audit/payment lifecycle can be at risk, exposing you to issues such as payment delays, fraud, and non-compliance with regulations like tax and customs requirements.

There’s also the question of the SLA’s you have for processing a freight invoice or document chain such as the Order, BOL, POD and Invoice. Whether it’s a few fields you require or external documentation for reference information, it all adds up to substantial delays in processing a freight invoice.

The good news is that advances in AI and capture technologies gives you 100% accuracy in data capture from freight invoices and associated documents, with the data validated at the point of capture.

The majority of freight invoices are PDFs containing a data layer that AI capture software can access. So where OCR is interpretive, AI capture software extracts invoice data directly. And when you write specific business rules to interpret, amend and augment the data you create other efficiencies in the process that OCR just can’t compete with.

At no cost, suppliers send their freight invoices as a PDF to a specific email address, where all the data elements are extracted and validated against defined business rules and delivered to your TMS, payment and back office systems.

That means the invoice data going into your TMS or ERP is precisely what is on the invoice. No further validation is required and invoices are processed within minutes after receipt. That frees up time and resources for your organization.

Find out more about how CloudTrade can boost the efficiency of your parcel freight invoice processing.

Why Smarter Freight Payments Begin With The Invoice
Why Smarter Freight Payments Begin With The Invoice 150 150 Roger Hatfield

Money drives any business, but in the freight and logistics market, business cannot occur until funds are moved. Considering how crucial seamless freight payments are in the market, it’s concerning that issues like payment delays, errors and fraud remain so prevalent.

These issues can be traced to the industry’s complex nature, coupled with its ongoing use of legacy technologies that fail to deliver the accuracy and speed business partners need to conduct business. CloudTrade Logistics Vice President Roger Hatfield told PYMNTS in a recent interview that freight and logistics is “an industry driven by payments.” But to fix problems with B2B freight payments, solution providers must begin with the invoice.

In addition to being one of the first steps in initiating payment, the invoice holds key information that both sides of a transaction need to move money (and goods) efficiently. Today, however, the logistics sector continues to rely on paper invoices, manual data entry, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technologies.

“In the logistics vertical, a significant portion of freight invoices are processed using traditional EDI,” Hatfield said. “However, there is still a lot of paper being processed, due to a lack of resources for EDI projects – and the invoice volume is also too low. The accuracy of OCR solutions is not acceptable, and the fees for outsourced data entry continue to increase.”

The most immediate implications of a lack of efficient digital data exchange between two business partners in this industry include a customer’s delayed payment to a service provider, as well as the service provider failing to efficiently reconcile payments received.

But Hatfield explained that the knock-on impacts of this data bottleneck go deeper.

Data Bottlenecks, Business Delays

“If you’re capturing bad data, then all your decisions in the payment lifecycle can be at risk,” he said. “OCR or manual data capture is slow and often ridden with errors, and the complexity of some freight invoices means you only have time to capture a fraction of the information that’s contained on an invoice. This is all valuable data.”

This shortcoming exposes businesses throughout the supply chain to issues like payment delays and even fraud, due to the inability for companies to two- or three-way match an invoice against a purchase order or delivery documentation. It can also lead to non-compliance with rules and regulations like tax and customs requirements, which Hatfield said is “one of the biggest challenges to the industry today.”

Even when companies invest significant resources in developing compliance programs and establishing their systems and processes to remain compliant, a lack of accurate, timely data means mistakes can be easily made – no matter how many control points are in place.

Shippers relying on supply chain financing, factoring or dynamic discounting solutions also stand to lose significantly as a result of inaccurate or delayed invoice data, noted Hatfield.

“Since the invoice discount rate is driven by the age of the invoice, the processing cycle is critical,” he said.

Faster (Accurate) Invoices, Faster Payments

In B2B payments, it’s common sense that the faster an invoice is sent and received, the faster a payment can be initiated. While that’s not always the case as companies delay supplier payments to hold onto capital for as long as possible, Hatfield said there are tangible benefits to “invoice velocity,” as CloudTrade described it, including the ability for a supplier to be paid as well as the opportunity for a buyer to access early payment discounts.

Once again, data emerges as a valuable asset when it comes to faster invoicing, he continued, thanks to the ability to manage complex shipment invoices – which can contain multiple bills – in datasets for individual processing. In other words, faster invoicing means faster data analytics when companies deploy the right technology.

In CloudTrade’s case, that comes in the form of its digital invoice processing platform for the freight industry, announced earlier this month. The solution aims to deliver automated data capture and analytics while allowing industry players to continue the practice of sending PDF invoices by email. Hatfield also noted that the platform is more accurate than legacy OCR technology, and invoices can be processed in a matter of hours.

Key to the success of any automated solution is the availability of custom features, including support for unique business rules to promote compliance. And while faster invoicing and automated data capture are essential to accelerating B2B payments in the market, Hatfield emphasized the importance of the broader implications of seamless invoicing, payments and movement of data in the freight and logistics market, from compliance and fraud risk mitigation to quicker access to working capital and a more holistic view of business spend.

“Using CloudTrade, they can process files and payments faster than ever before, but more importantly, identify and capture incorrect spend from the detail on complicated invoices,” he said.

By PYMNTS Posted on February 28, 2019

Why we’re building CloudTrade Logistics
Why we’re building CloudTrade Logistics 800 476 Roger Hatfield

In January this year, we launched CloudTrade Logistics, our solution that helps US carriers, freight audit and freight technology companies get 100% validated data from freight invoices with no OCR or human intervention. As we approach the end of Q1, it’s an opportune time to provide an update on how we’re getting on.

The importance of payments to freight cannot be underestimated. Few things slow business quicker than the late administration and execution of payments. Given the challenges that technology has been able to solve in other sectors, it’s hard to understand why such an integral part of the supply chain still suffers from a large number of problems. These problems lead to delays, errors, compliance risks and, in the end, costs.

We launched CloudTrade Logistics to solve these problems. By integrating invoice processing and digital data exchange for all parts of the US freight industry, we enable companies to overcome inefficient methods of freight invoice processing, giving them the opportunity to transact digitally with trading partners, regardless of size, maturity or complexity. Our users include logistics companies, business process outsourcing firms and freight payment providers who needed an alternative to EDI and OCR to process and capture data. The list of potential users is long and the potential for cost savings across the industry is great.

We believe that our solution is different from anything else on offer in the freight industry, for three reasons.

1. 100% compliant validated data –

We offer 100% compliant, validated data because our product allows our users to create custom-designed business rules and validations that run on the vendor supplied invoice; we don’t mistake an ‘I’ or ‘L’ for a ‘1’ which ensures the data we deliver is 100% accurate data. We remove the issues with incorrect data appearing in data fields such as Tax or VAT, account code or depot location data fields and when this is combined with our rules engine we can put in place controls to ensure that the PO is included and referenced on the invoice, that the PO is valid and sufficient funds available to pay the invoice and in some cases that the item/ship codes are correct – all of this helps the back office matching processes in TMS, ERPs and different finance systems.

A key risk for any business is collecting and using bad data. Audit and payment processes can be put at risk and an inability to process payments quickly can lead to problems with carriers and shippers. Even if a company uses compliance programs and systems that guarantee they remain compliant for tax and customs requirements, if the problem occurs at source, where data is inaccurately collected, mistakes will be made. This can lead to a delay in payment, increased audit activities and extra expense – and it’s one reason why CloudTrade Logistics is so useful for our customers.

2. Our solution is powerful –

Our unique approach to data capture means we are able to collect a large amount of data from an invoice. Most organisations make do with capturing “header-level” data only. But we go beyond this, capturing as much (or as little) information as our customers require, giving them the data they need for their back office systems and with the added benefit of being able to understand their detailed spend profiles. This means a company can process files and payments faster than ever before, whilst longer term, identifying and capturing incorrect spend from the detail on complicated invoices.

3. Our solution is fast and transparent –

We designed our solution to increase ‘Inbound Invoice Velocity’, which is a positive for all parties, as it means that payments can be made earlier, early payment discounts can be applied and cash/working capital can be made available immediately. Using CloudTrade Logistics also means that an invoice is always visible through the capture process, from when it’s been received, converted and then sent to the back office system.

Our solution can convert complex multi-bill carrier/shipment invoices into unique document sets for separate processing in the back-office systems; we can work with a single multipage document containing 1,000’s of pages, or process multiple files contained on one email – we haven’t failed a challenge yet!  We know, it can take a manual operator using a key-to-screen or OCR solution up to 30 minutes to capture the data on a multi page shipment or complicated invoice. CloudTrade Logistics completes this task in a matter of seconds.

Our solution is built upon our unique Gramatica technology and it offers 100% accuracy for most major carriers. Further, it’s also the first solution of its kind to allow freight payment providers, third-party logistics and business process outsourcing partners to increase efficiencies, cut operational costs and increase throughput, by doing away with the manual or OCR processing of PDF and paper invoices which invariably produce errors.

Global ambitions

We have recently launched the product into the freight and logistics market, and it’s been received very positively. We’ve seen an increase in new enquiries, our carrier reach is expanding and we have been working with our existing clients in the industry to help them increase ‘invoice velocity’.

Our plans for the future of CloudTrade Logistics include pushing further into the US. In time, we’re also looking to build upon our existing offering, enabling clients to process other complex documents that need rules and validations running against them. But that’s for the future.

For now, we’ve been delighted with the positive response we’ve had from US users and we look forward to working with them throughout the rest of 2019. Our focus will be on working with key partners and helping as many users in the freight and logistics industry as possible, providing a simple, best-in-class technological solution to a problem that we feel should have been fixed a long time ago.

CloudTrade launches CloudTrade Logistics
CloudTrade launches CloudTrade Logistics 800 481 Roger Hatfield
  • CloudTrade launches freight invoice processing solution, offering 100% accuracy for all major carriers

LONDON and NEW YORK, February 14, 2019: CloudTrade, the leading provider of e-invoicing, e-order and complex data capture services, today announced the launch of CloudTrade Logistics, a bespoke solution, tailor-made for the freight and logistics sector.

Built on CloudTrade’s unique, patented Gramatica technology and offering 100% accuracy for most major carriers; CloudTrade Logistics enables companies to overcome inefficient methods of freight invoice processing, to transact digitally with their trading partners, regardless of their size or technical maturity.

CloudTrade Logistics is the first solution of its type to enable freight payment providers, third-party logistics (3PLs) and business process outsourcing partners (BPOs) to increase efficiencies, slash operational costs and increase throughput, by eliminating the processing of PDF and paper invoices.  

Roger Hatfield, VP at CloudTrade Logistics, says: “CloudTrade’s patent-protected software uses unique rules-based technology, with backward tracking search, to interpret, validate, and extrapolate semantic meaning from complex documents, of any type. So, whether it’s freight invoices, sales and purchase orders or advanced shipping notices, CloudTrade processes them automatically. Any of these documents can be used to integrate key supply chain data for improved landed costs analysis and reporting analytics.

“If you are a supplier or sender, we simply leverage technology that you’re already using – email – at no cost.  For a buyer or receiver, freight invoices are delivered via your preferred approach – email, SFTP, HTTPS, FTP – and are available for download from our on-line portal. Once CloudTrade’s cloud-based data hub receives the PDF invoice, we extract all the necessary data elements and deliver them into your transportation management (TMS), payment and back office systems.”

CloudTrade Logistics delivers benefits to both sides of the trading relationship, from cost reduction, to increased control. Improving the ability to pay on time, increasing visibility and transparency within your business. Suppliers can produce their freight invoices in an easy and non-disruptive way. Removing the need for changes to their applications, infrastructure or internal processes. Unlike traditional EDI, CloudTrade doesn’t require any additional technical resources.

Cecil Bryan, President of the Logistics Alliance Network, adds: “Due to the nature of machine generated PDFs, a format that almost all supplier systems can produce, freight invoices in the PDF format can easily be mapped into an XML or EDI file – ensuring accuracy of the data. With this approach and CloudTrade’s patented technology, a carrier no longer has any barriers to sending digital data, which means the onboarding process is very quick and efficient.

“With CloudTrade logistics, the invoice data can easily be delivered into your freight payment or back office system for processing in a file format that meets your needs, quickly and efficiently. Enabling users to send and receive tax and VAT compliant invoices, that are processed at 100% accuracy, at a line level detail and at a fraction of the cost.”

Early payment discounts and the invoicing solution
Early payment discounts and the invoicing solution 150 150 Roger Hatfield

Roger Hatfield, Vice President Cloudtrade Logistics,  North America discusses the benefits e-invoicing can bring to accessing early payment discounts in the US.

In early spring of 2018, interesting news came in from across the pond with the publication of the first edition of the UK Government’s new ‘name & shame’ report on late supplier payments. The good news is that just under half of all the invoices that were reported on, were paid within 30 days, but there were serial offenders, who made their suppliers hang on for 31+ days and longer.

While Europe is ahead of the USA with their e-invoicing initiatives, the figures shows that only 25% of the companies, who were reported on, offered e-Invoicing. What happened to the rest? Why aren’t they taking advantage of e-invoicing to manage their supplier payments? And what lessons can we learn for us here in the US?

My view is that while many organisations appreciate the problem of late payments, and the knock-on effects it can have on their supply chain they cannot change their modus operandi: they are hamstrung by their current systems, practices and processes and cannot make any change in the short or medium term due to help erase late payments. This is a global problem.

Missed Early Payment Discounts

It’s clear that the UK and US markets are different in their approach to supplier’s payments; with the UK using more traditional ‘direct’ banking methods to pay their suppliers; whilst, in the USA, a lot of organizations still use cheques but there is also a wealth of payment providers who provide a multitude of solutions from invoice receipt/processing, online vendor/supplier payment portals and invoice automation to help manage the payment process.

But I do wonder how many organizations are able to take advantage of the hard earned, and negotiated, early payment discounts (EPDs) from their suppliers?  Many of the payment solutions on offer in the US allow organizations to keep their existing bank relationships and pay suppliers by ACH, check, virtual cards and credit cards in a faster time frame than would normally be achieved by processing in-house. Using a payment provider can slash processing costs by up to 50% or more and gives a business’s accounts payment function full visibility into payment status and approvals. But what about those EPDs?

An opportunity for EPD gains

In comparison to the UK, the USA is streets ahead when it comes to paying suppliers – The Paystream Advisors 2016 Data Capture and Mailroom Technology Insight Report stated that nearly 92 percent of invoices received electronically are paid on time, compared to only 45 percent when invoices are received in paper form.

In my view this is where the problem lies – the Federal Reserve states that currently only 25% of US invoices are electronic, so that’s 75% of all US invoices being processed by other means – a huge opportunity for efficiency and EPD gains.

We know that reducing your Days Payment Outstanding (DPO) helps support your supply chain partners, and that shortening your DPO could provide additional margin to your bottom-line and improve your cashflow – so where is the problem?

The cost of OCR

Well, let’s consider the 75% of invoices that aren’t electronic – these will include, paper, PDF and other electronic forms, outside the traditional EDI or network-based channels.  A proportion of these invoices will have been outsourced for processing by an optical character recognition (OCR), mailroom or payments provider, who will provide invoice capture, management, and integration services to give users an end-to-end payables solution.

The attraction of this approach is that it gives organizations one solution for all their AP processing needs – no matter what format invoices are received. The service provider will typically process the documents using OCR, which means that every electronic document received is converted into an image for OCR processing.

We know that OCR is normally okay, when every invoice we receive is in the same format, size and the data fields remain in the same places on the image. But, suppliers tend to send complex documents, across multiple pages and with specific line item detail, which you need to process into your back-office systems to manually or automatically perform the 2/3 three-way match. This is where the costs mount up, as it is very likely that every processed invoice will need to be reviewed manually because the suppliers ‘standard’ invoice format changes dynamically with the addition of multiple lines and pages. An alternative approach that the majority of organisations use  is just to capture the header level and totals from the invoice, without the requisite line level detail, but this doesn’t help you understand your spend at a granular level and is exactly the data that you need for financial/supplier reporting purposes and to be able to claim those ‘hard negotiated’ early payment discounts.

Remember that every time your OCR or mailroom provider looks at, and corrects, an invoice, it is likely to cost you money – if the document is already electronic why convert it in the first place?

Could ‘true’ e-invoicing be the answer?

With the latest e-invoicing technology suppliers don’t have to do anything different. It allows them to simply create their invoice, convert it to a PDF and email it to a named email address. The technology uses the original invoice and extracts the data (100%) from the PDF and puts it straight into the buyer’s finance package. Simple.

More importantly, the supplier doesn’t have to pay or log into a portal. All they need to do is ensure their invoice is produced as a PDF (which their own finance package is able to do for them) and then email it over. For the buyer, the time-consuming process of keying and rekeying and matching line level detail in data is removed. There are no more paper invoices to hold on to, or potentially lose. The data is all held electronically.

As well as saving money on accounts payable processing costs, this simple approach means the invoice data is presented back to the payments system in real time. Immediately after it has been processed successfully, it will be in the payments systems, typically within 1-5 minutes of receipt, including full line level detail.

The latest e-invoicing technology can also apply validation against key data provided by the users and business rules can be applied against other key data fields on the invoice – such as rejecting invoices that don’t contain a PO number.

There is no doubt that e-invoicing provides the foundations that allow organisations, of all shapes and sizes, to put automation and controls around their invoice to payment function. Increasing their ability to pay on time, understanding what they are spending at a granular level and helping them reap the rewards of those EPDs.

Isn’t it about time you thought about how this could affect your organisation and the bottom line?

This article was published by EBN Online.

Unique 100% accurate data capture for invoice automation.

 

 

CloudTrade gets US and Australian patents for data extraction software
CloudTrade gets US and Australian patents for data extraction software 150 150 Tara Burghardt

In 2017, CloudTrade, the leading provider of cloud based e-invoicing and e-document processing services, announced that its proprietary document data extraction software had been awarded a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. Patent No. US 20130318110 A1).

The patent covers CloudTrade’s Gramatica software, which uses unique artificial intelligence (AI) rules with backward tracking search, to interpret, validate, and extrapolate semantic meaning from documents of any type; examples include invoices, sales and purchase orders and advanced shipping notices. CloudTrade’s Gramatica software is now protected by lasting patents in Europe, the U.S. and Australia.

CEO, David Cocks, commented: “CloudTrade is committed to developing innovative software solutions and this patent demonstrates the novelty of our approach to document data extraction. Using Gramatica, we have solved an old problem of how to get a computer to interpret a human-readable document by matching patterns using AI and this means we can automate document processing saving – time, money and paper.

“80% of all invoicing in the U.S. is still paper-based, so we are extremely excited to bring our unique approach to the U.S. At CloudTrade. We recognize that the biggest obstacle to e-invoicing and e-document processing is getting vendors to adopt, that is why CloudTrade, and our technology, is built firmly on the premise that it should be free for vendors, easy to use and non-disruptive – only then will vendors move away from paper.”

CloudTrade’s office in Boston, Massachusetts was set up to satisfy the increasing demand for its solutions in the North American markets.

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