At first glance, the differences between OCR, or optical character recognition, and ICR, intelligent character recognition, may seem complicated to understand or irrelevant to your business. But the reality is that it’s relatively easy to understand the basics of both, and any company that currently uses document management software (DMS) coupled with a scanner, or that intends to use one, will find the differences relevant. Let’s cover the basics of both OCR and ICR, the differences between them, and the relevance of those differences.


Defining OCR and ICR

While OCR and ICR sound similar, in reality there are major differences between the 2 software systems. OCR software translates scanned images of text, whether printed or typewritten, and turns these scans into machine-encoded text. OCR is generally used to translate books and other long documents into electronic files. It can also be used as a record-keeping system by businesses or used to publish text on a website.

ICR technically qualifies as an OCR but it’s more specific. An ICR is a system that learns different fonts and styles of handwriting. With an ICR, a computer can study handwriting and can learn to recognize it to improve accuracy and recognition. Essentially, it is a smarter application of OCR that is more involved and more detailed.


The Main Difference Between OCR and ICR

While ICR is a subset of OCR software, the main difference is that OCR is generally not set up to recognize handwriting. It’s generally used to take paper documents that have been typed and turned into text so it can be searched and categorized. OCR text can also be copied and pasted. On the other hand, ICR focuses specifically on handwriting or printed materials that use more complicated fonts than OCRs can handle.


Fitting ICR and OCR Software into Document Management Software

Document management software (DMS) allows you to efficiently, securely, and effectively maintain a paperless office that you can access from anywhere. ICR and OCR software can play an integral part in making the most of DMS. Some examples of companies that benefit from ICR or OCR software include:

  • Property management companies. Most property management companies have applicants fill out forms by hand. Without ICR (intelligent character recognition), these forms would have to be processed by hand. This causes redundant work, as employees must key in all answers in order to make it compatible and searchable with a DMS. ICR does this automatically.
  • Companies that deal with a wide range of vendors. More and more vendors are moving to online receipts and invoices, but they’re not all there yet. Companies that deal with dozens and dozens of vendors every month often scan their paperwork and put it in a pile to enter manually when they get around to it. The problem? They often don’t get around to it. This can cause billing errors, double payments, and loss of pertinent information in the event of an audit.
  • Any company that regularly uses a scanner. There are many convenient reasons to scan documents, but when they’re saved as a PDF or similar file, they’re generally not searchable. Getting the most out of DMS means having the ability to instantly search files to find keywords. With ICR or OCR online software, companies can more easily find exactly what they’re looking for.


Choosing between ICR and OCR Software

Once you decide that either ICR or OCR software is right for your business, you must decide which one to get. Consider the pros and cons of both options.


Advantages and Disadvantages of OCR

The main advantage of OCR software is that it’s less expensive. This affordability comes at a cost, though: you get fewer features. Notably, OCR has limited ability to read handwriting and can’t read complicated fonts. However, some businesses don’t need these advanced features and the cost savings can be well worth it.


Advantages and Disadvantages of ICR

The biggest advantage of ICR is that it can read handwriting and virtually any font you can think of. Higher-end ICR software can also learn handwriting so that its accuracy increases over time. The downside of this option is that it can be significantly more expensive than OCR, though note that it does have all the functionality of OCR software.


The Bottom Line: Which is Right for Your Organization?

There is no clear cut answer to this. If you often use a scanner and would like to be able to digitally archive those documents to make them searchable, then an online OCR program or software may be a good investment. If many of the documents you need your scanner for are handwritten or use older, newer, or non-typical fonts, then an ICR may be worth it. Price each option and decide which makes the most sense for your organization.