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Taken from Imaging Magazine

In the order processing world, OCR is good but not good enough. Some forms-enabled OCR products only recognize forms designed by their own application. Other packages must be programmed to recognize specific forms. 

More recent products scan existing forms and define the location of data fields, but they still can't change the layout. New forms can be processed only if they you add them to the system via proper interfaces. 

For a catalog vendor, form design is a key distinguishing factor between them and their competition. Forms must be attractive. They need to be targeted to the particular market segments. And they must evolve as marketing departments study their effectiveness. 

The solution lies in a paradigm shift from intelligent "character" recognition to intelligent "data-field" and ultimately "form" recognition.

Though a large catalog vendor might use hundreds of different order forms, only a few unique "data fields" on these forms contain relevant information. All order forms have a customer ID field, an address field, an order field. Some forms contain check boxes, change of address fields, etc. If these forms are categorized by the unique set of data fields they contain, we end up with a much smaller number of forms. 

Recognition technology that can scan a form, process the image, and identify and locate the data fields on that form is starting to hit the market. Oyster Software (Berkeley, CA) integrates this paradigm shift into their FormsPro system. 

This system provides a fixed set of data-field types that recognizes anywhere on the form. You specify "I-Form" families corresponding to sets of data fields that can float on a form. At processing time, a form is recognized by the actual set of data fields it contains. 

This new technology simplifies the deployment as well as the maintenance of automated data entry systems. At the deployment phase, the number of forms that need to be specified is greatly reduced. 

After deployment, the only time a new form needs to be defined is when a form with a unique combination of data fields is introduced. 

The next step may be to specify a standard set of data fields that people can use in forms for a variety of different types of applications. 

In essence, this standard set of data fields will be the counterpart of the optical character recognition font familiarities that lie at the heart of many character recognition engines.