The Pitfalls of Using OCR for Utility Bill Processing

Urjanet Inc  |  February 23, 2015   |  Energy & Sustainability  


For many (fortunate) people, the days of manually entering utility bill data are over. Their organizations have come to realize that in this day and age, no successful business can truly scale while relying on manual methods for its vital operations and processes. But automation comes in many shapes and sizes, and the various methods of automated data collection are not all created equal. Many will come across OCR software as an option to automate bill payment, but here is why OCR bill pay can cause more problems than it solves.

If you are considering or have already deployed optical character recognition (OCR) software, you’re most likely doing more work than you need to do, without getting the results that you deserve. We’ve looked into how OCR bill pay works in action. To add context, we also spoke to a business leader who invested in OCR, only to find that it failed to meet his organization’s needs.

How OCR bill pay works

OCR is a common method of electronically converting typewritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. It takes a burdensome, manual process and automates it. However, it doesn’t come without its own flaws. OCR bill pay involves several steps of investment, maintenance, and repetitive processes.

Setup & Configuration

Step 1: Purchase OCR software
Step 2: Build templates


Step 3: Gather last month’s paper bills
Step 4: Sort bills into batches, organized by utility
Step 5: Affix bar codes to each paper bill or use separator sheets in between batches
Step 6: Scan paper bills for processing
Step 7: Store paper bills for future reference and safekeeping


Step 8: OCR software processes each scanned bill
Step 9: OCR software notifies operator upon exceptions that need reviewing*

*This is one of the greatest risks of relying on OCR software. Like any human put in charge of reading and copying data, it’s prone to small errors. The business we spoke to noted that nearly 65 percent of OCR-processed bills generated an exception in the system. If you’re using OCR to process and pay your bills, small errors lead to real costs, whether in late fees from incomplete payments or billing errors from the utility itself that go unnoticed. Without accurate, reliable data, you risk enormous amounts of untapped savings.

If you’re using OCR to process and pay your bills, small errors lead to real costs.


Step 10: Manually append any important data points that do not get delivered on the bill, such as general ledger codes
Step 11: Review exceptions

Ongoing Maintenance

Step 12: Continually maintain scanner hardware and update utility and account template codes


What OCR bill pay produces

With OCR software, you get data that:

  • Can arrive weeks after being posted by the utility, potentially resulting in late fees
  • Can be incomplete or partial
  • May contain errors and data defects
  • Requires upfront investments in hardware
  • Requires development resources for building templates
  • Requires post-processing auditing and exception-handling


There’s a better option

Urjanet can automate your utility bill processing and payment, with no OCR involved. Urjanet’s cloud-based platform connects directly to over 5,000 utility providers worldwide, providing over 100 data points on each bill as well as the original bill image, so you can trust in accurate, reliable data. Here’s what the process of utility bill management looks like with Urjanet:

Step 1: Link your utility accounts to Urjanet through a simple interface
Step 2: Urjanet extracts bill data from the utility providers as soon as bills are available on the website
Step 3: The data is automatically normalized in Urjanet’s cloud-based platform
Step 4: Data enters Urjanet’s quality assurance process, which includes over 150 audits, to ensure that the data received is clean and accurate
Step 5: Urjanet’s delivery format allows for easy import into any program or application, with custom integration services available if needed

With Urjanet, you get data that is:

  • Timely
  • Detailed
  • Normalized
  • Accurate
  • Automated
  • Hassle-free
  • Scalable


It’s true that OCR software does allow for some level of automation, to a degree. But the amount of maintenance and monthly pre-processing busy work, not to mention all of the post-processing reviews and corrections of errors, almost makes you wonder: Is OCR even worth it? OCR bill pay hasn’t truly automated your bill payment process, and let’s face it, isn’t making your life that much easier.

Interested in learning more about automating utility bill payment and presentment through Urjanet? Talk to one of our data experts today.

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About Urjanet Inc

Urjanet, the global leader in utility data aggregation, simplifies how organizations access and use utility data, enabling them to focus on their business. Our technology collects, processes, and delivers data from over 6,500 electric, natural gas, water, waste, telecom, and cable utilities worldwide.

Tags   Data & Technology   |   Data Quality   |   Operational Efficiency   |   Urjanet   |   Utility Bill Management   |   Utility Bills   |   Utility Data   |