Digitizing the Physical World: How OCR Technology is Enabling Business Travelers

On a return leg from a recent business trip to Canada, I had the pleasure of using an automated customs kiosk in order to expedite the exit registration process. I fed my passport into the machine and it immediately recognized my identity, flight details, and visa information. Optical character recognition (OCR) software, like the kind found in the customs kiosk, is making an enormous impact on how people travel, both for business and leisure. Today, people can leverage the power of OCR through several mobile applications to help streamline their travel experience.

Language Translation

Overcoming the language barrier can be one of the most challenging aspects of foreign travel, whether it’s navigating a dinner menu in the Szechuan province of China or trying to find the taxi line at the Kalamata airport in Greece. Thankfully there are a few apps available on both Android and iOS platforms that can use OCR technology to take pictures of foreign writing (either typed or handwritten) and generate translations:

  • Google Translate: Google has been at the forefront of using OCR software for language translation. Over the years, it has expanded the number of languages that can be translated using the image capture functionality. An interesting feature of the Google Translate app is that if you capture several phrases with a single picture, you can highlight a certain word or phrase to translate each individual item.

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  • Pixter Scanner: The Pixter OCR Scanner takes the basic functionality of translating language through image capture and takes it one step further by allowing you to edit translated text and export it to other applications such as Messenger, Email, Microsoft Word and Facebook. By enabling users to translate and copy large quantities of text, Pixter creates a more dynamic experience for travelers.

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Expense Management

For individuals that travel for work consistently (e.g., events coordinators, purchasing agents, consultants), being able to conduct normal business operations on the go has not just become a convenience, but a necessity. Perhaps one of the most cumbersome aspects of business travel is the lengthy process of submitting an expense report: holding onto numerous receipts during the trip, manually scanning or organizing them, then keying in or manually writing down all of the expense details. Some travel and expense software tools, like Concur, have an add-on application that allows users to easily upload pictures to the app, where they are analyzed using OCR and imported to Concur. This technology fundamentally changes the expense management process because rather than filing all expenses at the end of a trip, users can periodically upload receipt images and create expenses as they are incurred with minimal effort.

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Document Management / Productivity

Consider the average business trip: a person may collect several business cards at the beginning of a business meeting, followed by piles of physical documents and notes scribbled across three whiteboards. The wealth of information derived in a short day of meetings may be at risk if documents are lost, contact information is misplaced, or notes are not captured. In scenarios like these, OCR applications can be a great boon to the traveling business person:

  • Microsoft Office Lens: Office Lens can help digitize physical documents and notes into clean, cropped images which can be exported to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and other applications. For Office Lens, the OCR technology provides a true value-add for business travelers as scanned documents can be searched for by text and can even be edited within the style of the existing text (as if the document was being created net-new from their own computer). Using the power of OCR technology, Office Lens can truly translate the physical world into the digital world.

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  • CamCard: In Asia, where exchanging physical cards continues to be a formal business practice, CamCard has emerged as a leading app in converting physical cards to digital contact information that can be stored on your mobile device. Unlike Office Lens, which is more of a generalist document scanner, CamCard is specifically designed for business cards and even allows users to add a contact’s picture to their scanned business card info.

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As OCR technology becomes more prevalent within mobile applications, smartphones are likewise evolving into more powerful tools for conducting business both domestically and abroad. Savvy travelers should harness the power of OCR-enabled apps to seamlessly integrate the physical and digital aspects of business at their fingertips.

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