Automating Data Collection for ESG Reporting

Many companies face a similar challenge in meeting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting requirements. Like any data intensive initiative, a key first step to success is aggregating accurate, timely data into a workable format. But this is easier said than done when the data you need is buried within hundreds or thousands of monthly PDF utility invoices, images of handwritten fuel bills, and other receipts.

The “solution” for many is a slow, tedious, error-prone, manual process of data entry from these documents into a spreadsheet. This loss of human productivity, data quality, and timeliness should NOT be accepted in an age when technology can automate the process and eliminate this waste. In this blog, we will discuss how the workflow depicted in this image overcomes the challenge that makes ESG reporting such a headache for some many companies.

Optical Character Recognition

Optical character recognition (OCR) is a technology that extracts printed or handwritten text from images, scanned documents, or other visual sources and converts it into machine-readable digital text. Sounds perfect, right? So why doesn’t every company use OCR to automate ESG reporting? Because it is complex, tedious work that requires specialized skills and time to implement. If you lack either the skills or the time, it is strongly recommended that you work with a partner who has experience in this space.

When selecting an OCR technology, it is important that you choose one that performs with a high degree of accuracy and the capability to constantly learn. We have found Amazon Textract to be a strong match for both of these criteria and have integrated it into the ESG reporting solution in our tool RapidCloud.

Training the OCR Technology

OCR technology is a machine learning-based approach that requires exposure to a diverse set of data in order to accurately recognize and interpret text within images. This involves training the OCR technology to accurately interpret variations in appearance (font, size, orientation, etc.), eliminate noise and distortion that are not relevant, learn from mistakes and iteratively improve accuracy, perform at the lowest possible computational costs, and much more.

In the case of ESG reporting, this means training the OCR technology on each distinct document type that you need to report on. Again, because of the specialized skills required to perform this task, companies generally prefer to have us do this work for them.

Confidence in Accuracy

It is also important that your OCR technology provide you with the level of confidence that it has read and applied the data correctly. For example, reading a clear PDF utility invoice, it may have 99% confidence it is correct. But with a wrinkled, sloppily handwritten receipt, it may only be 40% confident. When Amazon Textract has a low level of confidence, RapidCloud will direct the document to a human for verification or correction. Whatever OCR technology you use, this human loop is critical for maintaining data quality in your ESG reporting.

Applying Rules to Documents and Text

Applying rules is another critical step to improve the accuracy and reliability of the extracted text. In RapidCloud we have implemented preprocessing rules for image enhancement, noise reduction, and deskewing to provide cleaner input to the OCR technology. When it comes to the text we apply things like ESG contextual rules to ensure consistency in terminology, pattern matching to detect common numbers, formats, products, etc., feedback loops so the OCR technology learns from mistakes, and much more. This is key to ensuring you have the right, accurate data for your ESG reporting. RapidCloud has a rich set of rules already built, many of which will apply to your documents out of the box.

Routing the Date to Your ESG Reporting System

In the end, it’s just a matter of integration, so your clean, accurate, timely data is automatically routed into your ESG reporting system.

The Next Step in Your Journey

Experience the benefits of automated ESG reporting firsthand with a no-cost RapidCloud POC that will require only one hour of your time. Click here to learn more.