In Conversation with Mike Stockard, Advisor to ANB Systems, Inc
In the early 1980s, I was a utility field service representative. Part of my duties was to meet with customers on their energy service needs. Some days I was meeting with a customer to conduct an energy audit. Other days, I met with them about new electric service to a home or commercial building. Technology was rather limited then, although our office did have a photocopier. I would write the customer’s information on a paper form and then return to the office to input it into the company’s mainframe computer where a work order was generated. While this was the state of the industry at that time, it had its own set of drawbacks. It was time consuming process and opportunities to enter misspelled or incorrect data were common.
Of course, today systems are very different. Field representatives don’t rely on paper forms anymore. Mobile devices that can handle the input have taken its place. However, if your company must manually handle standardized forms, there is now a process automation opportunity. With the evolution of document recognition systems, a standard form can be uploaded into a system and it can auto extract the key information that is needed to make a business decision. The software recognizes characters and numbers in specific fields and then populates a table or database so that the data can be viewed on a dashboard without needing to handle the original document.
An example is the insurance ACORD form. (By the way, ACORD stands for Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development). ACORD forms are used by about 90% of insurance industry professionals to provide a brief summary of a policy holders coverages. The document recognition system can upload the form and pull out the specific coverages that is needed to approve a new vendor or trade ally with out the need for personnel to review each document individually. Another example would in a utility energy efficiency program where the system reads specific attributes about an air conditioning or lighting system and then populates the savings calculation engine with tonnage and efficiency ratings. The savings and incentives are calculated with minimal handling by utility personnel.
This technology can save time and administrative cost, but document recognition systems are not perfect. However, by coupling them with machine learning, the system will realize its mistakes and not make them again. Document recognition systems have applications not only in the energy field, but in other fields such as supply chain, sales, and human resources. Document recognition systems are creating new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve turnaround time and reduce costs. If I had this back in my filed service days, I might not have had the construction teams installing incorrectly sized equipment.
Michael Stockard is an independent consultant at Stockard Energy Advising and is a member of the Advisory Panel at ANB Systems. Michael has over 39 years of experience in the design and implementation of demand-side management programs.