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Automated Document Processing: 5 Examples and Key Benefits

Dan O'Keefe, Appian
March 3, 2023

Automated document processing leverages AI to drastically reduce the manual effort required to extract data from paper or digital documents. Why is that vital? Even in this digital transformation era, enterprises grapple with an enormous volume of documents, such as invoices, receipts, contracts, and forms. The related manual work and data entry add up quickly. A failure to automate these kinds of processes costs organizations both time and money—and worse, it opens the competitive door to rivals who can innovate and improve customer experience faster. While strides have been made to automate document processing, tools utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) technology take the benefits to a higher level.

Let’s examine how document processing automation works, five real-world examples, and key benefits that deliver document process automation ROI for organizations.

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What is automated document processing?

Automated document processing uses artificial intelligence to pull data from unstructured documents and turn it into usable, machine-readable data. Here’s a look at the basic steps involved in document process automation:

  • An unstructured document gets imported to the AI application. This can be a scanned paper form, an electronic document like a PDF, or even an email.
  • The AI application then classifies the type of document, such as a receipt, invoice, or medical form.
  • Next, AI extracts critical information from the document to be used in other forms.
  • Finally, humans verify that the AI both classified the document correctly and that it pulled the correct information. Over time, the AI gets smarter by learning what the correct answer is (a process called machine learning), and humans need to do less verification and can turn their focus to handling the exceptions. 

Examples of document process automation.

AI document processing is used across multiple industries, but any organization that receives a high volume of documents can benefit from it. Here are a few real-world examples:

1. Billing

Billing departments get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of document types they work with and receive. A lot of the grunt work can be offloaded by automating processing for invoices, payments, and receipts.

2. Customer service

Customer-facing teams manage a large number of ongoing cases. When an email comes in, an application can read the email and extract important customer details like account numbers, ticket numbers, or addresses to store in ticket histories. Further, this results in a superior customer experience as teams can handle more customer requests without getting bogged down in manual data entry.

3. Medical forms

Whether you sit on the healthcare provider or healthcare payer side, there’s a lot of red tape. Document processing automation can pull data from insurance claims, patient medical records, and lab results. This data can then be transferred into electronic health record (EHR) systems or submitted as claims to insurance companies.

4. Internal documents for finance, IT, and HR functions

Employees generate internal documents that require processing as well. Receipt scanning can help for travel expenses, software licenses, or office supplies. HR departments can reduce their manual document processing by using automated document processing on resumes, tax forms, or structured contracts.

5. Order fulfillment

We’ve already mentioned benefits to the finance department, but any business function processing incoming orders can benefit from document processing automation. An order could come in via email, fax, or digital form and then be used in other applications to check and update inventory, print out shipping labels, or generate packing slips.

Reasons to automate document processing.


What are the main benefits of automated document processing? In other words, why do companies invest money in this approach?

1. For starters, AI document processing brings a strong return on investment when you consider the long-term savings of reducing manual processing. Employees will spend fewer hours on repetitive tasks, allowing you to accomplish more work with the same staff and therefore reducing cost.

2. Second, you’ll gain efficiency. Employees become more productive when they focus less on menial tasks and more on tasks requiring strategic human intervention. Let machines handle the routine and let humans handle the exceptions. This also frees up humans to take on strategic projects that can boost revenue. Freeing people up to work on higher-level tasks can also improve both customer satisfaction and employee engagement.

3. Third, while AI systems require some human oversight, the system will learn the correct answers and become more independent. This leads to fewer errors overall. A human error like a typo or copy/paste mistake won’t happen when automated document processing is extracting data directly. That accuracy is also important for governance, risk, and compliance reasons.

[ How else can reducing manual paper processes help your organization? Get the eBook 6 Advantages of Eliminating Manual Document Processing. ]

4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, extracted data can be used in other applications—and can be used in part of larger end-to-end process orchestration efforts. Take customer service as an example. You could use a platform for process automation with low-code capabilities to build applications and workflows that handle order cancellation. The application could receive a customer’s cancellation email, then locate the purchase order, generate and send a cancellation notice, contact the payment processor for a refund, and notify warehouse staff to return the order (and update inventory systems to boot). That’s why it’s so important to take a platform approach to process automation—technology like intelligent document processing (IDP) becomes one important tool in a larger platform that generates outsized ROI for a business.

The importance of document processing automation.

These are just a few examples of automating document processing, which offers tons of benefits for organizations wrestling with especially complex documents and processes. Companies that are overburdened with documents can use it to accomplish more, save money, and improve their bottom line. And perhaps most importantly, they can leverage the data from their documents as part of a larger, end-to-end process automation effort.

Ultimately, automating document processing can benefit many different kinds of organizations across various industries. The real question is—how will your organization use it to get ahead?

Want to learn more about which emerging automation trends deserve your attention? Get the Gartner Hyperautomation 2022 Trends Report.