What is intelligent document processing?

Intelligent document processing describes the use of AI and other tools to transform unstructured and semi-structured information into usable data

With the arrival of the digital age, businesses in all industries began the often-arduous task of transitioning analog, paper-based files, records and documents into digital formats. At first, this process was forced to depend on human digitisation specialists to manually transfer information from analog to digital repositories. Eventually, technological advancements in optical character recognition (OCR) and intelligent character recognition (ICR) allowed for a more-streamlined approach. But these tools were limited, in that they could only turn scanned images into digital text—they couldn’t categorise, analyse or validate the data the analog documents contained.

Intelligent document processing (IDP) changes all that, allowing businesses to automatically transform and classify the information contained in unstructured documents into pre-specified digital formats and to extract valuable, actionable insights in the process.

Intelligent document processing is an umbrella term that refers to a set of solutions and tools that rely on technologies such as machine learning (ML), computer vision, cognitive automation, robotic process automation (RPA) and natural language processing (NLP) to automate and accelerate document processing. IPD goes beyond simply processing data; it allows automated tools to understand what the document is about and the relevance of the data it contains.

What are the stages involved in IDP?

The enterprise IDP process consists of five phases:

  • Collection
    The first stage of IDP is focused on gathering paper and digital documents from a variety of available content sources. Hardware and software integrations allow IDP tools to perform collection processes at scale.
  • Pre-processing
    Before the documents can be fully analysed, they must meet certain quality standards. Document pre-processing automatically applies a range of techniques to improve document quality, including cropping, binarisation, deskewing and noise reduction.
  • Classification
    Next, the IDP tool reviews the digitised document, detects its beginning and end and divides the information it presents into various categories based on type, content, structure and/or format. This stage may apply computer vision algorithms to recognise visual patterns and NLP techniques to group information based on subject.
  • Extraction
    With the information in the document correctly classified, textual data must next be extracted and digitised using OCR and ICR technologies combined with ML capabilities to ensure consistency and accuracy.
  • Validation
    Finally, the extracted data is authenticated using a series of validation rules and AI-enhanced techniques, enhanced with RPA technologies. This helps ensure that the extracted data is accurate and reliable. Some organisations prefer to include a human authenticator in this step to help the AI improve and learn more quickly.

Often, organisations that are interested in intelligent document processing may confuse it with other related technologies, such as document capture or robotic process automation.

IDP vs. document capture

Document capture technologies, including OCR and ICR, are designed to convert physical documents into digital formats. These technologies are an essential part of an effective IDP solution, but on their own cannot perform the more analytical functions of intelligent document processing.


Robotic process automation is another technology that can be applied towards intelligent document processing. But where IDP is AI driven and capable of learning from experience, RPA is rule-based and typically used to automate simple, repetitive tasks that would otherwise need to be performed by a human worker. RPA supports IDP solutions but cannot understand the content within the context of the document.

There are few things as important to the success of modern business organisations than reliable, actionable data. Unfortunately, it is estimated that the majority of available business data is contained in unstructured formats, including paper documents, images, emails and PDFs. Without proper formatting and analysis of this data, organisations in all industries may miss out on vital insights.

IDP empowers organisations to turn unstructured data into structured data, without the major time and cost investment that naturally accompanied manual data transfer. And by incorporating advanced AI solutions, these organisations can likewise automate the classification and analysis of said data, turning raw information into a clearer understanding of the business, its industry and its customers.

Top benefits of intelligent data processing include:

Faster processing

It is theorised that as much as 80% of business data currently resides in unstructured formats. This represents massive volumes of information. For a single employee—or even a large team of employees—to reformat that data manually would take a significant amount of time. 

IDP, on the other hand, can digitise, classify, extract and analyse large amounts of data in microseconds, without ever having to worry about getting tired. This not only allows businesses to more quickly transition unstructured data into more usable formats, but also frees up valuable employees to perform more strategy-relevant tasks.

Reduced costs

Going hand in hand with faster document processing, the savings associated with IDP are another major advantage. By reducing processing times, businesses can begin putting newly structured data to work almost immediately to inform decisions and improve returns. At the same time, IDP tools help organisations save on costs related to operational processes and allow them to accomplish more without having to hire more. Together, this amounts to a better return on investment for IDP than is traditionally possible with other document processing solutions.

Improved data quality

Human data digitisation specialists are not only limited in terms of how much they can accomplish in a given amount of time; they are also hampered by human error. A simple slip of a keystroke can render otherwise-valuable data completely unusable—or even totally misleading.

IDP cuts out the need for manual data input. This means that data errors are virtually eliminated and human review is only required when issues or anomalies within the data present themselves. With the improved data quality made possible through IDP, organisations can act on data insights with confidence.

Simplified security and compliance

Data security is a major concern, not only for modern businesses and their customers, but also for regulatory bodies tasked with ensuring that data-security best practices are being followed. IDP simplifies security and compliance, applying automation to ensure that data-protection regulations are always properly implemented.

Additionally, digital records associated with IDP processes make compliance auditing a less-complex task, providing a clear ‘trail’ that auditors can follow when verifying that the digital system and the data it contains has the correct safeties in place to meet regulatory standards.

Easier integration

The most effective IDP tools and solutions are designed to integrate easily with existing programmes and hardware. Rather than having to make costly, time-consuming adjustments to an existing tech stack, companies can often use IDP out of the box, connecting seamlessly with the systems they are currently using.

Seamless integration removes a major hurdle of IDP adoption and makes it easier than ever to begin enjoying the benefits of intelligent document digitisation and processing.

Increased scalability

Unlike human teams that must grow and hire new talent to meet increased work volume, IDP is capable of operating at scale without significantly increasing costs. Applying automation to vital processes across the organisation, IDP expands to meet business needs and continues to prove its value regardless of how much data is sent its way.

Intelligent document processing has the capacity to improve any business that regularly works with unstructured data. In other words, most organisations in most industries can expect to see advantages from investing in IDP solutions. Examples of industries that are distinctly well suited to intelligent document processing include:

  • Government
    Many government agencies around the world rely on legacy systems and manual documentation processes. IDP can help these entities achieve digital transformation, easily pulling important data from analog records and classifying it for later use and review.
  • Healthcare
    Keeping accurate and up-to-date patient records is a major concern within the healthcare industry. Using IDP technology, hospitals and other healthcare organisations can automatically capture patient records from unstructured sources and export relevant data to other systems.
  • Financial services
    There is little room for error where money is concerned. As such, financial services such as banks and mortgage-lending institutions rely heavily on documentation to ensure that everything is being handled appropriately. IDP can assist with processing the considerable number of documents associated with mortgage pre-processing, opening and servicing accounts and more.
  • Insurance
    Insurance claims and payouts depend on pages and pages of forms, supporting documents and unstructured data in a variety of formats. Likewise, insurance enrolment and underwriting traditionally depend on manual data processing and classification. In each case, IDP solutions offer faster, more accurate ways to streamline the process of turning this unstructured data into something more easily available for review and analysis.
  • Transportation and logistics
    As goods move from one location to another, they generate enormous amounts of unstructured paperwork—often in inconsistent formats. Transportation and logistics organisations can improve their operational agility and save on costs by applying IDP solutions to automatically streamline and standardise this documentation.

As modern businesses become ever more dependent on critical data insights, unstructured data represents a major blind spot for many organisations. IDP provides a solution, empowering companies across all industries with the ability to convert those untapped data resources into something actionable. But to do that, businesses need a reliable IDP tool capable of intelligently extracting data and applying automation solutions to a variety of document formats and doing so without the need for user coding experience. ServiceNow offers the solution.

ServiceNow Document Intelligence is a powerful tool for accelerating the processing of variable documents across any organisation, any industry and any ServiceNow workflow. Accelerate IDP like never before and extract and categorise data from unstructured sources featuring varied text, formats and templates. With its AI-first design, Document Intelligence reduces processing time, minimises data entry errors and is resilient to document changes over time. And because Document Intelligence is built on the award-winning Now Platform®, users of all coding skill levels can easily operate the application for effective document processing and integrate processing tasks into automated workflows.

Give your organisation the resources and insights it needs. Learn more about Document Intelligence from ServiceNow and get the most out of your unstructured and semi-structured data.

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