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Leveraging document parsing APIs for business automation

In this blog post, we explore a term that you've probably heard quite a bit. That term is API, or Application Programming Interface. We’ll discuss what an API does, why they exist and how you can leverage API in business process automation, specifically in document/PDF parsing and data extraction.

What is an API?

Though the concept originated in the 1940s, the term API didn’t come to the fore until the 60s -70s and went to become a valuable aspect of modern-day business.

API use has surged over the past decade, to the degree that many of the most popular web applications today would not be possible without APIs.

Source: IBM Cloud Education

Technically speaking, an API is defined as a set of programming code that allows two applications to talk to each other, exchange data and functionality easily and securely. An application could be a whole server, a whole app or just a small part of an app or software with a defined function, for example a microservice.

APIs go hand in hand with one of the most fundamental concepts in software engineering and computer science: abstraction. Abstraction is a way of organising/presenting a system in a simplified manner—removing unnecessary complexity. In other words, abstracting aims at creating interfaces where the detailed and inner workings of computer programs are hidden from users. Only the context-relevant information (ones that users need to know or see) are preserved to solve a problem.

To really get a sense about what is the meaning of an abstraction and API in plain English, let’s demonstrate how an API works using an example.

How does the API work?

Taking the real-life example of travel/booking sites. In such a context, think of the abstraction as hitting the search button and getting search results in a matter of split seconds.

You choose your flight origin and destination from a drop-down menu and use the calendar to specify travelling dates. You can even bundle your flight with accommodation or a car rental. Once you click on the search button you are directed to a simple interface that displays results that match each one of your specifications, hiding all kinds of complexity behind the scenes. How? The answer is through using an API.

Here the API serves as a messenger that has authenticated access to other entities (using an API token). It takes your requests (API calls) and tells third-party systems (the API endpoints) what you want to do and then returns responses back to you. It makes it easy for machines to quickly and autonomously exchange data through requests — in this case, data about room vacancies, flights, seats availability and booking/reservation requests.

Without an API, the travel agent would have to manually and separately email airlines and hotels to inquire about their availability, schedules, and prices. Then members of these services would need to search through their database and systems, then email the agent back who would need to arrange appropriate bundles before getting back to the traveller for final confirmation.

As InfoWorld summarises it: “This is what APIs are like for programmers. They take an overwhelming amount of complexity and define a relatively simple set of interactions that you can utilise instead of doing it all yourself. In any software project, you’re likely using tens if not hundreds of APIs directly, and each of those APIs relies on other APIs and so on”.

The role of APIs in business process automation

According to State of the API report which covers the largest and most comprehensive survey on APIs,  a growing number of organisations will continue to invest in APIs over the next few years. Moreover, other than the Tech and IT industries, APIs are also deployed in banking/finance/insurance, healthcare, education, retail and others.

As illustrated through our travel site example, the benefits of API goes beyond its core functionality – the transfer of data and requests between different applications. From a business perspective, companies across all industries can leverage API’s connectivity to streamline and automate their back-end operations in what’s called business process automation (BPA).

This can be especially instrumental in supercharging a company's competitiveness. It can increase productivity with fewer resources, allow businesses to adapt to the ever-changing customers’ needs as well as open new avenues for growth.

Such business process automation is applicable to any complex business processes and functions from record-keeping activities and data manipulation to any small part of an event-driven and mission-critical process. For instance, document and PDF parsing or data extraction.

Leveraging document parsing APIs for business automation

Document or PDF parsing: What is it?

Document or PDF parsing is one of the essential steps in data collection. It involves examining and extracting data trapped in documents such as PDF files—scanned or electronically generated, and transforming it into structured data format e.g.  Excel, CSV or JSON file format. This extracted data is said to be parsed when it’s broken down into components that can be categorised, analysed, and understood by machines, to allow for further manipulation and analysis.

Across industries and using technology, this business process can be further expedited using document parser tools that rely on an API to streamline and automate such back-end operations.

Why do businesses use it?

In the financial industry, successful lending companies use document parsing APIs and can now process loan applications in a fraction of time. Historically, this process took weeks and required constant manual intervention from the lending team.

This is because, one step that is particularly iterative, is the task of manually extracting relevant data from customer applications and ensuring all information and documents are collated and correct before uploading all details into CRM systems. To keep track of applications, make the necessary liaisons and maintain effective clients’ relationships.

In such heavily regulated industries, a high level of diligence and attention to detail become even more paramount. And when managing a high caseload of applications, adopting a manual approach can get in the way of identifying any potentially fraudulent activity and escalating any concerns, costing the business money and its reputation.

Not only that, but the same raw data that’s been collected can also be utilised by the data analytics team to form business intelligence insights. This is in the form of business reports that identify trends and business recommendations to support any business development activities.

This is why our clients from all industries - from financial services to public sector contractors to small retail businesses - use Parsel.ai’s API.

PDF parsing with Parsel.ai

At Parsel, we use cognitive data extraction - intelligent data extraction algorithms that use AI and machine learning technology to understand the information it is extracting, and categorise it into key-value pairs, tables, and entities.

At 96.6% financial grade accuracy, Parsel's data inference algorithms capture the relevant unstructured data from different documents formats and layouts e.g., invoices, company reports, and turn it into structured data format. In addition to JSON output, Parsel also supports PDF to Excel and CSV output files when more compact files are preferred.

What does Parsel.ai API do?

Available to Parsel Enterprise clients, Parsel API provides the same functionality as the parsel.ai user interface i.e. uploading documents to dataset, editing dataset metadata and downloading dataset output.

Using the account's sign-in credentials - which can be obtained either upon Enterprise client account sign-up or assigned if you are US based  -  you will be able to generate an authentication token. This enables Enterprise clients to programmatically interact with the Parsel.ai service, thus allowing them to integrate Parsel into any workflow they have, as long as they have the capability to make HTTPS network requests to our graphql API endpoint(s).

To learn more about the different capabilities of Parsel’s API, feel free to check out our API documentation at: https://docs.parsel.ai/ and https://docs.us.parsel.ai/ for our US deployment.

Try Parsel’s API for yourself

With no model training or guidance required, our API lets you extract data from receipts, bills, invoices, bank statements and company reports etc and export it to CSV, Excel as well JSON.

Ready to try Parsel’s API for your business? With our Enterprise plan, you can benefit from a fully featured offering, with unlimited monthly page allowance, API access, and direct support from our team of data scientists and engineers.

For a customised quote that matches your business need, get in touch with us now. To try our Parsel.ai for free, sign up for a free account today.