Microsoft updates Azure Form Recognizer: Invoices go multi-language

Power Apps Express Design doesn't get to have all the AI fun


Days after the debut of doodle-recognizing Express Design on the Power Apps platform, Microsoft has updated its Azure sibling: Form Recognizer.

While Express Design is very much the new kid on the block, its ability to build a form from scribbles can be traced back to the Applied AI service, Form Recognizer.

Azure Form Recognizer, as its name suggests, pulls text and structure from documents using AI and OCR. The theory goes that users can automate data processing with the tech, which accepts PDFs, scanned images and handwritten forms (although, as with all handwriting recognition systems, scrawl barely readable by humans can equally stump the robots.)

More usefully, Azure Form Recognizer can map field relationships as key-value pairs and spit out some structured JSON without "excessive manual intervention" as Microsoft delicately puts it.

The latest preview of the tech adds the ability to extract paragraphs – handy for unstructured documents – and roles for those paragraphs (for example: titles or footnotes.) The June 2022 API version will also spot tabular fields, useful for turning document content into tables. It will also handle tables that span multiple pages.

"If you have a dataset labeled with tables," explained Microsoft, "train a model with the current API to start seeing multi-page tables in the response."

Other tweaks include the ability to extract text from Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, as well as text from embedded images. HTML documents can also be scanned. US driver license scanning has been improved to extract fields including DateOfIssue, Height and Weight, and Japanese has been added to the business card model.

However, it is the additional languages now supported by the invoice model that are likely the most attractive. Spanish and English are joined by German, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch. "This opens up the procurement scenarios to invoices in many different languages," said Microsoft.

A caveat: we would caution readers to check for regulatory compliance with that data. This is all, after all, being processed in Azure, which might give some lawmakers pause for thought.

Still, for developers tasked with document digitization and riding the Azure train, the updates (in preview) will welcome. There is, however, unlikely to be enough to prise engineers from rival products by Google and AWS, such as Cloud Vision and Textract respectively. ®

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