Soviet author Mikhail Bulgakov’s long-repressed classic The Master and Margarita boldly proclaimed that “Manuscripts don’t burn.” While transcendent and eminently meaningful within the novel, even Bulgakov’s most admiring readers must admit that, from a historical perspective, his maxim is bunk. Fire, flood, sabotage, and error have lost untold records, whether manuscripts or ledgers or film canisters. Nikola Tesla’s unified field theory. At least one of Shakespeare’s plays. Novels from Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. Most silent films ever made. Eighteen million U.S. veterans’ records in a 1973 fire. Millions of business documents in the fires of London and Chicago, in hurricanes and earthquakes worldwide.

Small losses matter too. A traveling sales rep discards her receipt for a client dinner. The secretary misplaces an applicant’s resume. Your support ticket gets overlooked.

Digitizing records was a partial fix. Give an intern a scanner and a stack of paper and tell him to check back when he’s done. But that was exactly it: you needed a body to work the scanner, to recognize and sort the digital copies. In the case of old accounting records, you could get an intern. With invoices and payment processing, you needed an accountant—someone qualified, someone expensive. And data centers still flooded and burned on the regular.

Enter three technologies in quick succession.

1. The Cloud. Foretold by MIT’s John McCarthy in 1961, the utility model of computing became a reality in the late 2000s. Someone else somewhere else hosts your data. You retain access, but your risk of loss—minor or catastrophic—plummets.

2. OCR. Your business receives an invoice in paper, email, or download form. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software recognizes and records its key details. Anyone can enter invoices. The experts have merely to approve them.

3. Machine Learning. Your invoice has already been digitized, sorted, and stored in the cloud. Machine learning begins where OCR left off. Loosely known as AI, machine learning lets software make posting suggestions based on your transaction history. Take or leave them, the suggestions get sharper as you use the system.

Some businesses try to do this piecemeal. Space on AWS. OCR scanning from a one-trick module. Hand-coded accounting bots.

Others turn to Xledger. The most automated ERP system on the market, Xledger combines true cloud, OCR, and machine learning into one unified solution. Business documents become actionable data. Past behavior becomes strategic intelligence.

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