How to Convert PDF Invoices to Excel Quickly and Cost-Effectively
The versatility and flexibility of PDFs have made them the ideal file format for businesses to share documents and collaborate. However, converting data from PDF invoices into accounting tools can present a challenge. And with 550 billion invoices being produced a year, I thought it was time to show you how to convert PDF invoices to Excel, quickly and cost-effectively.
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A 2019 Billentis report on the state of e-invoicing puts the current total at 550 billion invoices per year. This figure is expected to quadruple by 2035.
“In 2019, only around 55 billion invoices are exchanged on a paperless basis. We estimate that the size of the global e-invoicing and enablement market in 2019 amounts to EUR 4.3 billion, and that it will reach approximately EUR 18 billion in 2025.”
The e-Invoicing Journey 2019-2025, Billentis
In 2018, a Levvel survey found that 36% of invoices are submitted in paper format. This means 352 billion invoices are received electronically1, primarily in portable document format (PDF). We can safely assume that most accounts payable (AP) teams are scanning paper invoices as they process those PDFs.
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In this blog post, I’ll focus on how you can export data from PDFs into spreadsheet programs like MS Excel.
Table of Contents
A brief history of the PDF
What does PDF mean?
PDF stands for Portable Document Format. Adobe invented the PDF 30 years ago.
To ease the cross-platform exchange and presentation of documents. Helping users create and share documents with the devices and software of their choice.
For example, you can create an invoice in MS Word on a Windows PC. Save the invoice as a PDF, and send it to a customer. Who can then read and sign the PDF on a Mac. The customer can even edit the invoice and send it back to you for additional changes if necessary.
“What industries badly need is a universal way to communicate documents across a wide variety of machine configurations, operating systems and communication networks. These documents should be viewable on any display and should be printable on any modern printers. If this problem can be solved, then the fundamental way people work will change.”
John E. Warnock, Adobe Cofounder
PDF has become so ingrained in our lives that we take the format for granted. But, it wasn’t an overnight sensation, as there were significant barriers to mainstream adoption, including…
- Adobe’s PDF creation and reading software, Adobe Acrobat, cost $50 per user (equivalent in purchasing power to $103 in 2023)
- Early versions didn’t support external hyperlinks
- Because they were much larger than plain text files, PDFs took an excruciatingly long time to download through the slow modems of that era (we’re thankful for Fiber internet today)
- The puny processing power of 90’s computers rendered PDFs at a snail’s pace
Advances in technology and free distribution of Adobe Reader – now Acrobat Reader – helped make PDF the current standard for electronic documents.
If you’re a bit of a geek, like me, and you’re curious to take a deeper dive into the history of PDFs, check out this story of the PDF guide.
Okay, I’m going to look at a common use case for this document format – invoices. You’ll also see that to convert PDF invoices to Excel isn’t that difficult once you have the right software for the job.
The problem with PDF invoices
Without the right tools and processes, PDF invoices can create accounts payable (AP) inefficiencies and frustrations, which can increase the total cost of ownership (TCO) of invoice data capture.
For instance, an incorrect bill-to-entity or PO number will cause serious problems for your finance team. Invoices with the wrong information must be rejected. Sent back to the vendor. Then resubmitted and validated, before resending to the AP team… again.
Your team’s only option is manual data entry or copy-pasting invoice details from PDF files to Excel files. But, both methods will end up being expensive, time-consuming, and more prone to errors than a smart tech-enabled solution
Vendors will get annoyed that payment is late, invoice reviewers will be tearing their hair out as they have to validate and approve an invoice again, your finance team will be close to the edge.
In the 2021 Levvel Research report, “the top three invoice processing concerns for AP teams are missed discounts (44%), late payments (39%), and duplicate payments (29%).”
With all this unnecessary manual work and repetition, why do companies still use PDF invoicing?
How to convert PDF invoices to Excel spreadsheets
Whether you choose a manual data entry method or AI OCR software – optical character recognition, you’re going to have to invest time, money, and resources if you want to successfully convert PDF invoices to Excel.
I’ll show you four ways to extract data from PDF to Microsoft Excel, along with the pros and cons. Finishing with an automated solution that’ll knock your socks off. Rossum’s intelligent processing platform.
Consider the short-term and long-term costs of each when you’re evaluating your options…
Manual invoice data capture methods
While I’ve explained why manual data extraction is not the best choice for most AP functions, your business may be at a stage where it will be okay in the short term.
Just be aware that in-house or outsourced data entry is not a sustainable option and will become more costly and time-consuming, and potentially less accurate, as you scale your company. Potentially, hindering the growth of your business.
According to the 2018 Goldman Sachs report, the direct and indirect costs of manual, paper-based invoice processing amounts to an eye-watering $2.7 trillion for global businesses.
Manual data entry challenges?
- High data entry error rate
- Data quality control
- Slow turnaround
The ‘how-to’ here is obvious… data entry clerks refer to PDF invoices and either type or copy-paste relevant information into Excel spreadsheets used for accounts payable purposes.
For a company that processes a large volume of invoices, this is a costly option that’s far more error-prone than automated data capture.
PDF to Excel conversion software
There are a wide range of PDF to Excel conversion programs. Because they’re taking information directly from invoices, they ensure accurate data capture.
However, accuracy is highly dependent on the structure of the invoices you’re processing. This software tends to create spreadsheets that require a fair amount of manual tweaking that uses up the time you’re supposed to be saving on data entry. And, you’re introducing an additional step that requires human input. Potentially, increasing the chance of human error.
Some PDF to Excel conversion tools offer monthly subscription-based pricing, others have a one-off single-user license fee. But, you’ll only see a return on your investment with one of these solutions if your vendors send you PDF invoices with the same structure. Otherwise, members of your AP team will have to spend an excessive amount of time adjusting Excel spreadsheets.
FYI – It’s worth noting that the article we linked above implies that PDF to Excel converters may not be all that reliable. One review stated that, “if you have embedded tables in a PDF document, these will be converted into an Excel spreadsheet – hopefully – without issues.”
PDF to OCR, template-based
Similar to PDF to Excel conversion software, template-based OCR software can extract invoice data and export it to an Excel spreadsheet accurately and quickly. Also, like PDF to Excel converters, time and cost savings are contingent on how many invoice formats you’re working with.
This solution spares your AP team the trouble of amending spreadsheets after every conversion. But, they will need to set up templates and rules for every vendor in your supply chain.
Setting up a new template for each different invoice will take several hours. If you’re working with a continuously changing roster of suppliers, a template-based OCR solution may not be the best option for converting PDF invoices to Excel.
PDF to OCR, cognitive invoice data capture
Automated invoice data capture solutions offer the most efficient and cost-effective way to extract invoice data from PDFs to Excel spreadsheets. You can batch-convert invoices in a matter of minutes.
Take a look at the example below…
The second step does take some manual effort. Fortunately, a cognitive data capture solution learns to recognize data fields and grows more accurate and intuitive with use.
You’ll also need to dedicate a little time and resources to the fourth step, as some column widths may require adjustment.
The cost, time, and resources required for these tasks are marginal compared to the other PDF invoice to Excel conversion options I’ve looked at.
If you’re considering automating your AP process, take advantage of our 11 Tips for Automating the End-to-End Process of Accounts Payable post.
Don’t wait… convert PDF invoices to Excel now
The current state of your AP process should help determine how you can convert PDF invoices to Excel. If you’re a small business owner with just a few suppliers, manual methods may be the most cost-effective way to extract invoice data. But, as your business grows, so does the volume of documents your AP team will have to handle. You’ll need to upgrade to a more efficient method. Such as Rossum’s cognitive invoice data capture.
You might like to consider using Rossum’s free trial version of automated document data capture software. It’ll give you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the program so that you’re ready to work with it on a larger scale as your business grows.
1 The oft-quoted Billentis report puts the percentage of completely paperless invoices at 10%. However, its methodology states that supplier and buyer “exchange [invoices] directly via service providers and/or via the platform provided by tax authorities”. In other words, that 10% consists of purely EDI invoice receipt, which does not include electronic invoices received in PDF format via email or supplier portal.