“Paper is still the lifeblood of many industries,” admits Jackie Horn, director of worldwide marketing, Bowe Bell + Howell Scanners. “From signatures to transaction data, paper documents hold much of the information companies need to operate efficiently on a day-to-day basis. Digitizing this paper-based data and integrating it into a company’s information management systems improve workflow and provide a range of efficiencies, including faster customer service.”
David Haining, Scanjet portfolio manager, Hewlett-Packard (HP), agrees, explaining how document capture processes drive efficiency. “A paper-based invoice process that takes days to complete transforms to an electronic workflow that takes only minutes. This reduces business risk and is ‘greener,’ eliminating unnecessary copies during the paper-based workflow.”
The earlier business information is digitized, the more streamlined business processes become. “An electronic file can exist on several different screens at once, in the same office or thousands of miles apart,” explains Mark Machida, senior director, Image Systems Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc. “Sequential steps are now performed simultaneously, as soon as a document enters the system. Customer information verification, credit approval, inventory confirmation, and order packing can all begin at inception and flow at a much quicker rate. While reducing information processing times increases customer satisfaction levels, a more significant impact is realized through the customer’s increased access to information throughout the document’s life.”
Capturing document data up front is simplified with software solutions that integrate into front-end multifunction devices—popular in many office environments. For example, Nuance has standing relationships with many hardware vendors, and offers imaging solutions to support a paperless environment. “Vendors opened their platforms to make it possible for companies to program what comes up on hardware touch-screens. They’ve even made the touch-screens bigger and connected that to Web standards,” says Robert Weideman, senior VP/GM, Imaging Division, Nuance. He explains that this shift is taking place to provide an alternative to dedicated workgroup scanners. “If I’m at a doctor’s office or an insurance agency and I have a modern device on a network, I’m going to print, copy, and scan with it. There are buttons on the touch-screen tied into scanning client information, claims processing systems, and the billing system. With the Nuance solution, it scans to an employee’s PC or a particular folder or location on a network,” he says. In addition, the scanned documents can be converted to a number of different formats.
There are two sides to every coin. Implementing a capture solution offers reduced costs, but the initial investment may steer some organizations away. Additional software investments are also necessary to actually achieve productivity and organization. Implementing new business processes, adapting current, or replacing antiquated systems are time-consuming and often costly, particularly at the implementation stage. “The document preparation step is always costly and challenging during the document conversion process. This manual and labor-intensive step includes batch sorting and document preparation,” says Machida.
Bob Curci, product manager, Panasonic counters, “High-cost is simply a non-issue.” He explains that in every user case-study Panasonic ever analyzed, the company involved discussed the ROI benefits of replacing or re-purposing employees and reclaiming expensive storage space with a digital solution. “Laugh if you will, but the only challenge involves making the right choices going in,” he adds. Basic considerations such as maximum speed or imaging quality, monthly output requirements, and footprint are essential.
Implementation of document conversion technology quickly becomes a complex process, one that is necessary for organizations to fully benefit from a document capture system. This step may require business process reengineering, changes in policies and procedures, and system design or redesign, all of which require an investment of time and money. “Changing something as basic as document processing can introduce additional risk if not properly implemented,” adds Machida.
Proper implementation requires several considerations, from the best hardware and software selections and combinations to the strain it places on the network. “One area that doesn’t receive sufficient attention is the architecture of document capture and conversion—and where that processing takes place,” says Thaddeus Bouchard, CTO, Omtool. “Many competing solutions perform document conversion using the user’s underpowered, overtaxed client PC. However, document conversion can be a processing-intensive task that performs slowly on a client PC.” Bouchard notes that by contrast, a server-based architecture taking advantage of centralized, clustered resources offers more processing power. The resources required for conversion are managed and scaled appropriately—at the server level—to deliver consistent results with lower costs.
The document conversion location also directly influences the cost of implementation. “Today high cost is often driven by companies constraining document capture to a centralized or mailroom approach,” says Haining. “This type of implementation drives enormous courier costs as it requires everything to be shipped to a central location for scanning.” For a workflow that captures incoming communications at the point of entry, organizations may want to consider a system with multiple, smaller devices at distributed locations. “The challenge is then how a company can distribute the scan or capture capabilities while making it easy for the knowledge worker, ensuring the security and accuracy of the data, and improving IT efficiency.”
Despite the common cost-centers and specific challenges to implementing a document conversion system, Machida stresses the benefits. “There can be significant cost savings achieved when eliminating physical duplication, transport, and archiving/warehousing of hardcopy documents. Eliminating postage, overnight mail, etc., adds a quantifiable and usually significant reduction to the cost of a transaction that quickly adds to the bottom line.”
Breaking it Down
A scanned document doesn’t seem all that intricate or extraordinary. However, add the ability to extract text, so words and characters are searchable, editable, and can be distributed throughout an organization, and it starts to make economical sense. Not to mention the virtual elimination of hardcopy file systems, which are vulnerable to water damage, theft, and misplacement. To aid in the document conversion process, many hardware and software solutions support barcoding, optical character recognition (OCR), form recognition, and metadata.
To get an idea of how these technologies can affect organizations, Tim Mortenson, director, Solutions Software, Solutions for Business, Business Solutions and Services, Eastman Kodak Company, offers an example. “Within accounting departments, document classification and extraction technologies allow for automated recognition of various inbound document types such as invoices and shipping documentation, and then guide the recognition and extraction of the data needed to process the transaction.” He adds that credit card and utility remittance processes also leverage the technology to handle large volumes of payments.
According to research from The Forrester Wave, published in June of 2008, AP-EIPP, Q2, manually processing suppliers’ invoices cost accounts payable departments in the range of ten to $100 per document, compared with two dollars or less for fully automated processing. “People make more mistakes than computers do and take so long to resolve problems that their companies can’t reap the benefits of early-payment discounts. Yet despite being expensive, slow, and error prone, human beings still handle more than 90 percent of all business-to-business invoices,” states the report.
As a provider of document recognition, data capture, and linguistic software, ABBYY believes invoice processing has two parts, manual data entry and workflow. While eliminating manual labor doesn’t encompass the entire solution, it does help.
Automation and classification technologies associated with capture are vital. “Given that 80 percent of information is unstructured, these technologies are essential to extracting useful information from documents and simplifying access to resulting images and data,” says Mortenson. “In a challenging, highly competitive global market, with ever-increasing regulations and pressure to become digitized, companies must embrace these technologies to better manage their information and share it in real-time with customers and partners.”
Technologies such as barcoding, OCR, form recognition, and metatdata are important to employ. However, “I would add the caution that these should not be considered as an alternative to human intervention in the image/data capture and quality control process, but should instead augment and increase productivity,” says Matthew McCabe, national sales manager, The Crowley Company.
The statistics are clear. “Document and information processes cost businesses an estimated 15 percent of their total revenue each year,” says Mortenson. “In addition, document related costs double approximately every five to ten years.”
Document capture is a key part of a company’s overall document strategy and business process. It is important to outline your specific business workflow and objectives when considering a document capture solution or process