posted 5 Jun 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 9
Getting the most from your digital mailroom deployment
The right approach to document classification directly impacts customer service delivery to give your mailroom organisation the advantage.
By Dr Matt Lees
Implemented correctly, mailroom automation solutions can dramatically enhance business efficiency and in turn improve service delivery to customers, helping to give you the competitive advantage in the market.
But if implemented incorrectly, an automated mailroom will simply serve to push documents around the organisation in electronic form, giving the impression of efficiency but actually having the opposite effect.
So how can organisations ensure they have the right technology and controls in place to ensure that mailroom automation delivers on its promises and potential, giving them a real business edge?
To do this, it’s vital to understand that the key step in mailroom automation is what happens after the scanning phase. This critical second stage of processing is where recognition and – crucially – document classification takes place, with the relevant information being extracted from the paper documents. It’s here that the data is unlocked to ensure documents can be handled and routed as efficiently as possible, helping to unblock the corporate workflow and typically delivering the biggest proportion of the benefits of mailroom efficiency.
Using classified information, intelligently
Let’s take a closer look at this rate-determining step which is so crucial to mailroom success. Once a document is scanned, it can be made ready for quick classification by applying auto-indexing techniques via optical character recognition (OCR) or intelligent character recognition (ICR) technologies.
OCR/ICR is relatively expensive technology to deploy, but can quickly pay dividends by accelerating the indexing process. In practice, it’s usually only necessary to process on average one and a half pages of each document in order to correctly classify it.
This is especially important as 80 per cent of the information used by an organisation is in the form of unstructured paper documents – and until recently, automatic processing was limited to those documents with a fixed structure.
This meant organisations scanning and capturing documents would have to invest considerable time and effort sorting these documents prior to scanning, adding document separation sheets and manually classifying the document prior to data extraction. All of this resulted in a considerable amount of skilled sorting work both before and after scanning.
The use of OCR/ICR addresses this issue by helping to remove the need for intensive, manual post mailroom sorting and pre-scanning document preparation tasks – making a giant step towards automating the mailroom, and helping to dramatically reduce overall processing costs.
Extracting the right information
Intelligent automation software (such as Indicius and Xtrata from Kofax) provides advanced document classification, separation and extraction capabilities. OCR tools can then automatically extract machine-printed or hand-printed text and printed data from scanned document images, eliminating costly and time-consuming manual keying.
The additional extracted data provides valuable document intelligence to further streamline the separation and process-routing of the document to a workflow queue, so that the document can be indexed for storage or sent directly to a business process (such as invoice or order processing).
Extracting the right recipient detail or identifying account number means documents can be automatically routed to the right process destination – for example, purchase orders to the sales and manufacturing departments, and invoices to the finance Invoice Processing system.
After being scanned, images and the extracted data are usually released to a document management system, case management system or image repository to ensure security, safe archiving and auditability. This is vital to avoid lost documents. If the document management system links to core business systems such as ERP or CRM, this further automates and enhances processes.
Let’s take a look at a real-life case study to demonstrate how theory is put into practice within a business.
Unified document processing solution manages 220,000 images per day for finance sector clients. A world leading provider of customised corporate information solutions in the financial services sector decided to deploy an advanced document processing solution in order to handle the 220,000 pages of insurance documentation it receives every day as efficiently as possible.
Handling such a large volume of mail, faxes and e-mail from the UK’s largest financial institutions led to the company looking for an effective and resilient mail handling solution to ensure timely distribution and that service level agreements are met.
Working closely with Basware, the company developed a scanning and indexing solution which uses Kofax software to process all incoming mail, faxes and e-mails, allowing them to be automatically distributed to the respective processing teams.
The solution provides a valuable audit trail, which proves that mail has been received, handled and distributed in a timely way, and that service level agreements have been met. It does this by tracking mail from when it reaches the company giving each document a unique number; images are created using Kofax scanning technology.
The unified document processing and data capture solution has the flexibility to handle all mail received and distribute documents to all clients. This not only enables the company to meet its own service level agreements, but also enables its clients in the financial sector to deliver timely and efficient customer service.
Getting the business upper hand
Effective and rapid document classification is a critical element of a successful mailroom automation solution. Deployed properly, it not only improves your internal business processes, but also streamlines and enhances service delivery to customers. There are three good reasons for this.
First, it’s simply good business sense: it cuts transaction costs across the organisation by sorting the wheat from the chaff in the mailroom. Second, it improves relationships with customers by accelerating transactions and ensuring records are kept updated. Finally, it also addresses expanding information management legislation which specifies the need for companies to capture, track and control information – especially financial information – as soon as it touches them.
There’s never been a better reason to start sorting the post more efficiently.
User case study: Countrywide Property Lawyers automates mailroom activity
Countywide Property Lawyers, the UK’s largest conveyance organisation, deployed an advanced data capture and document processing solution to automate mailroom activity and the handling of the 25,000 legal documents it receives every day.
The solution, deployed by Basware, uses Kofax software and has been rolled out to Countrywide’s Manchester headquarters and offices in Cardiff and Northampton.
By automating its mailroom activity and offshoring administrative tasks to India, the company has successfully streamlined operations and increased internal capacity, enabling fee-earners at the firm to service clients more effectively and boosting productivity by 15 per cent.
The solution automatically allocates 85 per cent of incoming post, using Kofax Capture Transformation Modules, to the correct legal case. It also classifies 90 per cent of post for staff, identifying letters from lawyers, draft contracts and mortgage offers, helping to speed up business processes and ensure legal teams receive essential legal documents by 10:30 am.
The resulting automated mailroom integrated into Countrywide’s system handles all business-related printed and hand-written documents, extracting key data and sending it along with an image of the mail to the case management system, which automatically routes the mail to the correct legal team for action.
Documents that cannot be auto-referenced are then sent as an image file to
Previously, all incoming mail was handled manually, which was not only time-consuming and a drain on internal resources, but it also meant that it was easy to mislay documents or even to lose them, and that there was a delay in getting legal documents to fee earners and legal teams in the business for action.
Rob Hunt, project manager at Countrywide Property Lawyers, said, “What used to take us 30 man hours every day now needs just three man hours in the UK, and four hours of administrative support from India.
“It has not only helped us to achieve considerable cost savings, but has also freed up valuable internal resources – our legal teams can focus more on managing client cases, and have been able to handle a 15 per cent larger case load since deployment.”
A barcode database system was also developed for Countrywide, which outlines what data has been extracted and what action is required for the original document – whether it needs to be signed and returned or securely stored. This provides the company with a valuable audit trail and helps them monitor speed of response and case progression, and has eliminated the problem of mislaid documents.
Dr Matt Lees is VP Data Capture Division at Basware UK. Website: www.basware.co.uk