posted 10 Nov 2010 in Volume 14 Issue 2
Getting to grips with document capture
Owen Kilbane explains some common mistakes in the ‘paperless office’ and how to overcome them
Unsurprisingly, paper still plays a significant role in today’s business environment. This is generating an increased use of document capture technology and the term is now common place in many organisations. But there are still a number of errors being made in approaches to capture, which means organisations are not reaping the full benefits of their investment.
Document capture is an integral part of any content management process. By definition capture is composed of two parts:
Scanning a document and converting it into an electronic image; and/or
Capturing data from a document to create electronic information.
When combined, documents can be stored and indexed into various systems based on the type of document and the data captured. Capturing the data can also serve as a way to move data into other systems to facilitate back office processes from accounts payable to claims processing. It is now widely accepted that effective capture processes can accelerate numerous business processes, increase productivity and reduce the cost of data entry, to name a few of its benefits. So what is the problem?
The actual scanning of a document and transforming it into an electronic image is by no means a new concept. In fact many organisations have been doing this for years. Even capturing data from machine printed text, hand print, bar codes and marks – be it manual or automated – is not revolutionary. However, there is still an opportunity to use this technology to create further business advantage, as when implemented with automated intelligence this will deliver significant process improvements, and savings.
Is paper a thing of the past?
The notion of a true paperless office has failed. Research by InfoTrends found that 30 per cent of all key information is still paper-based. Just think about the numerous processes where supporting documentation is required (for example, passports and driving licences). While many businesses have put in place ‘green’ initiatives, which have massively reduced paper generation, much of the paper that gets generated happens because of the following:
Paper from outside the business that you have little or no control over;
Business processes may be partially electronic (application is filled out online), but capturing information like signatures forces users to print documents which then later need to be scanned; or
A process may start electronic, but supporting documents (for example, photo ID, certificate copy or pay stubs) come in as paper and must be associated with the electronic record/process.
There are lots of scenarios where paper just isn’t going away.
Paper and capture: Where you might be going wrong
Where does your organisation stand when it comes to managing and processing paper? Of those organisations that are using capture today, the degrees of use vary in ways that drive some overlapping benefits and other benefits that can only be achieved through capture solutions that provide advanced capabilities.
But there are a few common areas where different organisations fall based on their use – or lack – of capture.
Paper is everywhere and we have nothing to manage it
There are no systems in place that enable you to transform paper into electronic information and store it. Paper is a major pain for the company which more often than not, impacts how employees interact and communicate with one another. It will also limit how quickly you can respond to customer and partner needs. A PWC survey stated that the average time to retrieve a hard copy document in an efficient environment is six minutes.
Scan to archive
You are using capture primarily at the end of the process with the goal to store the paper electronically for improved access to the information and also for compliance or security reasons. This approach can of course drive significant value to a business, but it could still be improved upon.
Capturing and routing documents
You are using capture further upstream in places like a mailroom or even at regional or branch offices. Documents are being captured along with some business data and based on the content, documents are routed to various systems, processes, and people. Often this use of capture supports various areas of a business like a claims department, but the time taken to turn paper in to data depends on the time it takes to actually undertake the scanning process, and the number of people who will manually index the documents.
Capture for critical business processes
Good examples of where capture is being used for critical line of business processes would be claims, new account opening, loan processing and case-based applications. To use capture in these types of examples requires that organisations have invested in other solutions that can be used in combination with capture to deliver a full end-to-end solution. This includes the use of case management solutions to ensure the correct business process is executed. This is where the greatest return on investment can be achieved through automated intelligence, as companies benefit from a straight-through-process from scanner to business application, without end user interaction.
The maturing capture process
Despite the concept of capturing being around for some time, organisations are still at the ‘adolescent’ stage, when the technology available to them is ready to mature. There are plenty of systems that open up opportunities to get the most out of what you have or don’t have in place today. These techniques that drive greater value from capture solutions include:
Document classification – turning an unclassified document into a defined type. This will speed processing and minimise manual processing steps. The old way is to sort, barcode everything, and use separator sheets to indicate when a new document type begins and ends; and
Data extraction – recognising the data rather than keying it. A key element to this is being able to capture data both ‘zonally’ and through the use of free-form rules. Automated capture complimented with validation and auto-filling data of fields from other systems can and will reduce operational costs. It is also significantly faster than manually keying it.
Capture is still playing a significant role in business environments and with the advent of cloud computing, the transformation of paper into data will be ever more important.
Getting started with the new approach
A phased approach to any change in a business is always advisable and this is no different. Focus on documents and processes that deliver high value to the organisation. The best place to start is to pick an area of the business that is most critical to your organisation. This will most likely result in a nice win when it comes to implementing and rolling out. This could be something like new investment account opening where the paper process is painstakingly slow and cumbersome, which results in accounts taking days to open rather than minutes.
The measurable gain could be the immediate funding and trading within this account. It is easily measurable and this is the kind of hard return on investment data you will need to build a business case for a capture solution.
So here’s the challenge: find an opportunity, assess the requirements, define what the future state will be, establish priorities, and go.
Owen Kilbane is a Captiva product specialist in the information intelligence group at EMC. For more information visit www.emc.com
Tools for successful and effective capture
Using intelligent recognition technologies, businesses can identify all kinds of documents, capturing the data and delivering it to the right systems, processes, and people. Machine and hand printed data can be automatically captured using tools such as optical character recognition, intelligent character recognition and barcode recognition.
Thinking outside the box, or office
It should be noted that document capture isn’t just for office-centric organisations. With more people working from home or ‘in the field’, business-critical information continues to be generated on paper. Think about a sales or insurance person. They spend hours each day creating and completing documents on paper. Distributed capture allows documents to be scanned through web-based solutions, making it simple for branch offices, remote locations, and desktops throughout the enterprise to quickly scan and capture documents for content management and business applications. This reduces time for the case or process to begin and can also reduce time-consuming and costly document shipping.
Not just about technology
Technology can solve a multitude of problems and issues when it comes to speeding up processes and managing business data. However, it is also important that the business as a whole takes seriously the implementation of such solutions and truly understand the long term benefits they offer. With this approach, the ‘teenager’ will be ready to mature.