Centralise Document Capture

11 12 2009

For quite some time I have been a strong advocate for larger organisations taking control, and responsibility, for their own scanning processes. I have nothing against outsourced scanning organisations, it’s just that organisations are entrusting what could be their most sensitive data to a third party, and not only that, they are relying on them to deliver it back to you as good accurate images and more often than not along with key associated data.

 I now hear cries of “what’s wrong with that?” Well a number of things actually…

  1. Just who are the people carrying out the scanning? Who has access to these files
  2. What skills do they have in identifying key parts of a document?
  3. Compliance issues / complications
  4. Quality control
  5. Speed

Let’s look at these one at a time.

So who is actually doing the scanning and indexing tasks? Well in-house you have control over this, basically you choose who to employ. However, when outsourced you have no idea who has access to these files, sometimes you don’t even know what information could be found in these files (if sent directly to an outsourced document capture organisation), let alone then what sensitive information is being read by who.

Let’s be honest, being a document scanner is not the most thrilling of jobs, so outsourcing companies will often employ “lower skilled staff” (please don’t take that the wrong way) and staff working on a project per project of very temporary basis.  This brings me on to point 2…

What skills do your outsourcing company staff deliver? Have they any experience of scanning or indexing and if so, do they understand your business and what content to expect / look for in scanning documents?

Compliance is a big thing here and even I sometimes get a little lost with it in regards to outsourcing. For many markets, compliance means you have to know where all your data and content is stored at any point. Now if you are using an outsourcing company, does this mean you need to know what machines that content is being stored on? Where those machines are? With regards to cloud computing this is a big problem as organisations simply don’t know exactly what server is holding what information of theirs…so does the same apply when outsourcing your document capture. Worth taking some time to think about that one….

Quality control is a big bear of mine. In IT circles remember “shi* in, equals shi* out” and that’s so true with document capture. If your image quality is poor, or the accuracy of its accompanying data, then when trying to locate that content, you will find it rather hard, and your great document retrieval / ECM system will be almost pointless…

Ahhh, speed. This is often, along with cost, the big factor for organisations choosing to outsource document capture, but is it any quicker? In my experience the answer is no. I have worked on numerous projects which have used outsourcing companies for their document capture, only to find it has taken an unexpectedly long time to get the images into the retrieval system (based on the data received / postal date of content for example).

So get centralised

It’s cost effective for larger organisations to get their own centralised scanning environment. Not only will the business process of capturing this content be smoother, but also the quality of your images and accompanying data will be better. With greater investment in scanning software and the automation of data capture (OCR / ICR, Forms recognition, Auto-indexing etc) organisations will find it easier than ever before to reap the rewards and enjoy a quick ROI.

There is already currently a trend back towards centralised scanning. A recent AIIM industry watch article highlights this. Have a read here; http://www.aiim.org/research/document-scanning-and-capture.aspx, then ensure you take ownership of your own document capture requirements…

For a good place to start when thinking about document capture and scannign solutions, read one of my earlier posts on Document Capture success….

https://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/successful-document-capture/

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Successful document capture…

14 05 2009

Well this is something close to my heart. My first ever project after leaving university was to help write a document capture application that was built on-top of the FileNET Panagon Capture platform. Ahh happy days…Though I did seem to earn the name “scan man” from then on, which wasn’t so great, as every document capture project our company then had, I had to be involved with….

Ok so how do you implement a successful document scanning / capture solution. Well it’s very simple, follow these 5 guidelines and you are well on the way.

  1. Throughput is everything. Make sure people can load the scanner and let it do its thing. You don’t want to be stopping to separate documents or batches. Make sure your software can do this and purchase a scanner with a big document holder.
  2. Ensure you maximise the quality of the images you are capturing. If this could be a problem, then make sure you get in place good quality control and re-scan technology
  3. Identify as much information as possible up-front with your software. The more a user has to do, the slower and more expensive the process will become
  4. Ensure your data captured or assigned to a document is accurate. Remember your retrieval of these images depends on the accuracy of your data capture
  5.  Your document capture is pointless, unless you release the images into your storage repository with all the correct information. Again make sure this is done seamlessly and accurately. The longer the files are in your capture process, the longer it will take for them to turn up in a customer file for example…

 

So where to start?

Well this is with your document capture software, and there are lots of solutions out there. Firstly, when choosing your capture software, have those 5 guidelines in your mind. You want to automate as much as possible (unless we are talking only the odd scanned document through the day). In addition, you don’t just want to watch a sales pitch on the actual scanning process, or the physical scanner being used. You want, and need, to see the process all the way through, and with a variety of documents.

It’s best if you can use forms wherever possible, but you will always have un-structured documents coming to you, such as letters. Now you MUST see a demonstration of how these are dealt with, then ask yourself;

“is that efficient?”

“how could that be speeded up?”

“am I happy with the way data is entered / captured?”

“now let’s find the document in the retrieval system”

I don’t want to start recommending software, as depending on your storage repository etc you may find you have a limited selection. What I will say, is that for our workFile ECM repository we use software that I have been familiar with and more than happy with for sometime, Kofax. I have worked on numerous projects with Kofax Accent Capture and with Nuerascript recognition modules (which are now part of Kofax). Kofax provides you with all the technology and features you could want to streamline any capture environment. And, more importantly, they allow you to write your own release processes into the repositories of your choice.

What about architecture

Scanning can be quite intensive for your PC. A while back, all of your “steps” if you like were carried out on a single machine, so you scanned, had the batches and documents recognised, processed, enhanced then sent on for an agent to index. However, this isn’t great, ideally you want to split out this intense processing work and let your scan station simply scan images.

Server based solutions are best, freeing up staff to scan and pull documents as and when they are ready. Your images should always be ready quicker than your staff can quality assess them or carry out indexing tasks. Oh, don’t be fooled by “thin” document capture, something has to drive the scanner and therefore it’s not “thin client”…

What about staff?

This can be a boring task, so rotate your staff to different jobs, every couple of hours. They may still get bored, but if you don’t do this, they will be making lots of errors and getting really bored. Trust me, just spend a couple of hours doing one task such as scanning and your brain can go numb…

You will also need a “champion” of the capture process. Someone who can keep people motivated and ensure they maximise the potential of the system. All too often the system capacity is not met as staff becoming lazy or complacent. This negates your investment and diminishes your return on your investment, so a champion is very important.

It’s also worth noting that from time to time, you will need someone with more experience of the scanning process, again that champion, simply because you will get issues with stuck paper, batches not getting recognised, image quality problems etc. At this point, you need someone with a little more knowledge of how things work.

 

Finally

Remember no matter how good your capture process is, your retrieval system is only as good as the quality of the images and the data associated to those images. Also, please don’t invest heavily in a great capture system then scrimp on your retrieval system. If you do this, you will find no benefit of the capture process and document imaging at all. Your first port of call is still ensuring you purchase the right retrieval / document management system. Then address the capture side of things.