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Avoiding the pitfalls of deploying and using document capture software

Document management consultants warn about tactical and strategic challenges to consider when deploying document capture software and managing its use.

Document capture and imaging isn’t rocket science. However, document management consultants warn that there are both tactical and strategic challenges to be aware of when planning a deployment of document capture software – and many points during the capture process where it’s possible to go wrong.

Perhaps the biggest mistake organizations make in developing and implementing an overall document management strategy is getting started without setting clear objectives for the program, said Scott Byers, CEO of Diversified Information Technologies, a Scranton, Pa.-based company that offers document management outsourcing services.

“Whether the desired outcome is regulatory compliance, reduced cycle time, decreased costs or shared information access, companies should first understand the business drivers for document management,” Byers said. Doing so can help ensure that they put the right document capture and management procedures in place to achieve their primary goals, he added.

For example, Byers noted that many health care organizations are moving to electronic health records (EHRs) and document management systems so they can meet the “meaningful use” provision of the federal Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and become eligible for financial incentives through Medicare and Medicaid.

Another document management business driver in the health care industry could be the increased focus on hospital performance due to the federal health care reform law. In that case, the desired outcome of deploying a document management system and document capture software could be ensuring that accurate patient data is available to doctors in order to help avoid preventable readmissions, Byers said.

Document capture software calls for document capture policies
One of the other up-front considerations that companies often miss is the need to set clear document capture and retention policies as part of the document management process, said Bud Porter-Roth, an independent consultant who focuses on document management and collaboration technologies.

“A longstanding chestnut that many companies still do not follow is, Don’t scan everything – be selective,” Porter-Roth said. “Many companies, through ignorance or laziness, make no attempt to narrow down what is scanned, and they end up scanning documents that shouldn’t have been scanned.” At least half of all corporate documents are “garbage,” he estimated. “People don’t want to take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff.” And once electronic documents are created and go through the document capture process, they most likely will never be disposed of, he said.

But not being selective about what goes into a document management system, and failing to integrate a retention and disposal policy into the document capture effort, “will cost a company downstream,” Porter-Roth warned. “In the past, companies have accumulated warehouses with millions of boxes of paper records – by scanning indiscriminately, we’re doing the same thing again.”

To those errors, Forrester Research Inc. analyst Alan Weintraub added the secondary sin of failing to adequately index documents as they’re being captured. Whether indexing is done manually or automatically, Weintraub said it’s a step that should be taken before documents are stored in a system or put into a document management workflow.

Indexing creates “essential metadata” that can help business users locate documents they need, agreed Robert Williams, president of Cohasset Associates Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in document and records management. According to Williams, document files that have been properly indexed can be correlated with one another through common metadata about their contents, for example, details on people or property mentioned in different documents. “To have real value, you need to know where the other documents can be found,” he said.

Good things don’t come to those who wait
Williams added that many organizations don’t do document capture and indexing soon enough after documents have been created or scanned into a system. That introduces the possibility that users searching for documents on a particular topic won’t be able to find them all and will make decisions based on incomplete information, he said. In addition, documents could be changed or deleted without a way to track what was done. All of those scenarios could mean users won’t view a document management system as trustworthy, Williams said.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, a principal analyst and director at Olney, Md.-based consulting firm Real Story Group, said another potential pitfall is a lack of patience when implementing sophisticated document capture technologies – tools with embedded artificial intelligence capabilities, for example.

According to Pelz-Sharpe, it’s all too common for companies that have invested in advanced document capture software to want to simply “flip the switch” and go live. But that can lead to user dissatisfaction and data errors, he said.

One client that deployed new document capture tools for use in processing patent-application documents “found it took six to nine months for the system to ‘learn’ and become highly accurate,” Pelz-Sharpe said, adding that even relatively simple capture processes “will require a few days” for the tools to acclimate themselves. As a result, he advised, it’s a good idea to continue running existing document capture software in parallel with new tools until you’re sure that the latter are working properly.

Alan R. Earls
is a Boston-area freelance writer focused on business and technology.

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