Organizations might think they have an effective document management strategy – but often, they really don’t. That’s the assessment of Robert Williams, president of Cohasset Associates Inc., a Chicago-based consulting firm that focuses on document and records management.
Williams said that many businesses are missing the boat on document capture and document management “because they’re still looking at the subject in the old way, where documents were assembled manually for visual observation.” That kind of approach is just “a materials management paradigm,” ill suited to today’s world of electronic documents that “are invisible [to one another] but tied together” in document management systems, he added.
The point, Williams said, is that when considering document capture strategies and investments, document management professionals need to think about how best to integrate what’s being captured now with existing documents, so business users in their organizations can get full access to related corporate information on a particular topic or issue.
Of course, there’s more than that to making the most of the document imaging and capture process as part of an enterprise document management strategy. In interviews, Williams and other analysts offered a variety of tips on document capture best practices; what follows is some of their advice.
Look closely at your information-handling processes. One way to improve document capture procedures and document management workflows is to examine corporate processes and requirements for handling critical business information at each stage of the information lifecycle, said Scott Byers, CEO of Diversified Information Technologies, a Scranton, Pa.-based provider of document management outsourcing services.
Doing so can help organizations to establish more flexible document processing requirements, Byers said, noting that different scenarios might trigger a variety of document management actions. Furthermore, individual stages might have unique document access and retention requirements. Once the internal processes have been studied piece by piece, he said, it should be easier to create document workflow strategies and choose the document capture software that best fits corporate needs.
Eliminate paper where possible. To help improve document capture procedures, getting rid of paper documents should be priority No. 1 in the document management process, according to Kevin Craine, author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and host of the Document Strategy Podcast. Another important step, Craine said, is developing automated data validation capabilities for electronic documents and records to provide seamless integration with back-end storage systems and applications.
Catalog and index retained paper documents. Going paperless isn’t realistic for most organizations, of course. When paper documents can’t be eliminated from business processes, an automated document management strategy should include the ability to catalog them by content type, index them for search purposes and embed records retention requirements so that no-longer-needed documents can be deleted at the appropriate time, said independent consultant Bud Porter-Roth. “One of the biggest problems with capture today is that it has no retention assignments and it creates files that are doomed to never be destroyed,” he added.
Porter-Roth also recommended focusing on improving document capture in tandem with efforts to reduce the use of paper documents. He said a good example is time sheets, which now can be completed electronically, thereby producing not only more data but also better information that can be captured in a document management system. “That not only eliminated the paper but improved the process,” he said, referring to an electronic time sheet project at one of his clients.
Be consistent. There’s potential for improvement in the document capture process by aiming for consistency in the design of forms and in the way information is presented in a document management system, said Alan Weintraub, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Such consistency can simplify capture procedures and increase their accuracy, he added.
Consider decentralizing document capture. Companies should think carefully about how they want to set up their document capture process, said Gartner Inc. analyst Karen Shegda. “Will it be centralized like a sort of digital mailroom, or will you be using it in a more decentralized approach?” she asked.
The distributed approach can be particularly useful for organizations that are dispersed geographically, but others can also benefit from that approach, Shegda said. She thinks it makes sense to capture documents and the information they contain as early in the process as possible. “Even multifunction peripherals can now be set up with a simple workflow embedded that will send an image to a more robust capture engine for further processing,” she said.
Sweat the technical details. Chris Riley, senior electronic content management and document capture architect at Pasadena, Calif.-based consulting firm ShareSquared Inc., said organizations shouldn’t forget about the technical basics, such as which document format is best for storing captured documents. Even if you want to end up with PDFs, Riley recommended starting with TIFF files. “That’s the fundamental format that scanners use, and any time there’s a conversion process, it almost always goes back to TIFF,” he said.
Capturing documents as TIFFs should produce the highest image quality and eliminate degradation or errors that can occur when image formats are changed later on, according to Riley. He also advised scanning documents at a resolution of 300 dots per inch. “That’s the magic number – it may take up a little more space, but the quality is very high,” he said, adding that scanning at even higher image densities doesn’t result in much improvement.
In addition, Riley pointed out the importance of testing sample data sets before standardizing a document capture process. “Try lots of different samples and different kinds of documents so you can see what works, and set expectations for your process,” he said. “If you don’t do this in advance, the exceptions and errors will end up controlling your processes going forward.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan R. Earls is a Boston-area freelance writer focused on business and technology.