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Tips on deploying document imaging and document scanning systems

These tips and suggestions for setting up document scanning systems, imaging programs and optical character recognition technology can help automate processes and improve operational efficiency.

Beyond static document imaging, scanning and capture lies the realm of automating systems and processes for the best use of information and more efficient business practices. By standardizing the processing of forms such as invoices, for example, an organization can automate the sending of reminders about late payments, making it more efficient in completing mundane tasks that help improve the bottom line.

Although the truly paperless office might remain a myth, modernizing systems to read invoices, bills of lading and even resumes through the use of document imaging software and scanning equipment can move a company closer to that ideal.

But getting there can present certain challenges. “This is not install once and walk away,” said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, a principal analyst and director at consulting firm Real Story Group in Olney, Md. “First, [you need to] ensure that you have the technical skills to configure and maintain a powerful capture system.” Then, he said, it’s critical to introduce procedures and policies defining standard practices so they become the rule.

A key element of setting up effective document imaging and document scanning systems is determining the image and indexing quality needed to best serve organizational needs. “Where companies fall down is they either don’t index their information correctly or the people who are doing the indexing don’t choose the right information,” said Alan Weintraub, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

Great expectations for document imaging
High expectations for imaging and capture accuracy also need to be part of the plan. “You should go beyond [optical character recognition] and expect very high accuracy levels for capture, 97% or more,” Pelz-Sharpe said. “I find too many organizations fail to utilize forms recognition, for example, and put up with chronically poor accuracy levels.” If your imaging, scanning and capture system isn’t delivering higher than 90% accuracy, he added, there likely is something wrong.

In addition, companies “need to have checks and balances in both reviewing the document from a quality perspective and to be sure that they have the right indexing values in there so the document can be retrieved later,” Pelz-Sharpe said.

There are multiple ways of doing this as part of a document imaging management strategy. One is to have a quality check on indexing, via a workflow that is kicked off when you scan a document. “I grab information off that document and key it into the metadata fields that I’ve predefined, and the next step might be a secondary index, so there’s a verification step there,” Pelz-Sharpe said. “And once I’m done with that, I release that document to the document management system for processing.”

But the best way to ensure that scanned document images are fully available once they’re in the system is to plan for standardized tagging, categorizing and indexing as part of the implementation right from the start, according to Pelz-Sharpe. By definition, this varies enormously from organization to organization, but he recommends auto-tagging at the capture stage.

“Keep it simple: have an agreed set of metadata that you want to capture and automate that process as much as you possibly can,” he said. If an automated system captures 80% of the metadata that it was intended to find, that’s probably 70% better than would have been achieved if the process was left to a manual approach.

Outsourcing document imaging, scanning
Another way companies can ensure proper implementation of document imaging systems and scanning and capture technologies is to leave it to someone else. “Too often, a lot of money and time is spent on a workflow or document management system, and far too little on the accompanying capture project,” Pelz-Sharpe said. “This is specialist stuff and can deliver huge efficiencies, so involve experts and ensure you keep them involved to some degree throughout.”

Weintraub agrees. “When you do have a lot of paper, you don’t build the scanning function in-house; you outsource it,” he said. For example, Weintraub added, a financial services firm or a mortgage processing company might outsource all document imaging and scanning operations to a third party that would also do some basic indexing derived from certain metadata. Then all that information would be shipped to the company and imported into its document management system for processing.

The primary reason for outsourcing document imaging and capture processes among companies that have done so is to cut costs, according to a 2010 study conducted by the industry group AIIM titled Capture and Business Process: Drivers and Experiences of Content Driven Processes.

As for selecting document imaging technology, Pelz-Sharpe recommends that companies undertake a thorough procurement process involving product demonstrations and detailed evaluations. “Don’t just go for the so-called market leader,” he said. “Though in principal these software options all do the same thing, in reality they all do the same thing differently. You need to find the right fit for your needs.”

Catherine LaCroix
is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. She covers technology used in business, education and health care.


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