by Kevin Craine, Craine Communications Group

You don’t need a statistician to know that we are in the age of mobile computing, but here are a few statistics that tell the story: 58 percent of American adults use a smartphone, more than 40 percent own a tablet, and mobile computing grew by over 80 percent just last year alone. Indeed, there are more smartphones out there in the world than there are personal computers, and these numbers will only increase over the next few years. 

There will be many opportunities for success surrounding mobile technology. The question is, what are those opportunities and how can you capitalize on them?

Mobile Capture

Mobile capture is one opportunity that is quickly becoming an important differentiator for many companies and organizations, especially those in traditionally document-intensive fields like banking, insurance, healthcare and government operations. By now, the traditional notion of “capture” — scanning a paper document to make a digital image — is a common business practice. Mobile capture takes the idea one step further with the ability to capture document images and upload them directly using a smartphone or a tablet.

Mobile capture is an important development since scanning and capture have typically been a front-of-process activity performed in a centralized facility. Even a “distributed capture” approach using multifunction printers and copiers remains essentially within the boundaries of the enterprise. But whereas distributed capture moves capture from centralized processing facilities out to the edges of the organization, mobile capture extends that ability beyond the confines of the organization. Using smartphones and tablets, organizations can now capture images and documentation directly at the point of service, in regional offices, in the field, and in customers’ homes. The result is a faster, more accurate and more cost effective process.

Adoption on the Rise

Mobile capture is a natural and inevitable outgrowth of the trend toward mobile computing and one that organizations should evaluate seriously before they get left behind. According to a 2014 study conducted by AIIM, 45 percent of companies feel that mobile capture is vitally important, pointing to the competitive need for improved process agility and customer service across the board. The idea of turning smartphones into information capture devices is one that more and more leading brands are turning to in order to speed the pace of business, reduce the burden of paper, and bring a new level of efficiency and response to their customer service and business processes. 

Going Mobile

How are companies benefiting from mobile capture? Financial institutions are using mobile capture for new customer onboarding. Insurance organizations enable claim adjusters with mobile capture so that they can photograph accident scenes and damage, then capture the accompanying documentation and upload the entire batch on the spot. Government agencies, universities and organizations that work with stacks of documentation find that mobile capture is an open road toward savings and service improvements.

Before You Hit the Road

Before you hit the road toward mobile capture there are some important factors to consider as you map your strategy. Correctly adopting mobile capture requires more planning than simply telling everyone to start snapping pictures of forms and documentation and send them in using email. This just-do-it approach was indeed disastrous for many companies new to distributed capture — all those multifunction copiers quickly clogged hard drives and servers with disorganized scans and images. Moving forward with mobile capture without a clear roadmap has many of the same risks, and more. Here are 10 questions to ask before you make your move.

10 Questions to Ask To Get Ready for Mobile Capture

1 Will mobile capture deliver business value? You’ll get the most value out of your efforts and the ability to do mobile capture by identifying those key business processes that have an intersection of service and speed. In other words, where is it that mobile capture will provide the most value to you and your customers? 

2 Do you have an existing capture process in place today? Many organizations already have systems and scenarios for capturing documents, in a central or distributed process. It will be easier for your organization and your people, if you can extend existing systems and best practices. Look to reuse capture techniques, such as validation rules, classification methods and data location strategies, rather than start from scratch. 

3 Do you have a repository in place to store images coming in, and how will you manage them once they are there? Many companies made the mistake of enabling their multifunction printers and copiers with the ability to scan and upload captured images without a strategy to manage them. They found that those scanned images take up a lot of space and quickly filled up file directories and databases. Mobile capture has those same implications so it is important to consider repository needs and plan accordingly. 

4 What approach will you use to include the proper indexing and metadata associated with each new mobile image? Capturing a document image, whether via mobile or any other method, is a great way to eliminate the burden of paper in key business processes. But you have to be able to find that information quickly once it is stored. This often requires additional data entry to include keywords for your search or additional strategies and technical capabilities to automate that indexing process. Be sure to include these aspects in your planning for mobile capture. 

5 What kind of security measures will be in place? If you enable a field worker with mobile capture it is important to ensure that captured images and documentation are not easily available on a smartphone camera roll. You must protect sensitive documents with the same rigor you would apply inside the organization by ensuring a chain of custody that includes encryption, password protection and other data security measures. Look for mobile capture apps that bring the capture process within the firewall of the organization and provide the needed security capabilities. 

6 How will you create batches and update case files? Mobile capture applications for banking, insurance, government and more all require a great variety of documentation. It is important to avoid mobile capture clutter so be sure to adequately address the need to organize and manage the injection of mobile images as well as to how they append to existing case files and customer accounts. Good mobile capture strategies must include this kind of back-end planning.

7 What about image quality control? Anyone who has tried to take a photograph of a document can tell you that it is not that easy. If the light is low or your hand shakes at the wrong moment you can end up with a poor image that makes things worse, not better. Getting a good shot is just as important for image quality as it is for traditional scan-and-store capture scenarios: get it skewed, blurred or underexposed and you’re asking for additional problems and process delays. Be sure to understand and plan for ways to ensure image quality when employing mobile capture. 

8 Will you have a proper audit trail and chain of custody? As with any sensitive information it is important to ensure proper information governance including the ability to provide an audit trail from the moment a photo is taken and the document is captured continuing through to when the image is uploaded and including how, where and when it was stored. Do not overlook these important legal and regulatory factors in the rush to capture the value of mobile capture. 

9 Do you have the proper business drivers to justify mobile capture? Once you make the decision to move forward with mobile capture it is important to establish the proper metrics and measures that enable you to justify the effort and demonstrate ROI. Typical factors to consider are reducing costs (shipping paper, centralized scanning), process efficiency (reducing cycle time and labor), and service (quicker and more complete). 

10 Do you need a simple solution or something more complex? Not all mobile capture scenarios are the same. Maybe all you need is a simple application that lets you quickly capture key documents with a smartphone or tablet. Conversely, improving process efficiency across an enterprise may require a solution that is more complex with tight integration with process workflow, dynamic case management, document management and information governance. Whichever it is, keep this rule in mind when you approach the project: You can deploy a simple application widely or you can deploy a complex application in small incremental steps. If you try to implement complex applications widely, complications are bound to jeopardize the success of the project.

Making Your Move

Not all mobile capture solutions are created equal, especially as you consider the various ways that mobile capture can be used. Are you ready? These 10 questions will help identify which features and requirements are most important and guide you toward the solution that will best suit your needs. Look for solutions and partners that provide the right mix of experience, vision, and advanced capabilities that leverage the full value of the technology. 

Contact Kevin Craine at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit crainegroup.com.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Workflow.