by Michael Miller, Fujitsu

Today, most organizations, from small “mom and pop” shops to the largest businesses in the world, have adopted the scanning of paper documents and the idea of utilizing electronic content in an effort to drive automation in their business processes. However, many have taken this to mean that scanning their documents and simply saving to a desktop or uploading their electronic content to a repository is the conclusion of this practice. Some organizations believe that they have sufficiently automated their process after completing this initial stage by reducing paper being shuffled around the office, allowing clients to send documents via email, and storing documents in a file share or in a repository. But by keeping the document capture process separated from the other business processes, the organization hasn’t fully leveraged the benefits of true automation with document capture.
 
Despite the fact that capture processes are in place, employees are still printing or handling the documents in their original form — paper, email, or file — until they are no longer needed in the business process. Since documents are used this way, some paper documents may never be scanned. And, even if the paper document is scanned at the beginning of the process, most employees are still visually reading and pulling data from the document, then manually entering that information into whichever system or systems are applicable. This leads to lost and mismanaged documents and data, which could further lead to complicated issues with audits, managing records and litigation, not to mention loss of additional resources, efficiencies and increased costs. The documents used in the business process may then be uploaded or scanned into a repository where they await an occasional inquiry and eventual destruction; the value of the document and the data content is never optimized.
 
What is the biggest roadblock to automation?


As you may have concluded from the information above, one of the biggest roadblocks to automation is in the process initiation. Comprehensive and expensive line of business (LOB) systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), business process management (BPM), case management (CM) and accounting systems are implemented to manage the business and automate the office functions of an organization. However, these systems still rely on manual user input for many of these processes. These processes are initiated by a document or the data found within a document. Examples of these types of documents include sales orders, invoices, contracts, requisitions, applications, requests, claims, and registration and enrollment documents. Although the organization may believe it has fully automated its processes, there’s still an immense gap between document capture and automatically addressing the specific business function.

This can lead to a major bottleneck as the process awaits manual, human-driven input. In order to bridge this gap, it’s important to understand true automation with a document capture process and its integration with LOB systems. True automation enables a system to identify what a document is, what information on it is important, and where that document and its information need to go, with minimal involvement from employees. For example, a financial company recently initiated a project to streamline their mortgage loan processing. The mortgage loan packet, which drives the process, was an average of 800 pages, with more than 200 different types of documents. Previously, the company’s automation process was simply scanning these packets and storing them in a file share. After an end-to-end review, the company realized that a tremendous amount of time was spent with users viewing the documents and manually entering the data that was found within the documents into their loan processing system. The company was not leveraging what true automation with a document capture solution could offer. The company amended their project to include automation functionality within their document capture solution that would identify the different documents within the packet and transmit the important information found in the documents directly to their system. The true automation solution reduced manual data entry, keying errors, document prep time and the overall loan processing time.

Here are some additional speed bumps that might be stalling true automation.

Where does automation fit in to my business process?

The first is the lack of a view of the entire process; many times the “automated” process is confined to the LOB system itself. An organization should look at where and how the process originates. The process may originate in remote offices, out in the field, or by customers online. An ideal solution needs to engage these users wherever and however they accomplish their work.

Fear of the unknown — where does the document go and how do I get it back?

The fear of losing a document, or access to it and its information, can be a major detour in your automation process. Users fear that once a document leaves their hands and is released into an automated process, the document’s accessibility is out of their control. A paper document is tangible – an employee can hold it, copy it, store it, and even keep it in his pocket to ensure he will have it when it is needed. Similarly, an employee can see an email in her inbox, or a file in her “documents” folder, and be assured that only she can remove it. In order to quell this fear, a solution needs to be responsive, reliable, and readily reachable. An ideal solution would allow a user to scan and interact with this document from anywhere via a mobile device, tablet, or Web browser on any computer.

The process may also require a user to manually enter many pieces of information, typically found in the initiating document. An ideal solution needs to be able to identify what type of document the user has captured and pull out the information necessary for the process. Certain organizations – or individual departments within – may fear that this type of solution is not viable for their type of documents. Legal is one area where paper is still being used heavily, and capture automation has not been embraced. This leads to another detour, which is the fear that data will be missed, or incorrectly pulled from the document. These fears can be alleviated by the fact that an ideal solution is able to use logic, business rules, and the organization’s business data – found in their LOB(s) – to locate, extract, and verify this information.

When should a document be scanned? 

Automation can be shifted into high gear by eliminating the need for a user to identify that a process is required at all. As documents are received by the organization, capturing at the point of entry allows for the solution to determine what type of document it is, what needs to be done with it and its information. Document capture processes today enable organizations to set up business rules within automation to determine who should receive the document, what data is important, where it should be stored, why it is valuable, and how it needs to be processed. These features eliminate the need for employees to make these decisions, and they can spend their time on another responsibility.

Is the cost within our budget?

Many organizations do not strive for true automation as they believe that the solution itself, as well as the time and effort needed to set up such a solution, is cost prohibitive. This may have been the case in the past; however, contemporary solutions have addressed this by no longer licensing based on users, features and documents.

Is there a lot of IT involvement to implement an automated capture process?

These solutions also reduce the implementation effort by featuring learning engines that reduce the amount of time it takes to understand a document. Instead of needing to create a specific template for each type of document, an ideal solution would allow for a configurable set of logical rules to find the information needed — regardless of location — and then reduce the implementation effort.

Additionally, when looking to optimize automation, there are several more features to think about. Some document capture offerings are now Web-based, which reduces the amount of internal IT effort necessary, as no end-user software needs to be installed or maintained. Similarly, for mobile access, an ideal solution would be available via a downloadable app on multiple platforms. Since most end users are already self-sufficient in installing and updating mobile apps, this too would require little to no IT assistance. An ideal solution would allow an organization to be able to solve the capture automation challenges of today and be able to grow into the challenges of tomorrow without the need for additional licensing, consulting from an outside party, or IT involvement.

In summary

Overall, automation increases consistency, efficiency, productivity, speed and profit while reducing errors. However, neglecting how information gets into those processes is a critical misstep. By combining a document capture automation solution with your LOB system, you can achieve true, end-to-end process automation, and reduce the workload on your employees. Implementation of true automation in an organization is an important step in boosting efficiency and productivity. With this knowledge, you can look for capture software that has the ability to automatically sort documents, pull important data off of the documents and get the documents into the right workflow without manual or time consuming labor. To help you find the best option for your business, find a vendor that is well established in the document imaging and capture industry and who offers multiple and scalable options.  

Michael Miller is a Systems Engineer at Fujitsu Computer Products of America, Inc. 

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