Image capture reaches out
Although we ostensibly live in a digital world, the vast majority of enterprise data remains paper-based and unstructured. Effective use of that information requires conversion to digital form so it can be stored, retrieved, viewed and analyzed. Image capture is a well established and widely used technology, particularly in the medical and financial markets. It can be considered one of the enabling technologies of knowledge management.
Recently, new capabilities have been developed that increase the ease and value of the image capture process. Among them are:
• remote scanning over the Internet,
• scanning to HTML,
• application convergence and integration,
• color scanning,
• image capture on network appliances.
Individually and in combination, those technologies are bringing new dimensions to the use of information in enterprise processes.
In organizations with multiple locations, remote scanning via the Internet can be very efficient. It eliminates both the cost and the time to ship paper originals to a centralized location, and reduces the likelihood of misplacing the documents. Using the Internet is much less expensive than connecting via a wide area network (WAN). The remote scanning model also works for service bureaus that are managing documents. The customer scans the documents from his or her own site, retaining control over the hard-copy originals. The service bureau performs the image processing, indexing and storage functions.
Kofax has offered a remote scanning option since last year with its Ascent Capture 3.0. J.C. Bradford & Company, a financial brokerage with nearly 100 offices, is using Ascent Capture for remote scanning at its sites around the country. The company generates a significant number of documents, with 350 to 400 new account files each day producing a total of 10,000 pages daily. Rather than mailing documents from the branch offices, J.C. Bradford is now scanning documents at each location. Indexing is done centrally. That simplifies procedures for employees, who are not specialists in scanning. The system also uses Virtual ReScan, a Kofax product that adjusts scanner settings to optimize image quality. As soon as the documents are processed, they are available to both local and remote users. The company plans to expand its imaging to accounts payable, compliance and human resources.
Newly released Ascent Capture 4.0 adds an XML backbone that allows communication among different business process modules (such as imaging and workflow). Pricing for Ascent Capture 4.0 is $900 for 5,000 pages per month, up to $14,000 for unlimited volume, plus $7,800 to $26,000 for the Ascent Capture Internet Server--the hardware that adds distributed capture capability to Ascent.
A new entrant to the remote scanning market is Captovation, which, under the name of Complex Imaging Systems, had provided integration and add-ons to Optika systems for more than six years. The founders saw a need for a TWAIN-compliant integrated system that combined scanning, indexing and barcoding with browser-based remote scanning capability. Through ecNet, users can connect to a server that automatically downloads into Internet Explorer the software needed to scan remotely. EcNet uses XML to transmit information about the remote site and metadata about batches. The browser, rather than scanner application software, is the user interface, eliminating the need for client software. An early adopter of Captovation is a school system that plans to capture forms from individual schools for its administrative offices.
Captovation has two pricing models, $2,995 for the ecNet Server, plus $295 for each site with a scan rate of 1 to 20 pages per minute and $895 for over 20 ppm, or $14,995 for the ecNet Server and unlimited sites. The product's strengths are its simplicity of use and moderate pricing. The company also produces ecScan, production level scanning software based on Kofax's Adrenaline, which typically would be used at a central location. Another component in the suite is ecAutoFile Server, which helps automate the indexing process by using barcode recognition technology to file images directly into a document management or workflow system.
Scan to HTML
Scanning on the Internet is one thing, and scanning for the Internet is another. Paper Converter from ScanSoft is the first scanning product integrated into the popular Microsoft FrontPage Web authoring tool.
"Knowledge workers who used to prepare documents and spreadsheets are now being asked to prepare content in HTML for corporate intranet and Internet use," says John Hoye, director of product marketing at ScanSoft. The product segments the page into elements, preserving graphics as JPEG, and also supports color scanning, a must for Web deployment.
A legal services company that used to provide hard copies of court transcripts to law firms now uses ScanSoft to generate Web pages of the transcripts, which are available online 24/7. Paper Converter preserves the page layout, so the image on screen looks just like the original. But because it is broken into elements, the storage requirements are lower than those for an image. In corporate Web applications, the files could also be repurposed once they are created.
Application convergence and integration
As part of a general move toward application integration, image capture and forms capture have begun to converge. Many types of records, including medical and insurance documents, are a mix of forms and images from a variety of media, including paper, fax images and data entered directly on the Internet. Users do not want to purchase and learn two applications if the job can be done with one. Therefore, traditional imaging companies such as Kofax are adding forms modules, while Captiva Software, strong in forms processing, has enhanced its scanning capability to include high-speed scanner support and a broader range of input media. Captiva's FormWare 3.0 includes Internet forms (I-Forms), XML data processing, distributed scanning via a local area network (LAN) or WAN and free form recognition technology. I-Forms allows capture from the Web as users enter their information directly into an online form. Free form recognition allows the system to identify standard data elements (company, date, dollar amount) in forms such as invoices, even if the forms do not have the same layout. FormWare 4.0, scheduled for fall release, will add browser-based scanning via the Internet.
Although some approaches to scanning are more common than others, many different models can be successful. In a reversal of the typical procedure, one of Captiva's customers, HealthAxis, is scanning centrally and indexing remotely. The HealthAxis Application Solutions Group provides imaging and data capture services to healthcare payers such as insurance companies, self-insured companies and third-party administrators. Claim forms and correspondence are routed from the healthcare providers to HealthAxis, where the documents are scanned and distributed to remote keying facilities for cost-effective data entry. HealthAxis' proprietary workflow system provides real-time inventory reporting and management capabilities. In addition to data capture using FormWare, HealthAxis provides image storage and Internet image retrieval services, enabling a paper-free business environment. For clients with scanning capability, HealthAxis' system allows the scanned images to be imported and routed through the FormWare data capture workflow as well. The lesson to be learned is that companies should use whatever model works best for a given situation, and not be limited to the most commonly used one.
Integrated document management (IDM) is now extending to include all types of documents.
"Users should not need to know what format a document is in," says Bill Priemer, VP of sales and marketing at Hyland Software. "The query should pull up whatever they need."
Hyland's OnBase product has modules for document imaging, COLD, workflow and electronic document management accessible via the Web or a traditional fat client. Its strength is in providing a unified repository for disparate data types. That capability is particularly important in knowledge management, where islands of data pose a real problem in ensuring that all available information is being used for planning and decision making.
Priemer speaks enthusiastically about today's open APIs as a means of accessing image documents through ERP and CRM systems. Looking ahead, he sees the potential for portal solutions that provide a single, customizable user interface to multiple information repositories, providing a complete picture of corporate information or of a customer's history and needs.
For a long time, color was seen as an unaffordable luxury in business scanning, but the tide is beginning to turn. The right combination of price, speed and storage is making color image capture a feasible option. Somewhat limited by lack of support in the imaging applications, implementation remains on the horizon, but is not too far away.
Color has numerous advantages from the user perspective, making images both more attractive and more legible. Color images also can carry information such as highlighting that is completely lost in bitonal scanning.
"Use of color can increase automation for many applications," says Susan Moyse of InfoTrends, a market research firm specializing in the image capture field. "For example, forms can be routed depending on their color, and fields to be indexed can be highlighted in color." In addition, color scanning allows digital forms to match the hard-copy originals.
Color scanning also offers some benefits from a production standpoint, because the quality control process is simplified compared to black and white. Highlighting that might obscure text on a bitonal scan does not need to be adjusted. Paper does not need to be sorted, and rescans are nearly eliminated.
According to William Zastrow, VP of corporate marketing for Tower Technology, backfile conversion is five times faster in color because no stopping is required for color adjustments or to change optical filters to remove form lines. Tower develops software for e-business transactional content capture used in e-process case management.
As far as file size, it's true that a 300-dpi color JPEG file is many times larger than a 300-dpi Group 4 TIFF file. However, with color, resolution does not need to be as high to be legible to users, and a 100-dpi color file is comparable in size to a 300-dpi Group 4 TIFF file. Moreover, if the ultimate destination of the file is the Web, there is no need to exceed the 72-dpi display capability of most computer monitors. The increasing capacity and decreasing cost of storage also mitigate the potential impact of larger file sizes..
With the introduction of the 3950C color scanner last year, Kodak filled a gap between color flatbed and high-end production scanners. It scans the front of the document in color and the back in black and white; it can also be set to black and white only. In May, the 4500 series was introduced, which is color only and can scan in either simplex or duplex mode. Early adopters have been the same groups--financial and insurance companies--that first moved into black-and-white imaging. Color scanning poses some obstacles for optical character recognition (OCR), because lower resolutions may not be sufficient for accurate recognition. One option is to OCR the forms at a higher resolution and then store the image at a lower resolution. But vendors are also addressing that issue in a more direct way. Captiva has partnered with Imaging Business Machines to develop an interface between IBML's high-speed ImageTrac color scanners and Captiva's form processing software. ImageTrac's scan application, SoftTrack, will feed into Captiva's JobFlow workflow module. The scanned image will then be delivered to Captiva's FormWare.
Internet appliance captures images
An innovative new device developed by Ricoh Silicon Valley captures image files, faxes, photocopies, e-mails and any other type of file directly off the network. eCabinet is designed for small businesses and corporate workgroups. It uses OCR and indexing technology, and a browser interface (either IE or Netscape) for retrieval via keyword (up to 12 user-defined) or full text. Each user can determine which of his or her files are captured and stored, and whether a password should be required for access. The eCabinet comes with a 32-GB hard drive and a DVD-RAM drive, and can also be attached to NFS file servers. Priced at $13,995, the device is within reach of its target market.
T.Y. LIN, a San Francisco-based engineering design and construction services firm, is using eCabinet for file storage.
K.D. Ho, the company's IT services manager, is already convinced of the system's value in keeping track of documents on a daily basis. He is also optimistic about its long-term use. "A year from now, when we buy computers," says Ho, "we can look back at our RFP from this year, the bids and a full history of our purchase experience. We know that all the background documents we need will be there."