Document Imaging and Workflow
ECM's Workhorses Continue to Meet New Business Challenges Head On
Document imaging and workflow solutions continue to be key components under the enterprise content management (ECM) software umbrella. Despite being a relatively mature technology, imaging and workflow have experienced renewed interest in recent years.As pure revenue growth became more challenging following the late-1990s boom, document imaging and workflow solutions helped organizations drive out costs in order to improve profitability expectations. Today, as the emphasis shifts from productivity to growth, document imaging and workflow solutions help enterprises scale up their business models effectively while sustaining cost savings achieved during the downturn.
Organizations are also learning how to leverage document imaging solutions in new ways. They are lowering their total cost of ownership by deploying imaging capabilities within the broader context of ECM suites rather than point solutions. They are beginning to understand how the software can enable them to transform the burden of regulatory compliance into opportunities for performance improvement. And, they are discovering ways for imaging solutions to breathe new life into legacy and line-of-business (LOB) application investments. This white paper discusses how forward-looking organizations are taking advantage of those opportunities.
Set an Enterprise Standard
Standardizing your imaging strategy reduces total cost of ownership from both a product and an implementation standpoint, and compounds the collaborative and customer-service benefits of an ECM solution. When confronted with requests for point solutions from 11 separate agencies, one county government CIO calculated that standardizing on an ECM platform would save $3 million, as well as decreasing the cost of adding any of the 30+ additional agencies that might want to adopt imaging. He estimates total cost of ownership is a third of what it would cost to support and maintain multiple solutions, in addition to the invaluable benefits from improving cross-departmental cooperation.
But standardizing is just as important for small organizations. The IT director at one K-12 school district noted that despite the wide selection of quality education-specific software, few—if any—integrated with each other or existing systems. Implementing multiple point solutions would create an unnecessary burden for an IT staff and require the same data to be maintained in multiple databases. Standardizing the way you handle content is critical to optimizing the efficiency of an enterprise content solution. If you have an enterprise vision, then you appreciate that the value of documents and data extends beyond a department. For instance, the county government cited above found that more than a third of their documents were collected and used by multiple departments. That translates into hours of labor spent capturing documents that are already in the system, increased wear and tear on equipment, irresponsible use of storage space and frustration on the part of customers who are asked for the same information repeatedly. One county's job and family services department improved the services it could offer constituents while reducing the burden on overworked case managers by adopting a similar strategy. Because of the nature of the services they offer, people could come to them for multiple needs—financial assistance, childcare, housing or other help—and be required to show the same documents repeatedly. An enterprise standard allows caseworkers to maintain a centralized repository of data and track updates and other activity. Not only does this improve responsiveness to citizens, it could also be used as a tool to share crucial data about fraud or other factors that would call for cessation of services.
Scrutinize Every Keystroke
Every instance a user has to type on a keyboard or toggle between screens should be scrutinized. Many organizations find that a portion of their documents can move through the system and be managed without requiring any effort on the part of a human, especially when dealing with a specific set of documents. An experienced ECM integrator is an invaluable resource in determining which technologies will provide the price/performance for your specific applications. Many business processes require an employee or group of employees to "work a file." It could be a loan application package, a patient record or an insurance underwriting file. If we use the example of a mortgage application file, a bar code, optical mark recognition (OMR) or zonal optical character recognition (OCR) can be used to identify whether a document is a loan application or a supporting document and collect a unique identifier such as the loan number generated by the loan origination system. A strategy to populate the additional indexing values from the loan origination system (a transactional line-of-business application in that industry) can be implemented reasonably quickly and inexpensively through direct integration or the exchange of a simple text file. Once a loan file is in the system, it can be audited for completeness by the content management system before an employee ever has to view it. Automated workflow can be developed to route the file through an approval process, distributing it to internal employees and soliciting input and approval. In some cases, automated workflow can eliminate this step entirely. For instance, companies will sometimes set up business rules that say, for example, if an invoice is below a certain dollar amount and matches the associated purchase order, it can be sent to a payment queue without being reviewed. Automated processes can also eliminate tedious tasks such as applying retention policies to documents and notifying users that tasks haven't been completed. One of our integrators advises his customers that if more than five people are involved in the processing of forms, from mail opening, document preparation, scanning, data entry, verification, exception handling (for missing or incorrect information) and otherwise ensuring that the forms are archived appropriately, most organizations can justify an automated forms processing solution with a basic workflow and archive. This is especially true when documents must be retrieved to provide customer service, or there are financial penalties for slow or incorrect processing, such as reduced cash flow because of delayed billing, missed terms for discounts or the potential for litigation. If 12 or more employees are involved in this process, realizing ROI in less than six months is possible. Organizations with greater volume or specialized needs may benefit from more complex recognition technologies. These can include more robust forms processing (including unstructured forms) for sophisticated forms that require a great deal of labor such as invoices, health insurance forms and freight bills. In many cases, specialized solutions exist for gathering data from these forms to get them into a content management system for workflow and customer service more quickly. If volume and variety of documents warrant, organizations may also want to consider document identification solutions that recognize various document types, eliminating the need to sort documents prior to scanning.
Preserve Your Agility
The most common complaint at many organizations is that there is never enough time. And just when you start to feel caught up, volume increases, your competitors speed up or a new regulation is passed. So while it's trite to say that time is money, long cycle times, poor customer service and missed regulatory deadlines are undeniably expensive.
Since it's not uncommon that ECM users realize a return on investment of less than 12 months, it doesn't make sense to implement a product that takes extensive