The Inevitable Conclusion
Like the document-capture industry, my life is under construction. On the day I conducted the following interview with Lubor Ptacek, director of product marketing at Documentum and Alan Tam, product marketing manager for Adobe, I was sitting on a cardboard box with a makeshift plywood desk, due to the fact that just hours earlier I had moved into a new house.
Like the capture industry, it was a little awkward, sort of kludgy and unlikely, but buoyed by the comfort that—despite the physical obstacles—I could still get the job done. I didn’t think Lubor or Alan could tell.
Capture is like that. There’s a certain amount of “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” stagecraft involved in converting a piece of paper into electronic content. It’s a gruff, mechanical process involving gears and rollers and capstans and hoppers. There’s nothing elegant about it.
And we liked it that way. Not that long ago, just the mere act of converting paper into electronic images was considered a pretty spectacular achievement. Imaging was an end unto itself, whose purpose was to overcome the physical restraints suffered by paper, and create electronic facsimiles that were destined only to be stored away on an optical disc instead of in mountainous file cabinetry. It was OK. A lot of companies recovered many square feet of records storage space, now probably converted to discothèques and serving as the sites of weekend rave parties.
Luckily—inevitably—true value has prevailed.
The Pace of Adoption
“A couple of years ago, there were several solutions to capture images, but that was kind of the end of it. Now there’s a ‘process’ kind of thinking: We’ve captured the data, but that’s only the first step. It’s no longer about populating a database. It’s about automating a full business process,” describes Lubor, with obvious pleasure. And he’s right. But it’s taken a while to get here. And that gradual acceptance of automation—taking it in phases, as the two gentlemen describe it—remains a key best practice in the adoption of paper capture and data retrieval. ‘Cause the world won’t change overnight.
There’s nothing particularly new about images triggering workflows, is there? “Before, the workflow was there just to move the images from a bank of scanners and store them in a database. Performance was the main requirement—nobody worried about approval processes, who should be alerted, etc.,” says Lubor.
“But,” Alan interjects, “Things changed. Server-based applications have become not only cheaper, but a lot easier to deploy. Not that long ago, it was hard to afford these kinds of deployments. But now I can leverage standard-based clients—like Web browsers or Acrobat Reader—for external-facing applications. I don’t have to count how many users are using the license, for example, and I don’t have to mandate what applications people buy or worry about a learning curve,” he explains.
“Now there are single, unified solutions for capture-based data collection, linked to content management systems,” continues Alan. “People can now take advantage of their internal infrastructure, but also the public infrastructure already in place outside the company walls. Many attempts have been made to decentralize capture with desktop applications, special hardware, etc. And they are still expensive and hard to achieve.”So why so much effort to deal with paper processes? Why not just leapfrog into total automation? “Paper is still the default option for many businesses,” Lubor points out. “We are only at the beginning of ‘end-to-end automation.’ Companies and government agencies do not change overnight. If there’s a process in place, organizations tend to stay with it,” he says.
But they DO want to automate in stages. At first they may fill in a form, then print it. Then later they may fill in the form and have it automatically go through a process. Then maybe later they’ll fill it in and e-mail it... “at that point, things are pretty automated,” Lubor notes. But to the users, the transition happened slowly and logically.Where are the sweet spots for total automation...assuming we can ever achieve it? “There are industries where the form is all they do for a living, like insurance or mortgage processing. There is nothing more to an insurance company than forms. So if they can take a penny off every claim they process, it’s an enormous cost-saving factor. It’s immediately worth it,” says Lubor.
“That’s right. Any kind of application processing is a perfect target for automation. Think about mortgage processing...page after page of repetitive information. Wouldn’t it be nice if most of the fields would auto-fill, and you only had to worry about the variables?” asks Alan.
In government (with the exception of defense) agencies are stressing more about cost containment than change management. Ever-increasing volumes are wreaking havoc in a lot of agencies. Yes, automation is a big change, but they need to do something. While it may not seem like it when you’re waiting in line with your deli number slip of paper in hand at the DMV, they are very concerned with speeding up their processes.
Process automation tools, such as those I heard about over the plywood table that day, are inevitable. The speed with which they are adopted is the only unanswered question. We present this White Paper in the hope that the unanswered question can come a little closer to resolution.