Document capture and the digital age go hand in hand. More and more companies than ever before are leveraging enterprise content management (ECM) solutions to help move them into the digital age of electronically storing and managing core business content. ECM technology in itself is a tried and proven means of efficiently managing information as part of the content lifecycle (from content creation through legal destruction), all from within a single enterprise platform. In fact, the money that companies can save just from implementing a single departmental ECM solution is substantial in itself, let alone deploying a true enterprise-wide ECM solution.
As stated above, ECM technology in general is a tried and proven technology. It can efficiently manage all five primary phases of the content lifecycle. Those phases include content creation, digital capture, secure storage, content lifecycle management, and legal destruction. Suffice to say that once we have captured a form of business content it then becomes very easy to manage for the rest of the content lifecycle, regardless of how the content was initially created. Thus, the challenge lies within the capture side. How do we efficiently capture and ingest the varying types of business content that are associated with managing our day to day operations.
First let’s look at the types of business content we have to manage. Regardless of the company’s size or industry, legal records fall into one of two categories. First, there is internally generated content that is initiated from various departments inside the organisation. This is typically comprised of paper-based forms, Word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, and outgoing email. Second, there is externally received content which typically comes from suppliers and/or customers. This is typically comprised of physical mail, PDFs, Word documents, spreadsheets, incoming email, and EDI.
The goal of an ECM solution is to ingest this business content from whatever source it is received or generated, properly categorise it, and extract the appropriate metadata that is required in order to easily access the record. We would all agree that it is relatively easy if we generate or receive content that is already in digital format. It allows us to automate the capture process. However, it is more complex if that content is in paper form, which is often the case from suppliers or customers.
Physical documents need to be scanned, categorised and indexed just like any other content. This means someone or something needs to manage the capture process. Do we scan and manually index these business records or do we consider advanced capture technology to automate the identification and indexing process? I will not go into detail explaining exactly what advanced capture does, but if you talk to most sales people who promote it they will say you simply have to feed documents through a scanner, and they will come out the other end fully categorised and indexed, without any manual intervention. They will even call it “magic.”
As a member of the ECM industry for over 25 years, I am here to dispel the myths, and provide some reality when it comes to determining the most efficient means of managing document capture. Rather than provide an industry standard response to the capture dilemma, I think it is best to offer some guidance that can be leveraged by any company, in any industry, when evaluating alternatives. My approach looks at capture in general, not just physical document capture. My approach revolves around realising that it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate paper. However, it is possible to dramatically reduce it when evaluating how you create and manage business content. With this in mind, here are five best practices that organisations should consider when embracing the digital era and the capture dilemma that comes along with that journey.
- First and foremost, realise from the outset that you may not be able to completely eliminate paper. Find ways to reduce it internally and externally, but be prepared to scan physical documents. What method you use to scan, categorise and index them will depend on the type of content, the volumes, the point of receipt, and other considerations that an experienced ECM consultant can help flush out when making a capture recommendation.
- When it comes to capturing physical documents, advanced capture technology can and should be considered for automatic categorisation and index extraction, but only when it makes sense. The primary consideration should be how much time will be saved by reducing manual data entry, and how much efficiency will be gained? If it is substantial, the return on investment can be significant.
- If you are considering advanced capture, have realistic expectations. The myth of 100 per cent reliability is just that, a myth. However, a 50 percent reduction in data entry within any business process is very realistic and can be quite substantial if the volumes support it. If the expectations are realistic you can and will be very pleased with the return on investment, but don’t just expect 100 per cent reliability, or as I like to call it “magic.”
- If you are receiving digital content, bring it in as digital content. Think about all the different types of business content you receive by email such as resumes, invoices, support requests, applications and consider capture automation. For example, if you receive resumes via email, don’t print them off and scan them. They can be automatically ingested by the ECM, triggering a formal applicant review process.
- Make a concentrated enterprise effort to eliminate physical documents and forms. For example, if employees submit leave requests either as a Word document or in a PDF form, convert it to an electronic form that they can complete their details from your internal employee portal. If customers complete and mail in business forms that they download from your website, why not convert those to HTML forms that can be filled out and submitted right from the web site? If vendors mail physical invoices to you for payment, encourage and possibly even require them to submit them electronically. They generate the invoice from their ERP, which means it is already electronic. Why print and mail it? In all of the above examples, this electronic content can automatically be ingested into an ECM, categorised, indexed, stored. Finally, initiate a workflow for processing of the request.
In summary, if your company is not already going digital you should be. Your competitors already are or they soon will be. Second, when you are ready to dive in, embrace it from an enterprise level, not just from a departmental standpoint. Leveraging the investment enterprise wide is where the real return on investment exists. You can start departmentally, but you should continue to leverage the investment throughout the enterprise.
Last, don’t be afraid of the challenges associated with the capture component of ECM. Avoid the myths and set realistic expectations that focus on driving long term business efficiency without getting bogged down on simply eliminating data entry. You deserve the right to be perceptive and realistic at the same time.
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