Improving scanner ROI through ‘capture-to-process’

Scanning paper documents to archive is a mainstream activity throughout government that saves office space and improves information access. But according to AIIM’s latest survey report, conducted ahead of their national roadshow in June – most organisations are missing out on the bigger benefits that come from scanning-to-process.
Scanned documents are much easier to access than paper ones, and users rate this as an important benefit, but scanned electronic documents and forms can be work-flowed through business processes much more easily and controllably than paper ones. With modern recognition software, the data within the documents can be automatically captured and fed to the processing system alongside the viewable document, form or invoice.
The new survey, run in advance of the AIIM Roadshow on 13-16 June 2011, is based on over 400 responses, and shows that only a third of organisations are taking the benefits of scan-to-process, and only a quarter are using automated recognition software to capture forms data to the process. This is despite the fact that nearly 40% of the user organisations surveyed reported investment payback within 12 months of implementing systems for scanning, capture, and business process management (BPM), rising to nearly 60% within 18 months.
Reducing Paper
Scanning paper documents and records is a great first step to organising the content chaos in most offices but the business case for a scanning project is often stuck in the “hard dollar” savings from getting rid of filing cabinets and cutting down photocopying costs. The survey shows that we are finally turning the corner on reducing the amount of paper we all use. The consumption of paper and the number of photocopies is still growing in 27% of organisations, but in 39%, it is finally starting to fall. Amongst those organisations with more extensive document scanning and capture operations, 53% are seeing a reduction.
However, the survey shows that mobilising documents for electronic access and information sharing is the single biggest driver for investment in scanning and capture. As a “soft dollar” benefit, this may not be the primary justification cited in most business cases, but once systems are installed, survey respondents reported this to be the strongest long-term benefit. Customer service is another strong driver in this respect, as customers and citizens expect help desk operators to see and discuss their most recent correspondence, prompting the need for some organisations to undertake daily electronic conversion of all inbound mail.
Capture-Enabling Systems
The next step is to implement scanning-to-process – launching the scanned document files into the business process, having already stripped off the order numbers and customer numbers, and matched them up in the finance system or the CRM system. The survey shows that around half of organisations have capture-enabled their main enterprise systems for store and retrieve of scanned documents, and a quarter have integrated document data capture with the process itself.
Improving technology has made recognition software more capable, easier to use, and cheaper. Higher bandwidth local networks allow distributed scanners to link to central capture servers over the network. Scanner-agnostic capture servers can now service a mix of central production scanners and distributed MFPs. All of these developments are having a considerable effect on the balance between outsourced scanning, centralised in-house scanning and distributed scanning. Survey respondents showed a strategic preference for in-house scanning and capture rather than outsourcing. There is a growing interest scan-on-entry, using digital-mailroom scanners.
What are the three strongest drivers for scanning and capture in your organisation?
Capture and Process Integration
Capture enabling an application generally involves the ability to scan a document into an application and store it there (or more likely hold a link to it) for future reference against an order or customer contact log. A process-integrated application might include an element of workflow that is initiated or dependent on the input of a document or form, and in many cases will involve capture of data from the form producing a reference link that is utilised as part of the process. In the simplest case, customer details are captured, and an acknowledgement is sent back to the customer that their application form, order or service request has been received and is in process. Details filled in by the customer on the form may also be fed back to them as a confirmation. 
Accounts payable or invoice processing is a well-recognised example of a more sophisticated capture process, where customer account numbers and order numbers are recognised and matched against the order processing system, and as a further step, line items, quantities and invoiced amounts are matched against the original order and/or the delivery note (which may also be scanned in).
Decision Makers
One of the likely reasons that so few organisations take advantage of the benefits of capture to business process and subsequent Business Process Management is that the decision making power for such investments lies in different hands. Capture is frequently seen as a front-end, physical handling task akin to the post room or the print room, whilst BPM is viewed as the province of process owners and line-of-business (LOB) managers. Further confusion arises, as the scanned documents may be part of an ECM or DM system, which is the realm of the Records Manager or Compliance Officer, or may be in the remit of the IT Department - particularly if SharePoint is involved.
Who are the decision makers in your organisation for capture, BPM, ECM and SharePoint?
Obviously, organisations need to make a joined-up decision on this. It may be that capture and BPM projects are worth implementing initially as a point solution to solve an urgent business process issue, but this should be done with foresight as to how other content management and collaboration requirements can be drawn together further downstream, perhaps by building out a scanning and capture solution into a full ECM suite.
Recommendations
Scanning and capture to business process can produce rapid and significant return on investment in terms of both hard-dollar productivity savings and soft-dollar service improvement. We would make the following recommendations.
The business case for scanning and capture projects should include the benefits of information and knowledge sharing as well as reductions in office space and paper handling logistics.
Scan-to-process as a manual workflow can achieve considerably more benefits than simply scanning-to-archive, and the extension to capture-to-process by the addition of automated data recognition will provide considerable productivity benefits. This can be considered for both in-house and outsourced operations.
For those organisations scanning-to-archive, manual addition of metadata can usefully be replaced by auto-indexing, with suitable recognition across different content types.
It can make sense to implement a point solution for capture and BPM to solve an urgent line of business process issue, but this decision should be taken with a forward view of how it might be built out or integrated into a broader ECM system or suite in the future.
Consider incorporating other types of electronic document such as emails, faxes and PDFs into the capture system in order to standardise the workflow process.
Capture servers can now provide production-level recognition services for both centralised and distributed scanners, or a mix of both, allowing local business units and remote offices to feed their own business processes.
Consider a scan-on-entry strategy by utilising mailroom capture and electronic routing, either as an in-house resource or via outsourcing.
Look across your enterprise systems for process data integration with captured documents, versus a single focus on storage and retrieval functionality. 
Strive to include decision makers across IT, Records Management and Line of Business to ensure that a comprehensive strategy is adopted, particularly with regard to SharePoint.
Remember that BPM projects are likely to meet resistance to change, and ensure that potential users, and managers from other departments, are educated as regards the scope and potential benefits of BPM.
Before embarking on a BPM implementation, audit current processes to ensure there is agreement between users as to what the processes are now, what exceptions to the process can occur, and how exceptions are addressed.
When selecting a capture and BPM product or supplier, whether in-house or outsourced, consider the implications for integration with your enterprise systems, particularly for longer-term support.
Find out more:
Research Paper: “AIIM Industry Watch - Capture and BPM”
AIIM is the international community that provides education, research, and best practices to help organisations find, control, and optimise their information. AIIM offers training courses in ECM, Electronic Records Management,  BPM, eMail Management, and E2.0,  both online and as public classes.
Research free to download at: www.aiim.org.uk/research
AIIM Roadshow 2011: “People and Documents Working Together”
The UK’s leading event for document management and ECM, visiting Edinburgh, Bolton, Birmingham, and London on 13-16 June 2011. This acclaimed roadshow provides free seminars on new developments and independent advice on implementing the latest technology solutions.
Register now at www.aiimroadshow.org.uk