Can you save money with document imaging?

by Frank 4. November 2012 06:00

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces an enterprise content management solution called RecFind 6 that includes extensive document imaging capabilities. We have thousands of customers around the world and as far as I can see most use RecFind 6 for document imaging of one kind or another.

This certainly wasn’t the case twenty years ago when document imaging tools were difficult to use and were expensive stand-alone ‘specialised’ products. Today however, almost every document management or records management product includes document imaging capabilities as a normal part of the expected functionality. That is, document imaging has gone from being an expensive specialised product to just a commodity, an expected feature in almost any information management product.

This means most customers have a readily available, easy-to-use and cost-effective document imaging tool at their fingertips. That being the case there should be no excuse for not utilizing it to save both time and money. However, I guarantee that I could visit any of my customers and quickly find unrealised opportunities for them to increase productivity and save money by using the document imaging capabilities of my product RecFind 6. They don’t even have to spend any money with me because the document imaging functions of RecFind 6 are integrated as ‘standard’ functionality and there is no additional charge for using them.

So, why aren’t my customers and every other vendor’s customers making best use of the document imaging capabilities of their already purchased software?

In my experience there are many reasons but the main ones are:

Lack of knowledge

To the uninitiated document imaging may look simple but there is far more to it than first appears and unless your staff have hands-on experience there is unlikely to be an ‘expert’ in your organization. For this reason I wrote a couple of Blogs earlier this year for the benefit of my customers; Estimating the cost of your next imaging job and The importance of document imaging. This was my attempt to add to the knowledge base about document imaging.

Lack of ownership

The need for document imaging transects the whole enterprise but there is rarely any one person or department charged with ‘owning’ this need and with applying best-practice document imaging policies and procedures to ensure that the organization obtains maximum benefits across all departments and divisions. It tends to be left to the odd innovative employee to come up with solutions just for his or her area.

Lack of consultancy skills

We often say that before we can propose a solution we need to know what the problem is. The way to discover the true nature of a problem is to deploy an experienced consultant to review and analyse the supposed problem and then present an analysis, conclusions and recommendations that should always include a cost-benefit analysis. In our experience very few organizations have staff with this kind of expertise.

Negative impact of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008

All over the world since 2008 our customers have been cutting staff and cutting costs and eliminating or postponing non-critical projects. Some of this cost cutting has been self-defeating and has produced negative results and reduced productivity. One common example is the cancelling or postponing of document imaging projects that could have significantly improved efficiency, productivity and competitiveness as well as reducing processing costs.  This is especially true if document imaging is combined with workflow to better automate business processes.  I also wrote a Blog back in July 2012 for the benefit our customers to better explain just what business process management is all about called Business Process Management, just what does it entail?

In answer to the original question I posed, yes you can save money utilizing simple document imaging functionality especially if you combine the results with new workflow processes to do things faster, more accurately and smarter. It is really a no-brainer and it should be the easiest cost justification you have ever written.

We have already seen how most information management solutions like RecFind 6 have embedded document imaging capabilities so most of you should have existing and paid-for document imaging functionality you can leverage off.

All you really need to do to save your organization money and improve your work processes is look for and then analyse any one of many document imaging opportunities within your organization.

A clue, wherever there is paper there is a document imaging opportunity.

Business Processes Management, BPM, BPO; just what does it entail?

by Frank 15. July 2012 06:00

Like me I am sure that you have been inundated with ads, articles, white papers and proposals for something called BPM or BPO, Business Process Management, Business Process Outsourcing and Business Process Optimisation.

Do you really understand what it all means?

BPM and BPO certainly aren’t new, there have been many companies offering innovative and often cutting-edge technology solutions for many years. The pioneering days were probably the early 1980’s. One early innovator I can recall (and admired) was Tower Technology because their office was just across from our old offices in Lane Cove.

In the early days BPM was all about imaging and workflow and forms. Vendors like Tower Technology used early version of workflow products like Staffware and a whole assortment of different imaging and forms products to solve customer processing problems. It involved a lot of inventing and a lot of creative genius to make all those disparate products work and actually do what the sales person promised. More often than not the final solution didn’t quite work as promised and it always seemed to cost a lot more than quoted.

Like all new technologies everyone had to go through a learning process and like most new technologies, for many years the promises were far ahead of what was actually delivered.

So, is it any different today? Is BPM a proven, reliable and feature-rich and mature technology?

The answer dear friends is yes and no; just as it was twenty-five or more years ago.

There is a wonderful Latin phrase ‘Caveat Emptor’ which means “Let the buyer beware”. Caveat Emptor applies just as much today as it did in the early days because despite the enormous technological progress we have all witnessed and experienced we are still pushing the envelope. We are still being asked to do things the current software and hardware can’t quite yet handle. The behind the scenes technicians are still trying to make the product do what the sales person promised in good faith (we hope) because he didn’t really understand his product set.

Caveat Emptor means it is up to the buyer to evaluate the offering and decide if it can do the job. Of course, if the vendor lies or makes blatant false claims then Caveat Emptor no longer applies and you can hit them with a lawsuit.  However, in reality it is rarely as black and white as that. The technology is complex and the proposals and explanations are full of proprietary terminology, ambiguities, acronyms and weaselly words.

Like most agreements in life you shouldn’t enter into a BPM contract unless you know exactly what you are getting into. This is especially true with BPM or BPO because you are talking about handing over part of your core business processes to someone else to ‘improve’. If you don’t understand what is being proposed then please hire someone who does; I guarantee it will be worth the investment. This is especially true if you are outsourcing customer or supplier facing processes like accounts payable and accounts receivable. Better to spend a little more up front than suffer cost overruns, failed processes and an inbox full of complaints.

My advice is to always begin with some form of a consultancy to ‘examine’ your processes and produce a report containing conclusions and recommendations. The vendor may (should) offer this as part of its sales process and it may be free or it may be chargeable.  Personally, I believe in the old adage that you get what you pay for so I would prefer to pay to have a qualified and experienced professional consultant do the study. The advantage of paying for the study is that you then ‘own’ the report and can then legally provide it to other vendors to obtain competitive quotes.

You should also have a pretty good idea of what the current processing is costing you in both direct and indirect costs (e.g., lost sales, dissatisfied customers, unhappy staff, etc.) before beginning the evaluation exercise. Otherwise, how are you going to be able to judge the added value of the vendor’s proposal?

In my experience the most common set of processes to be ‘outsourced’ are those to do with accounts payable processing. This is the automation of all processes beginning with your purchase order (and its line items), the delivery docket (proof of receipt), invoices (and line items) and statements. The automation should reconcile invoices to delivery dockets and purchase orders and should throw up any discrepancies such as items invoiced but not delivered, variations in price, etc. Vendors will usually propose what is commonly called an automatic matching engine; the software that reads all the documents and does its best to make sure you only pay for delivered goods that are exactly as ordered.

If the vendor’s proposal is to be attractive it must replace your manual processing with an automated model that is faster and more accurate. Ideally, it would also be more cost-effective but even if it is more costly than your manual direct cost estimate it should still solve most of your indirect cost problems like unhappy suppliers and late payment fees.

In essence, there is nothing magical about BPM and BPO; it is all about replacing inefficient manual processes with much more efficient automated ones using clever computer software. The magic, if that is the word to use, is about getting it right. You need to know what the current manual processing is costing you. You need to be absolutely sure that you fully understand the vendor’s proposal and you need to build in metrics so you can accurately evaluate the finished product and clearly determine if it is meeting its stated objectives.

Please don’t enter into negotiations thinking that if it doesn’t work you can just blame the vendor. That would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Remember Caveat Emptor; success or failure really depends upon how well you do your job as the customer.

The Importance of Document Imaging

by Frank 1. April 2012 06:00

 

Document imaging or the scanning of paper documents, has been around a long time. Along with workflow, it was the real beginning of office automation.

Document imaging did for office automation what barcode technology did for physical records management and asset management. That is, it allowed manual processes to be automated and improved; it provided tangible and measurable productivity improvements and as well as demonstrably better access to information for the then fledgling knowledge worker.

Today we have a paradox, whereas we seem to take document imaging for granted we still don’t utilize it to anything like its full capabilities. Most people use document scanners of one kind or another, usually on multi-function-devices, but we still don’t appear to use document scanning nearly enough to automate time-consuming and often critical business processes.

I don’t really know why not because it isn’t a matter of missing technology; we seem to have every type of document scanner imaginable and every type of document scanning software conceivable.  We just seem to be stuck in the past or, we just are not applying enough thought to analysing our day to day business processes; we have become lazy.

Business processes based on the circulation of paper documents are archaic, wasteful, inefficient and highly prone to error because of lost and redundant copies of paper documents; in fact they are downright dangerous. Yet, every organization I deal with still has critical business process based on the circulation of paper. How incredibly careless or just plain stupid is that?

Let’s look at it from the most basic level. How many people can read a paper document at any one point in time? The answer is one and one only. How many people can look at a digital image of a document at any one point in time? The answer is as many as need to. How hard is it to lose or damage a paper document? The answer is it is really, really easy to lose of damage or deface a paper document. How hard is it to lose or damage or deface or even change a secure digital copy of a document? The answer is it is almost impossible in a well-managed document management system.

So why are we still circulating paper documents to support critical business processes? Why aren’t we simply digitising these important paper documents and making the business process infinitely faster and more secure? For the life of me, I can’t think of a single valid reason for not digitising important paper documents. The technology is readily available with oodles of choice and it isn’t difficult to use and it isn’t expensive. In fact, digitizing paper will always save you money.

So why do I still see so many organizations large and small still relying on the circulation of paper documents to support important business processes? Is it a lack of thought or a lack of imagination or a lack of education? Can it really be true that thirty-years after the beginning of the office automation revolution we still have tens of thousands or even millions of so called knowledge workers with little knowledge of basic office automation? If so, and I believe it is true from my observations, then it is a terrible reflection on our public and corporate education systems.

In a world awash in technology like computers, laptops, iPhones and iPads how can we be so terribly ignorant of the application and benefits of such a basic and proven technology as document imaging?

Some of the worst example can be found in large financial organizations like banks and insurance companies. The public perception is that banks are right up there with the latest technology and most people look at examples like banking and payment systems on smartphones as examples of that. But, go behind the front office to the back office and you will usually see a very different world; a world of paper and manual processes, many on the IT department’s ‘backlog’ of things to attend to, eventually.

Here is a really dumb example of this kind of problem. I recently decided to place a term deposit with an online bank. Everything had to be done online and the website didn’t even offer the download of PDFs which would have been useful so you could read through pages of information at your leisure and find out what information they required so you could make sure you had it handy when completing the forms on the website.

I managed to find a phone number and rang them up and asked for the documentation in PDF form only to be told they were paperless and that everything had to be done online. So I persisted going from page to page on the website, never knowing what would be required next until the last page and yes, you guessed right. On the very last page the instructions were to print out the completed forms, sign them and mail them in. Paperless for me; much to my inconvenience and paper for them, again much to my inconvenience.  There is really no excuse for this kind of brainless twaddle that puts the consumer last.  Their processes obviously required a signature on a paper document so the whole pretence of an online process was a sham; their processes required paper.

Hopefully, when they received my paper documents they actually scanned and digitized them but I am willing to bet that if I could get into their back office I would find shelf after shelf of cardboard file folders and paper documents. Hopefully, next time I ring up they can actually find my documents. Maybe I could introduce them to the revolutionary new barcode technology so they could actually track and manage their paper documents far more efficiently?

The message is a simple one. If you have business processes based on the circulation of paper you are inefficient and are wasting money and the time of your staff and customers. You are also taking risks with the integrity of your data and your customer’s data.

Please do everyone a favour and look carefully at the application of document imaging, a well-proven, affordable, easy to implement and easy to manage business process automation tool.

 

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