Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Forget the Fiscal Cliff: Here’s Why The Cloud Can Secure Your 2013 IT Upgrade

Who’s afraid of the Fiscal Cliff?

You shouldn’t be, especially if you head up IT for your company and targeting 2013 as the year to upgrade. You can still get that newer IT system now, courtesy of the Cloud.

Costs and Comprehension

Sure, there’s economic nervousness, as there is equally unfounded fear of the Cloud. Misinformation about its efficacy is keeping many businesses from understanding its positive value proposition.

A recent survey of small to medium-sized businesses here in the USA and in the U.K found a majority of business owners were unsure of Cloud services – just a quarter of SMBs had adopted some form of Cloud services – while a slightly smaller proportion thought Cloud services were only for large companies.

Among “other factors cited were cost (23% UK/21% US); lack of trust (17% UK/18% U.S.); and the belief the services are too complicated (nearly 10% in both the UK and U.S.)”.  Startlingly, almost one-in-three SMBs (31% in the UK and 28% in the U.S.) said they did not understand Cloud services at all.

The disconnect among the survey respondents between how they use the Cloud for their personal business versus their business business is rather shocking.  There is an over abundance of information about the Cloud generally, with Cloud-based consumer applications, and literally hundreds of stories by IT business publications, both online and off.

How long have these SMB owners been using their personal credit cards to buy from iTunes, EBay or Amazon? Do they do their banking online? They use – and trust – the Cloud constantly.

Companies like Microsoft, Apple, IBM, etc. have enormous amounts of money, people and research poured into the development of their formidable Cloud offerings that take the issues of security, outages, scalability, ease of use and manageability far more seriously than any SMB business could. They are the backbone for thousands of organizations that have already moved to the Cloud. Their brands and reputations are in the public view for all to see 24/7, 365 days a year. 

The Real Reason
Probably the real conclusion about Cloud skittishness centers around that SMBs, because of the soft economy and pending fiscal cliff, are regrettably in lock down mode and tuned out to any incoming messages about promising IT alternatives such as the Cloud, regardless of the value proposition.

It’s also a matter of working with what’s been the new normal since the economic meltdown in 2008. Many SMBs took on complex technology decisions without the benefit of an IT department or outside expertise to guide them. Not that the resources weren’t there to be tapped. VARS who service the SMB market are in fact quite educated on the Cloud alternative and are talking to their customers about Cloud value prop.

Until the economy moves toward an annual 3% to 4% GPD growth rate, the “build it yourself” mentality is what SMBs know how to do because that is what they have been doing for years. But the perception of the Cloud as an unnecessary risk is, well, unnecessary.

The Cloud is a better use of limited capital and looks to avail companies to expand their functionality without having to finance a significant upfront capitalization. Instead, they invest by paying a fractional amount of money over in a managed, predictable outlay without the need for upfront borrowing.

There is an IT path that many companies can confidently take. It’s just a matter of taking a leap based on knowledge, not fear.

Monday, August 6, 2012

VARs: Technology’s Coach, Consultant and Referee

One of the biggest questions faced by companies seeking to make large technology purchases is how to get the job done.

Will you purchase directly from the hardware and software manufacturers? Will you need an integrator? Is your IT staff capable? Who is ultimately responsible to coordinate all the components, people and organization needs to steer the project to success instead of catastrophe? After all, even the best-intentioned decisions can be disastrous if implemented poorly.

Expensive, complex technology purchases have many questions that require the right answers for everything to go right. You know your business. The manufacturer knows their product.

A good Value-Added Reseller (VAR) will know both.

This is where a VAR can play an essential role, or realistically, roles. A VAR is a combination coach, consultant and referee that can bring together the most appropriate products and processes to create the best solution to fit your unique needs.

The Coach (your advocate)
What makes a good VAR? First, they aren’t a box pusher -- they’re a solution provider. It’s important to them to have a full understanding of your business and goals because they want to select the best product(s) for you. They are your advocate.

Seek a VAR that has true expertise in Content Management, Case Management or Data and Document Imaging Capture (meaning the VAR has relationships with several key product manufacturers, giving you multiple product options) and one that has in-house integration capabilities. This (what I call a “super-VAR”) doesn’t just resell a product. It is with the customer from start to finish to ensure project success and solution performance.

VARs have to undergo rigorous manufacturer training to obtain authorization to sell and implement their products. Manufacturers ensure their VARs are qualified to provide you with what you need. That’s not to say any or every VAR is worthy of your business, though. It’s no secret that you’ll have several VARs to choose from.

The Consultant
It is of the utmost importance that you fully identify your business problems before you select your products. You need to answer broad questions such as:
  • What are your pain points?
  • What can’t you do now?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • If you’re upgrading or replacing a current system, what aspects of the current solution were you lacking? 
  •  What’s your vision?
In this process, a good VAR should be able to assist with a complete Requirements Analysis and Functional Design Specification. This analysis helps you identify and clearly state the business problem(s) at hand, then detail the components and work processes involved, leading to the ultimate solution for your company.

The Referee
Likely, you’ll have a combination of the three types of players working with you on your projects. – the manufacturer that makes the hardware or software; the VAR itself; and the Systems Integrator that works to install the products and makes them work.

When considering product knowledge, it’s obvious that the manufacturer will be knowledgeable about what they produce and sell. After all, they are their product. They developed it. They commercialized it. They know it. And most likely, the manufacturer isn’t just trying to “sell, sell, sell.” Odds are they truly believe in their product and that it really is the best fit for your business. However, because manufacturers cannot help but be partial to their own products, you’re not really getting an objective recommendation, which means you’re not getting the best

You need advice that addresses your issues. And like you do for your clients, the VAR should focus on individual client needs, no matter how small. When working with a good VAR, you’ll be more than a product code or a support ticket routing number.

The important thing is to get the balance right. Of course, you want a manufacturer who produces a quality product. And, of course, you want an integrator who will get you up and running smoothly.  But all VARs are not created equal. Choose based on a combination of knowledge, selection, experience, customer and manufacturer relationships and value-added services to find the technology partner that is right your and your business?

So, what’s been your experience working with VARs? Are there any other considerations you would include?

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to Eliminate Eight Document Capture Process Steps

Are steps in a process necessary when the process itself is unnecessary?

Businesses work feverishly to continually root out waste and inefficiency in their operations. Reducing any number of steps can save time, money and resources that could be applied elsewhere. Just eliminating several of these redundancies could make a noticeable difference.

So, think about what would happen if you could almost purge entire operations. Well, of course you can. This is technology. It happens all the time.

If you read my missives here at Capture Capitalist, you’ll know that I’ve written extensively about distributed capture versus centralized capture. I recently went back and took a look the book I wrote three years ago and distilled it down to four words:

Distributed capture is disruptive.

I know that this makes software makers shift in their seats and causes their eyes to dart as they tug at their collars, but the regressively manual aspects of centralized capture are just not necessary anymore.

Consider the steps necessary in a typical centralized capture process:
  • Print a large stockpile of available document separators for each location needed to perform the scanning operation. This can require thousands of dollars annually and is a recurring expense (printers, paper, labor, toner) as separators can only be used so many times before they wear out.
  • Prepare those documents by manually inserting separator pages between every distinct document.
  • Organize documents and pages into a suitable batch size to optimize scanner operators, scanning hardware and software’s overall performance.
  • Place batches in the scanner’s automatic feeder system and press scan.
  • Documents are scanned and sent to the server for further processing.
  • Wait for the server software to examine each page in an attempt to identify the document separator that you used. Using blank pages as a separator creates the added challenge of documents that purposely contain blank pages in them (such as the backside of a two-sided document) and then mistakenly being identified as separators.
  • Insert a post-QA process into the overall capture process to catch the blank pages.
  • Correct any errors.
  • De-prep documents to remove document separators. Plan to reuse the separators rather than stick them on a shelf or in a box with the rest of your business documents. Otherwise, every scan job will require new document separators, and you will be consuming physical storage space to store meaningless content.

In a distributed, web-based capture environment — with features/functions, such as “virtual separation” — users eliminate eight of the nine steps (and the expenses associated with them) that centralized capture requires.

Businesses that adopt distributed capture don’t have these same document sorting of challenges inherent in centralized capture. They likely won’t have full-time employees dedicated to scanning; therefore, it is reasonable for the document custodian to actually drop the documents into the scanner — without separators — and let them scan and be virtually classified or associated via the application. All of this is done through an elegantly designed KISS user interface.

Eliminating unnecessary costs and allowing the document custodian to maintain a degree of control over the organization of the documents makes more sense, rather than leaving the responsibility to a scan operator 1,000 miles away, who is paid on volume, not necessarily on quality or accuracy.

Approaching the capture problem from a distributed angle makes the process of scanning, associating, and so on much more simple.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lubricate Business Processes With Nine Big Advantages of Cloud Distributed Capture

Think of the word “cloud” as in Cloud computing. What immediately comes to mind? Is it white, fluffy cumulus clouds floating across a sunny, azure sky?

I’ll tell you what I think of when I hear “cloud”: oil. Better yet, grease.

The technology that makes distributed capture work is more like the kind of thick, viscous grease auto mechanics pack into wheel bearings to help car wheels roll freely. 

A Cloud-based distributed capture system is all about lubricating business processes for faster processing, access and decision-making.

Digitizing the documents that trigger a business process allows those documents to enter a workflow, making them accessible to all participants. Easier accessibility aids faster processing, speeding up responses to customers (good for them) and faster recognition of revenue (good for you).

Here are nine ways the Cloud lubricates and frees up your business:

Reduced costs: You eliminate a cost center for your organization. There are far less hardware, software and overall IT expenses with the Cloud. In addition, you only pay for what you use. Users also save on shipping costs of sending documents to a centralized location.

No capital expenditures: The decision making on specifying, buying and installing expensive hardware is removed. There is no hardware or software to buy.

Scalability: Need more capacity? Storage needs can be increased seamlessly rather than having to go out and purchase programs or hardware.

Automatic software updates: Eliminates IT and paying for future software updates, patches and hot-fixes.

Remote access: Anyone can access and update information wherever they are.

Disaster backup: Company data is secured off-site. Power loss due to natural disasters, or human error, won’t keep users from getting back to work as long as there is access to an Internet connection.

Ease of implementation: Set-up will take no more than a day, plus several days for training. The tedious and time-consuming process to search for solutions, meet with vendors, hold system demos, obtain quotes, make a selection, complete the procurement process, then install, configure, test, train, rollout and support an on premise document capture system can be a thing of the past.

Response Time: Cloud computing accomplishes a better response time in most cases than standard server and hardware.

Evens the playing field: Cloud-based distributed capture allows small companies to complete more effectively with larger businesses. Smaller businesses can utilize the same tools deployed at Fortune 100 companies. 

Deciding between maintaining and upgrading an on-premise capture solution or transitioning to a distributed data/document capture system in the Cloud comes down to one simple question: How much more grease could your business use?

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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Document Scanning Equipment

To capture your paper documents, go ahead and pick your favorite machine – multi-function printer, scanner or fax. All have pros and cons. Here are a few thoughts to ponder before you make a decision.

The MFP (Multi-Function Printer)

The capabilities of an enterprise multi-function printer differ little from a product by Ronco: it copies, it prints, it faxes, it even scans. (Ok, so it doesn’t slice.) For document capture, however, that MFP has more brawn than brain for effective ECM.

Sharing: A department of people shares that single device to do copying, printing and faxing. It is unlikely they will tolerate waiting in line to use it for mission-critical document scanning applications like AP, claims, application processing or new business underwriting.

Dual Sided Documents & ADFs: Is that Auto Document Feeder designed to scan both the front and back sides of your documents in a single pass? Or, does the design of the device require that all front side pages are scanned first, followed then by each back side of the documents to be re-fed through in order to capture the back side of the paper documents, thus doubling the amount of time to scan. Also, hope no double or mis-feeds occur requiring you to rescan your entire batch.

Speed: Are the speeds and quality of the document scans from a MFP comparable to that of a workgroup or departmental scanner? This becomes especially true when you are taking into account double sided documents. Very few desktop MFPs can scan both sides of a page at the same time, or scan as quickly as a document scanner.

Settings for Perfection: Built-in image enhancement features for every scan, like de-speckle, de-skew, auto color detection, autorotation, cropping, punch-hole removal, etc. are inherent in most of today’s scanners and Capture software. Too many settings and automatic alterations slow the process down.

MFPs are adequate for ad-hoc document scanning. If the majority of your workload is document scanning related, buy the right tool for the job: a document scanner.

It took a decade or so for scanner hardware and software manufacturers to collaborate and earnestly put forth an engineering effort to adequately address these challenging technical problems. It is still not perfect, but they are light years ahead of MFP makers.

Document Scanners

Distributed scanning is where the majority of R&D expenditures are going from the major scanner manufacturers. Why? This is where you, the customer, desire your price point and functional requirements to be.

You can get great quality at an affordable price — feature packed — with distributed document scanners from leading manufacturers, such as Epson Fujitsu, Eastman Kodak and Canon. Some vendors offer a wide family of products that meet the needs of the desktop, workgroup, department and the mainframe. Others focus primarily on the desktop, workgroup or the department level.

Of the numerous choices you have in today’s market from a device standpoint, two distributed scanning options are available to choose from:

  • Desktop/workgroup document scanners - Attached to your PC, these scanners range in sizes, shapes, daily-duty cycles and, of course, the price. Primarily USB interfaced and TWAIN drivers equipped (usually shipped with the scanners, ISIS is another alternative, but it usually comes with an additional license cost and perhaps even royalty costs). TWAIN is generally free and is bundled with the scanner at the time of purchase. The newest generation of these class of scanners now have remote management capabilities to let you know where the devices are located on your network and can provide you with reporting tools to aide with the management of ongoing maintenance, repairs and consumable items.
  • Network scanning appliances - Network scanners bundle everything and are self-contained within the unit: a high quality, high speed, duplex document scanner (black and white, color, gray scale, PDF, auto feeder, etc.), a PC, the scanning application, a network cable, and remote management capability. Scan to e-mail, to folders, to print, to portable USB drives, to searchable PDF with outstanding image quality — all with one product that requires no PC workstation or extra software.

Above all, document scanners are simple. Distributed scanning software companies have the ability to interface directly with the device via a software development toolkit (SDK), thus embedding their scanning application right on to the device. When you pull it out of the box, you plug it into the wall, and you are ready to go with minimal setup time.


One word: relic. True, they are tried and tested and they work just fine if you eliminate the paper faxes. Paper forces you to deal with the process of prepping, scanning and indexing manually. That attaches a labor force to the fax process, thus increasing your overall cost of doing business. Do yourself a favor and simply turn it off and introduce your firm to the concept of an electronic fax server or even a subscription-based fax service.

With a Distributed, Web-Based Document Capture application, you can add in a pre-built module that will automatically “poll” (at predefined intervals) the incoming electronic fax queue, transforming it into an image that can be further processed inside your Capture Process flow.

There are good and bad scanning choices out there. Most of the time, a dedicated scanner will be your best option.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

How You Capture Documents Is More Important Than Where They’re Stored

When it comes to Case Management and ECM, the work of document scanning seems trivial. You have a piece of paper and it needs to be imaged. You simply scan it, give it a file name and voila. Your job is done.

No so fast, quick scan. How you consume your data has a bearing on how much you’ll spend capturing your data and the value it has to your organization.

Do you really want you and your employees coming up with their own file naming conventions and indexes hoping to find the documents later when the need arises?

Such a seemingly simple process gets awfully complicated very quickly when you deal with tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions of documents. Large numbers like these require sophisticated software and powerful scanners to keep up.  

And don’t think you can skate by using the freebie stuff you get from your favorite scanner manufacturer, treating images like you do your file sharing applications, and then dumping them into your file/foldering system. Talk about mass chaos on the horizon ensuing. 

Take a haphazard approach toward your Document Capture process, and you’ll end up with a shoddy repository, regardless of the vendor’s claim of how wonderful the features and functionality of Case Management and ECM repository or search technology might be.

It’s Not Just about the Repository  
Should you focus solely on the Repository? The simple answer is no, though the reason may not be quite so obvious.

The content arriving at your organization from external customers and/or trading partners has intrinsic value to the organization. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have an Case Management and ECM system in the first place. Typically, as that content arrives, somebody in your firm takes action and uses it during the normal course of business.

For instance, when an invoice arrives, the mailroom opens it, date stamps it and then routes it to accounts payable, where it is then matched to the original P.O. or shipper code. A voucher is created, and eventually the invoice moves back to the originating requestor for approval before being routed back to AP for eventual payment.

So in this example, is the mere fact a company might be contemplating imaging this invoice for archiving purposes into a repository (i.e. SharePoint, Oracle or whatever) of great value to the company, its shareholders, its customers or its trading partners?

No, not really. And frankly, who really gives a hoot? Who can justify the expense of an electronic filing cabinet in the 21st century? Last time we checked, the cost of a paper filing cabinet is still in the sub-$100 range, and the cost of an ECM solution is still, well, let’s just say slightly more expensive than $100.

To set the record straight, we’ll argue that as soon as the supplier generates that invoice, it should be directed to your firm electronically if at all possible. (We are not speaking of a facsimile representation, rather “electronic” meaning the raw data.)

Many financial systems (such as Microsoft Dynamics GP, Oracle Financials, MAS 90, etc.) can accept electronically submitted invoices and then process them for payment. At the end of the process, you can “archive” a copy of the completed transaction into your ECM repository. That, by far, is the least expensive route to go because no scanning is required.

Realistically, this level of process optimization is not always possible for a number of reasons.
  • You can’t get the information electronically because you don’t have control over the delivery, or you require documents with handwritten signatures or other forms of annotation as the final proof or evidence of doing business together
  • Your organization is geographically dispersed, forcing you to ship the documents back and forth or have them faxed to a central location

In any of these cases, you are presented with a challenge that neither the ECM repository nor the ERP system alone can solve. Thus, you need a Document Capture solution to augment your overall ECM strategy. The idea is to capture documents efficiently and effectively with a properly designed capture process that extracts information from a document and makes it available to the organization by whomever and whenever, thereby increasing productivity and minimizing human error.

Without a capture strategy, your Case Management and ECM projects will likely experience cost overruns, improperly classified and improperly indexed content, lost documents (images, Word docs, Excel spread sheets, etc.), and/or excessive labor costs.

So, how and where do you want those documents stored?

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Friday, February 3, 2012

The Secret Costs of Document Capture

If you think you know what you’re actually paying to keep your centralized document capture solution running, your ECM vendor is keeping secrets. He knows a lot more about the real costs than you do.

Here’s the truth: Capture vendors (and ECM vendors who might offer a bundled Capture product) purposefully do not want the market to shift toward Distributed Capture because it ruins their licensed revenue pricing models.

There, I said it. Truth hurts. Now that the cat is out of the bag, let’s break it down.

Per Click Charges. Legacy vendors want to maintain getting the per-click charges for each page scanned through those centralized, monstrous, money hungry IBML and Kodak scanners versus a compact, $400 desktop scanner. They pump out lot more paper than any desktop scanner can and you pay for page counts you didn’t know you had to pay for. Think of all those bar code, patch code and document separator pages that you need in a centralized environment to keep the scanners running at rated speeds. Also, if you happen to incorrectly scan a few hundred batches, or thousands of pages, rescanning will cost you additional software click charges.

Thick as a Brick. No, we’re not talking Jethro Tull, but how vendors encourage you to install thick client-based applications so they can get revenue for each seat license sold. Whether you use the capture application frequently or occasionally, they want that license revenue, and they will require you to pay for it. If there is no software to install, they can’t count the per seat user.

Licensee Sticker Shock. Speaking of licenses, if you haven’t priced them lately, be prepared. The vendor wants you to pump as much volume through their server as possible so they can drive that monthly or annual license volume through the roof. Even if by chance they do offer a Web client, it no doubt will be required to connect into their server backbone so they can implement per-click charge(s). That’s why the conversation early in the sales cycle from the manufacturer will quickly gravitate to the question, “Can you tell me what your expected monthly or annual volumes will be?” which directly equates to revenue recognition for them. Sound familiar?

The Bigger the Scanner, the Higher the Cost. Here’s an example where bigger is certainly not better. Because you might need a high-volume scanner, the capture software vendors penalize your business for the processing of all that paper through that big scanner, and charge you more for the software license and software maintenance.

Even More Costs. Consider these other elements and add-ons that surely will increase your costs: test development licenses; intelligent character recognition (ICR) and optical character recognition (OCR); advanced forms export modules; remote scanning indexing-only users; quality assurance monitoring administration; fault tolerance and other features; all on top of the page count and service license charge. Are you beginning to get the idea of what is going on here? Sounds like deficit spending.

Analyze that software maintenance agreement language carefully. It is not widely known that some vendors have introduced a concept of automatic CPI increases that usually range between 3 and 5 percent per annum. That means you can expect the cost of your software maintenance bill to increase every year, regardless of whether your volumes and usage of the software remain constant. (Pssst...want to obliterate CAPEX software and hardware purchases, maintenance bills, server hardware, etc., consider a secure Cloud alternative).

The bottom line: take a long look at the cost advantages of Distributed Capture. Even if you’re comfortable with the centralized option, ask some harder questions to see what you can take back from your vendors.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Forbes Magazine: What SMBs Need to Know About SaaS...Now

According to Gartner Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing , the Cloud will be a game changer..."leveling the playing field between growing businesses and larger competitors."  Great read and you can get the entire article here.



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How to Shrink Your IT Spend with SaaS in 2012

It’s the beginning of the New Year and with it comes new IT budgets. If you’re trying to get that six-figure expenditure approved for your ECM solution – or if you are seeking to better way to capture and share documents than your current  centralized system -- take a moment and think about the impact Software as a Service (SaaS) could have.

Is anybody in your organization eager to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on any IT solution in today’s economic climate? Or, if you had a similar IT solution offered in a pay-as-you-go model for a few thousand a month, which option would you seriously consider? Do you want the solution today, or are you going to wait until the economy bounces back? (I keep asking when that will be.)

The fundamental shift in how software, hardware and IT professional services are acquired, used and paid for today is in full swing, and it will likely affect the future of computing and how you purchase and use your systems.

Consider your choices. In the past, either you outright bought the technology or leased it. Now, with SaaS as a viable option, you pay as you go. The numerous emerging SaaS business solution offerings are taking the concept far beyond first-generation application functionality and deployment.

SaaS alternatives are in a prime position to service mission-critical business applications and operations for small, mid-size and large firms. Microsoft and its partners, for example, offer Exchange, CRM and SharePoint services over the Web – and the application offerings won’t stop there.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, SMBs are the most likely to make the commitment to move their business-critical operations over to a SaaS-delivered application model. Time to market and lower costs are the primary drivers behind the adoption rate.

As a result of these ongoing changes in the way software and solutions are delivered, there will be a fundamental change in the way customers desire to use the next generation of computing technologies — including ECM. You have the opportunity to gain enormous competitive advantages to mission-critical applications for far fewer dollars than ever before.

Moreover, from a time-to-market perspective, there is just no comparison between bringing up a SaaS-based application versus the traditional belabored, deadline-fraught, time-consuming and never-ending CapEx budgeting and appropriation process of a full software installation. What was measured in days or weeks instead of months, quarters or years, will now take literally a day.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Imagine a simpler path that doesn’t require procuring any hardware or software. Instead, you sign a multi-year agreement, pay a nominal setup charge; agree to a monthly recurring fee and away you go. And of course, you are out of the business of upgrades (hardware and software), patches and hot-fixes.

So, what will it be in 2012? Shrink or spend?