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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