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Archive for January, 2008

Documents at your fingertips

January 14, 2008 4 comments

I found a great article that describes the concept of document management and its impact on your work place.  The article was originally posted on an Irish news site, ThePost.IE. The entire article is included below.  You can see the original article here.

Documents at your fingertips
13 January 2008
Paper may still dominate business processes, but computer document management systems make it increasingly easier for the appropriate users to access important information, writes Dermot Corrigan.

The advance of information technology has not diminished the importance of documents to Irish businesses. Managing an increasing number and type of documents remains of huge importance for business success.

“Document management is the process for capturing, storing, indexing, routing and managing key business documents so that they can be processed and accessed when needed by the appropriate users,” said Garret Pearse, product manager with SoftCo.

The term document no longer refers just to sheets of paper, according to Stephen Tunney, managing director of Adest.

“Document management systems are used to store a range of different document formats,” said Tunney. “Essentially they can store any document coming into your organisation. You can scan paper documents, and also capture PDFs, JPGs, drawings, computer files. You can store all kinds of things in their native format within a single system, accessible through a single interface. It looks like the paper copy, you can view it, print it, fax it or e-mail it.”

Document management fits within the wider area of information or content management, said Richard Moore, business group lead, information worker, Microsoft Ireland.

“We would think of document management as part of a broader information management challenge that most organisations have, making sure things are held and accessed appropriately, and in a way that is easy for people to get a hold of,” said Moore.

There are two main ways in which organisations and businesses use document management systems, according to Andy Jones, general manager and director for Xerox Global Services in Europe.

“First there are transactional opportunities. Companies that want to digitise supplier invoices will implement a new process underpinned by a bit of technology and from this point on every invoice that comes in is digitised,” said Jones. “Other organisations have a lot of archival information that is important to their business and they look to digitise all that.”

Drivers
Nigel Ghent, UK and Ireland marketing director, EMC Documentum, said that document management systems are usually purchased because of an outstanding business need.

“People do not wake up in the morning thinking we need to manage content better or automate our processes,” said Ghent. “Maybe there is a EU directive to adhere to, or a requirement to drive cost reduction in a line of their business. We talk to customers and come back to them with a solution that can solve those problems.”

Tunney said the primary reason for businesses to adopt document management technology was to boost productivity by speeding up processes.

“For example, we have a number of clients making deliveries all around the country every day,” he said.

“They have paper dockets to prove every delivery has taken place, they are scanned in the depots and automatically sent to the system in Dublin, so their credit control department knows that those goods have been delivered.”

Blaik said organisations with staff that need access to detailed information on clients or products also derive impressive productivity benefits from document management systems.

“When somebody rings up and makes a complaint, rather than someone having to go off to a filing cabinet and trying to find a letter, or going to a warehouse off site, you can easily search and retrieve that information,” he said.

Blaik said tightening compliance regulations were leading to quicker adoption of document management systems.

“Compliance is a huge issue,” he said. “Not just around regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley; there are also many different EU and individual country directives about how long companies must retain, and make available, customer invoices and statements.”

Aidan O’Neil l, chief executive of Docosoft, said document management systems could also help businesses lower their storage costs.

“Some industries have to keep documents five, seven, up to 20 years, but the paper now does not have to be kept on site,” he said.

“Some companies would store documents in other locations and use couriers to bring them in when needed, but then there is a cost to the company every time they want to access it. Electronic documents do not replace the paper, but they can access the electronic copy whenever they want.”

O’Neil l said document management systems allow multiple users, in different locations, to view the same document at the same time.

“Many people can access an electronic document at one time, whereas if you have a paper document you have to photocopy it or move it,” said O’Neil l.

Tunney said document management systems made it easier for companies to avoid losing vital information. “Even if something is misfiled, it can be searched for using the content of the document,” he said. “If that was misfiled in a paper-based environment there might be a massive search to find it.”

Sectors
Document management systems come in a variety of forms, and are used in different ways in different sectors, including financial services, retail, manufacturing and local government, according to Jones.

“In the financial services sector, which is very document-driven indeed, companies are looking at how they handle incoming applications, claims, forms, enquiries from customers, how they receive that, digitise it and then run it through an electronic workflow process to make the incoming part of the process more effective,” he said.

“There is also an outbound part of the process, with lots of physical documents sent to customers. Content management systems can make that more efficient and lower the costs,” said Jones.

“In the retail area the big thing is supply-chain management. They are buying lots of things, so they are receiving lots of invoices from suppliers, so we look at how we can digitise these processes – receive physical documents, scan them, deliver them to the accounting operation and accelerate the accounts payable area.

“Manufacturing companies on their product and technical documentation, if I am producing a car or a piece of equipment, how can I help their customer understand the manuals more effectively, keep them updated more effectively, translate the documents and make them available on a global basis in a consistent way,” said Jones.

“There are huge opportunities for document management in central and local government, particularly with recent initiatives around making information more readily available to the public,” said Jones.

“The information can be made more transparent and more available using document management technology and services.”

Business processes
Blaik said organisations should understand how their documents fitted into their business processes before choosing a document management solution.

“Understanding how a document is accessed and used is crucial to understanding how the content management system can help,” he said. “Different people within one organisation can have different needs for one document. For example, when you put in a tax return, that document might be retrieved and used by many different people, so understanding the process and workflow is crucial when implementing the right system in the right way.”

Moore said the latest integrated document management systems were helping companies streamline and improve their business processes. “You probably will not want to change everything, but if you change two or three key things, you can get a much higher rate of return,” he said.

Tunney said some clients used document management systems to manage every single document that arrived into the organisation.

“As the post comes in the morning they scan it and electronically route it to the appropriate people within the organisation,” he said.

“That is where you are really getting great productivity and much faster delivery and accountability of what has come into the organisation.”

Intelligent recognition of the information within documents can make processes more productive, said Blaik.

“Rather than someone having to look at a piece of paper to see what boxes have been ticked, we can automatically push the relevant information to the right person to move things quickly to the next stage,” he said.

O’Neil l said some organisations preferred to purchase individually tailored document management systems that were built specifically with its business processes in mind.

“We tailor the solution to the company, and do not promote document management tools as such,” he said.

“We would know how the business works, for example insurance claims, documents and proposals. We would build business processes around that and supply the document management or workflow tools on the back of those. We would also integrate them into existing software the company is al ready using.”

Nuts and bolts
There can be a number of various hardware and software elements in an integrated content management solution.

“It depends on what the client is looking to achieve,” said Blaik. “If they are looking to produce imaging, they will need an input management solution. If they are looking to take paper away from a process, and automate that process, they are talking about automation and routing of documents, and that is process management. Information management can then make the right content available to the right person in the right way.”

Tunney said many document management systems did not require the purchase of specialised scanning equipment.

“Clients use desktop scanners or multi-function devices,” he said. “Mid range systems can scan at rates of 20 to 70 pages per minute now. As the documents are scanned they are stored on the server and can be accessed from the clients’ PCs. We would also have clients who scan their documents and make them available for viewing on the web. For instance the CAO would capture student application forms and make them available to the relevant university admissions departments via the web.”

To ensure easy retrieval, documents stored electronically are tagged with information including document name, type, origin, date created and the person who created it. Jones said it was important to ensure that this information is inputted correctly.

“If you are putting in poor information, there is no pixie dust inside these systems that make it better,” he said. “But if you design these systems properly, they can allow you to do a lot of error checking as you are entering the information.”

Pearse said the latest systems also allowed users to search inside the documents stored electronically.

“Advanced optical character recognition (OCR) and powerful full text indexing functionality can be used to easily and efficiently capture unstructured data,” he said. “Users can now carry out a Google-like search to find any unstructured data relating to their search. They will then be presented with any matches that they have sufficient permission to view.”

Even more sophisticated systems can also pull together and link documents and information, which at first glance may appear very disparate, according to Jones. “In a situation where there are large numbers of documents, including paper, e-mails, electronic documents and we have some technology that lets users search for links and inferences between what may seem to be completely different documents,” he said.

Security can be a huge issue for document management systems and policies, said O’Neill.

“Security is very important,” he said. “One of our systems encrypts and compresses the document on the file server itself. There is also an audit control on the system, so that every time the user looks at the document it is audited. There is a whole log of when it was accessed, who accessed it and was it changed or moved. If they do change it, they can check it back in as a new version.”

The full power of document management systems can only be harnessed if organisations link them with other information databases within the organisation, said Tunney.

“If you want to get the best out of your system it has to be integrated with whatever other systems your staff are using,” he said. “We would integrate with a range of accountancy software systems, so that invoices and proof of delivery dockets can be seen side by side.”

O’Neill said there can be challenges for off-the-shelf document management solutions to integrate fully with other systems.

“Sometimes the integration toolkit that comes with other products is not good enough, and it can take six months to a year to get it to integrate completely,” he said.

Costs
The costs of purchasing, installing and supporting document management systems and processes is conditional upon the size and scope of the solution required.

“The cost of systems varies from four to six figures depending on the size, complexity and number of users,” said Pearse.

Tunney said costs varied from customer to customer, but typically started at €5,000 for basic solutions, with more sophisticated systems costing €25,000 or more. Moore said a basic version of Microsoft’s Sharepoint solution was included in the standard Microsoft Small Business Server package, which is aimed at organisations with fewer than 50 PCs, while the cost of the full version is dependent on the number of users and different applications included.

The costs of digitising an organisation’s entire paper archive can be prohibitive, according to Jones, who said that it is generally not necessary to digitise everything in one go.

“It is quite expensive to scan 20 years’ worth of documents, when you might only need to access a fraction of a per cent of those over the next ten,” said Jones.

“We offer a services approach as opposed to a purely technology approach. We can take over the responsibility for their paper archive and as they need access to information from it, we digitise it for them.

“In the health sector, for example, if a particular patient record is requested, we would then digitise the whole of that patient’s record in one go, so that patient’s information is now available online.”

Jones said the service model could also be used for day-to-day document management.

“We can receive all of the incoming post for a company into one of our data centres, we will do the opening, sorting, scanning and indexing based on criteria agreed with the customer,” he said. “We can then send that information back to the customer electronically.”

Future
Moving from paper to electronic documents can be a culture shock for an organisation. Blaik said change management is key to a successful transition.

“People may be used to filing paper in their cabinet, and accessing files in a certain way on their laptop,” he said. “Taking it on piece by piece, and department by department, it makes it easier.”

Blaik said scanning documents was only a step along the way to fully digital processes.

“I cannot see there ever being absolutely no paper in business. A better way of looking at it is to consider the creation of paperless processes, for example, the insurance claims process could become a lot less paper driven. The way consumers apply for a new mobile phone is becoming increasingly paperless.”

Paper is not being replaced, however, its role is just evolving.

“The electronic systems are becoming the master archive, and paper is becoming a more work-in-progress medium,” said Jones. “Documents are printed off so that people can read them on the train, or because a legal signature is important.”

“We are not eliminating paper yet,” said Tunney. “Maybe another couple of decades down the line.”

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