In a recent study by AIIM, it was revealed that the number of SharePoint implementations using capture solutions is low; much lower than it should be. Why is that the case? Especially when capture has proven to show a return on investment (ROI) in under 18 months, and often in less than 12 months. How many other IT projects deliver that kind of ROI?
One reason may be that many people think of the term “capture” as simply scanning paper. But that hasn’t been true for a long time. Capture, and more specifically enterprise capture, refers to a systematic way of “capturing” all documents coming into an organization, whether they originate as paper, fax, email and attachments, or even SMS messages or data streams.
Once they’re captured, they’re analyzed, classified, extracted, validated and delivered to the right line of business system. That could be into SharePoint, an ERP or CRM system, or in the cloud with Office 365 or Microsoft Azure. Or maybe (and this is more common than you think) it’s a combination of places.
If you do it right, a high percentage of this information is handled in a touchless manner, with little to no human intervention. Imagine content just magically showing up in the right SharePoint library, with the right document type selected and all the column data filled in accurately and consistently every time. It’s happening every day around the world.
Here’s a simple scenario: You get a mix of information coming into your company every day. Take a purchase order for example. It may have been emailed to you as a PDF attachment, or it may arrive over a fax line or as an XML document, or may even arrive via postal mail in paper form. One document can arrive in four different ways. But you don’t process it in four different ways. You want to process all purchase orders the same way, using the same business process.
But without capture, you have to manually scan the paper document, save it locally, upload it to SharePoint and enter all the data manually. Rather, you could save the PDF email attachment locally, upload it to SharePoint, and enter all the data manually (worse yet, some companies print the PDF, and then scan it!). Or you get the fax from the fax machine, scan it, save it locally, and then upload it to SharePoint, and then enter all the data manually.
See a pattern here? What’s worse, if I rely on hand-keying all the column data, what are the odds some of it is incorrect and inconsistent? Pretty high – because users can make mistakes, and they don’t want to enter any more data than they have to. How do I automate my business processes if the data I’m relying on to drive that process isn’t accurate or complete? And this was just one example with one document type. How many different document types do you put into SharePoint?
With enterprise capture solutions, we automate these tasks. If information is in paper form, we scan and enhance the image in order to accurately capture the data within the paper so it becomes digital and the information becomes useable. For high volumes of inbound paper, we can use production scanners that scan 100+ pages per minute. In the front office, which is often the first touch point with our customers, volumes are lower. Here we can leverage the common multi-function device (MFD/MFP) that today functions primarily as a copier and over-sized printer as a scan device.
We can also push capture out to the “Point of Origination™” with web-based capture and/or mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers. Now, you can have your customers and business partners actually initiate the capture process for you, accelerating response times for better customer service. How’s that for efficiency! Email and attachments can be captured directly from the email server, and the same goes for faxes and SMS messages. Information can be extracted from the header and used later for indexing. If there is a bar code, we can pull all the data contained within it as well.
After capturing everything, we then analyze the content. We start by classifying the document, determining if it is a purchase order, an invoice, a claim form, correspondence or other document type. Once we know what type of document it is, then we know how to process it. What information do we want to extract from the document? If it’s a purchase order, for example, we probably want the purchase order number, the date, customer name, sub-total and total, and maybe even each line item. We can automatically extract this information, even from documents that vary in layout, without programming or creating complex rules. Information can be typed, hand-written, or even check boxes. We may just extract one key field and then look up the rest of the information from a database, ERP or CRM system.
Once we’ve extracted the data, we may choose to do a validation step. This is more of a business process decision than a technical one. The system can actually provide a “confidence” rating on the extracted data. If it’s above a certain threshold on all the fields, we then choose to let it go through the process. If it’s under the threshold, we then send it to a human operator for validation.
Once the document is captured and data extracted, we automatically route it to SharePoint. The document is converted into the preferred format (often PDF or PDF/A), uploaded to the correct library, with all the column data populated; all in an automated fashion. From there, any business rules defined in SharePoint for that document type may be triggered. Often, the document and some data are fed into SharePoint, while other information is fed into an ERP or CRM system. In the case of a purchase order, for example, we may store the PDF of the purchase order in SharePoint, but the line items of the purchase order are used to create or validate an order in the ERP system.
So, that’s all there is to automating the capture of inbound information into your organization, thereby enabling touchless processing. The faster and more complete you get information into your business processes, the happier your customers are, and the faster you generate revenue! What are you waiting for?
Using SharePoint for ECM – June, 2011
This post can also be viewed on the SharePoint Hillbilly site; an industry blog covering all things SharePoint.