A Shorter Paper Trail
Now that many small to medium-size businesses have installed document management systems to improve workflow and comply with records management guidelines and regulatory requirements, they’re ready for the next step in further streamlining paper management.
By adding networked scanners and pushing document capture down to the desktop, companies can eliminate inefficiencies in existing business processes and reduce operating expenses. Desktop document capture provides a cost-effective way to manage business-critical information, whether it’s active or archived.
Applications for networked scanning include financial services, insurance, health care, government, legal and general office. For example, a NASCAR team’s engine-building-shop employees use a networked scanner to scan and send technical sketches to the engineering, accounting and management teams.
Sharing the Data
Travelers Guarantee Company of Canada wanted to make certain that its underwriting staff had visible proof of payment from its accounting department. But the Toronto insurer also wanted to speed up its underwriting processes and have a means to quickly search copies of payment documents online.
Two years earlier, the company had transitioned to digital imaging, which had decreased courier and mail costs as well as retrieval times.
The drawback was that individually maintained databases presented obstacles for viewing records that already existed online. At times, users did not request information because they didn’t know it existed, or they replicated research and analysis efforts. As part of a centralized document repository project tied to its distributed file system, the company was able to give its underwriters in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Montreal visibility into the files stored in Toronto, and vice versa.
“We hadn’t been scanning documents before,” says Tim Van Dusen, network administrator at Travelers Guarantee. “For our underwriting team to see proof of payment, they would have to call a clerk who physically went through files to find it, scanned it in and then sent it to the underwriter. It was cumbersome.”
The department now uses a networked scanner to file documents directly into the company’s Microsoft Windows file server. The Adobe Portable Document Format files contain a layer of invisible but searchable text, he says. “No matter where a document is scanned and where it might be stored physically, the database logic of the system makes that document visible to users at all of the branches,” Van Dusen says.
Document capture at the desktop combined with networked scanning can provide quick access to shared information for everyone in a business, equating to collaboration throughout the organization and, more important, shortening the time for information retrieval. It can also migrate potential business risks. With information readily available, officials can make decisions based on the most recent data and will comply with records-management guidelines and regulatory requirements, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Sharing the Scanner
A specific genre of distributed document capture — networked scanning — offers the convenience of a walk-up device that everyone in the office can use without the need for a dedicated computer. Where networked scanners differ from distributed desktop scanners is that they connect to an existing network infrastructure. Some new devices feature intuitive and interactive one-touch operation — including image preview of scanned images prior to sharing — from a full-color touch screen and the capability to save files on portable USB devices.
The USB capability can offer users additional flexibility in using personal e-mail lists and files. Furthermore, once a document is scanned it can be sent in a variety of file formats, including searchable PDFs, to produce high-quality scanned images.
Networked scanning combines document capture speed, quality and ease of use with the capabilities of existing networks. Small to medium-size businesses with a need for quickly accessing information will find that installing or upgrading to a document management system is worth considering. In addition to providing a return-on-investment value, networked document capture brings an increased competitive edge in providing better customer service with happier employees.
• Determine Frequency of Use, Volume and Quality: A business requiring more than a few documents scanned per day at a high-quality image capture might want to consider installing a dedicated scanner. Networked scanners handle up to 25 pages per minute and can capture images with up to 600-dot-per-inch quality. This level of performance and quality meets a variety of business needs, from basic document capture and management to an expedited payment process. A walk-up networked scanner provides productivity and efficiency benefits for multiple users sharing the same image-capture system.
“We knew that our scanners would be used on an hourly basis and needed a fairly high number of items going through the machines, so reliability was a critical factor for us,” says Tim Van Dusen, network administrator for Travelers Guarantee of Toronto.
• Understand the End Users: Networked scanners, in comparison with high-volume production scanners, require no dedicated operators and minimal training. Networked scanners provide ease of use without compromising the productivity, quality and performance associated with scanning. At Travelers Guarantee, the programming team and vice president undertook a dozen hours of interviews to find out how end users looked up documents and how they wanted to use the new system, Van Dusen says.
• Examine Physical Space Requirements: A networked scanner can fit on a desktop and typically doesn’t require a hot PC, specific application software or a full-time operator. Look for a system that scans documents, then converts those files to Adobe Portable Document Format and saves them in specific folders, which are shared throughout the organization.
“Having a dedicated machine in accounting makes life easier in other ways, too,” Van Dusen says. “Analysts can access proof of payment independently of the accounting department while speaking with clients and brokers. This virtually eliminates interrupting the accounting department’s own work flow to fulfill information requests from underwriters. It also reduces time to information for the analysts, thereby improving customer service levels.”
• Consider the Entire Portfolio of Available Capture Products: With the wide selection of capture product offerings available, end users have many image capture options. Networked scanners are appealing because they can integrate with other hardware and software already on a network, and they can provide an entry path into an enterprise workflow system.