Magazine Article | August 1, 2003

Capture In Haste, Repent At Leisure

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

No matter how much you invest in document scanners and content management software, skimping on capture software can cost you money.

Integrated Solutions, August 2003

Capture software may be the most under-appreciated component of a content management solution. Significant effort is invested in selecting a scanner with the right speeds, feeds, and functionality and a content management software application to organize and access documents. "These are expensive and important decisions, but failing to use the same due diligence when choosing the application that transmits the images from the scanner to the content management system determines how productive that scanner will be," says Tim Vaughan, worldwide marketing director for scanner manufacturer Eastman Kodak. "If the scanner's capability isn't exposed properly through capture software or you have to jump through hoops to get the images you want, it's a wasted investment."

Capture software also impacts the quality of the content management application. "The value proposition of a content management system relies on the quality and accuracy of the data such as index and metadata," states Anthony Macciola, VP of marketing for capture vendor Kofax Image Products, Inc. (Irvine, CA). "Retrieval is directly related to the validity of that information. That's a function of the capture solution."

Cut Pre- And Post-Scanning Labor
"The biggest cost in any imaging solution has always been ongoing labor for things like document preparation and manual indexing," says Macciola. The capture software choice can directly impact the amount of labor necessary to perform these tasks. Instead of manually entering indexing information, capture software can be used to generate data as well as images. When capture software supports zonal OCR (optical character recognition), bar code recognition, or patch codes, manual indexing can be dramatically reduced.

In addition to capturing data, capture software can provide functions that make the overall system run more efficiently. "If the system is configured to drop out the separator sheets used between batches, that eliminates the need for an operator to remove them and reduces demand on the system," points out Mark Schneider, director of engineering at BancTec, Inc., a vendor of document scanners and associated software. "Capture software can also be used to kick off processes. For example, we've seen schemes where the bar code is used to open another directory. File naming, directory management, and endorsements [e.g. printing a bates stamp or other characters] can all be handled through capture software rather than manual processes."

When selecting a capture solution, it's also important to look at ways it can help reduce pre-sorting and document preparation. "You should be able to run structured and unstructured documents in a single batch," advises Jim Vickers, chief marketing officer at Captiva Software Corp. "For instance, in the insurance industry, the claim form, police report, and photographs for a specific incident shouldn't have to be separated, because they represent a single transaction. The capture software delivers that to whatever content management system is running in the back end."

However, even the best solutions will generate some exceptions and an effective capture strategy has to provide an efficient way to deal with them. "When there are lots of images, there are bound to be prep mistakes," observes Vaughan. "The software should provide the ability to change flawed images easily before a batch is released. The operator should be able to see and validate the batch before it goes to quality assurance."

Capture solutions that require extensive training can also affect the payback period for an imaging solution. "In customer sites I have visited, operators are key to productivity, and it's vital to take their needs into consideration," says Vaughan. "How much will you need to invest in training? If the solution is too complex, that will reduce productivity. Once a batch is scanned at the wrong settings or selections, it's expensive to rescan. That's if you catch it. If you don't catch it, it's even more expensive not to have the content you wanted."

Flexibility Is Key To Capture Investments
Changing needs are inevitable in imaging solutions. There will be new documents, new data sources, and ongoing integration demands. Business processes also change. Open, scalable capture software is essential if an organization is going to adapt to these changes quickly. "There are lots of closed systems out there that aren't customizable," warns Vickers. "It may work out of the box for immediate needs, but it can't be changed. If you haven't had capture in the past, volume goes up quickly. If you want to add new documents or functions, you need an open system so that you can easily add more clients or expand the volume." As more companies adopt solutions for system monitoring and security, IT buyers have to ask vendors about integration and technology partnerships.

Another eventuality that organizations should prepare for is Web-based capture. This allows companies to send indexing tasks to less expensive offshore outsourcing providers. Web-based technologies provide the ability to direct jobs to workers in remote offices or enable a distributed capture environment where documents are scanned in field offices. Because these applications are browser-based, they can be installed on a centralized server, reducing administration.

Paper documents scanned with a production scanner aren't always the only way organizations collect data. While capture software is primarily associated with scanners, companies also receive fax transmissions and electronic forms. Sometimes paper is scanned at a remote site from an MFP (multifunction peripheral). Viable capture solutions should offer a strategy for incorporating those documents and many more. "There will be an increasing need for new media types such as audio or video files," states Macciola. "Capture currently deals with a subset of media types, but it will expand rapidly for alternative types of 'documents' and media. In the next 12 to 18 months, capture will evolve as a universal ingest point for corporate assets."

Another emerging technology in the document capture space is IDR (intelligent document recognition). While recognition technologies like OCR or ICR (intelligent character recognition) identify words in documents, IDR recognizes document types such as invoices or correspondence. This increases the efficiency of classification and indexing documents and automates processing of some documents that previously could only be processed manually.

Do You Need Specialized Capture?
Kodak and BancTec both offer specialized capture solutions for their specific scanner models, but neither Kofax nor Captiva manufacture scanners. This creates compelling arguments on both sides as to how organizations should implement a capture solution. "We find that once customers buy scanners they are happy with, they will often buy the same brand again to promote consistent output," says Vaughan. "If the capture software is not designed to take advantage of all the scanner features, you have diluted your scanner investment. What you want to do is find a capture application that takes advantage of the features you were evaluating when you decided which scanner to buy."

"Using the software designed for a specific scanner gives you one company to turn to if there is a problem," adds Schneider. "And there's nothing like having the hardware and software engineers in the same room. The truth is one size never fits all. That's especially true when you jump into a really high-end scanner that's processing 160 to 240 pages per minute. Supporting that kind of hardware is much more complicated, and most software can't handle features like multiple pockets and out-sorting."

"We come across few environments where all of the scanners are from a single manufacturer," reports Macciola. "An organization may have low-end machines for distributed scanning as well as high-end machines for checks and other documents. Can you guarantee you'll never need another scanner? More and more, solutions are about more than paper, and scanner manufacturers are focused on optimizing their scanners. If paper were the center of the universe, it wouldn't be an issue."

Regardless of the chosen capture application, buyers should expect a financial return from capture software. "There should be a hard ROI, and it should be easy to measure," says Vickers. "The payback period shouldn't be any longer than 12 to 18 months."