Magazine Article | September 1, 2001

Document Management: Removing The Obstacles

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Document management and imaging technology is hardly black magic; however, education is still a significant part of every sale. The following is a primer before you sign on the dotted line.

Integrated Solutions, September 2001

A few years ago, document management and imaging vendors had to do a lot of end user educating before they could close any deals. Of course, this process revealed more uncertainty from end users and resulted in longer sales cycles. In many cases, end users forwent the education process altogether and chose to remain in a constant state of indecision whether or not to invest in document management and imaging technology.

Now, let's evaluate the state of the present day document management and imaging sale. First, it starts with a healthy dose of education. This lack of end user knowledge leads to indecision and long sales cycles. All right, it's starting to sound familiar.

"Document imaging has been around for more than a decade. It's not like we're talking about some new technology," remarks Carlton Hupke, director of product marketing at SolCom Inc. (Sioux Falls, SD). "For end users, however, this technology still represents a major change for them. It will change business processes and corporate culture." Founded in 1995, SolCom specializes in delivering knowledge management solutions to the healthcare and insurance industries. These solutions typically leverage document management, imaging, and workflow technologies.

In the end, a successful document management and imaging installation can easily offer a significant ROI and result in other benefits - such as increased accuracy, improved customer service, and more productive employees. While education is one of our missions at Integrated Solutions, we can't answer all end user questions in the confining space of this article. However, we can tackle some of the key issues that arise in the minds of most potential document management and imaging customers.

Setting A Realistic Budget
The implementation of document management and imaging systems will offer the most pain relief to line of business employees. But, it will be the C-level executives who will be asking the most obvious questions about the technology - "How much is the technology? What is the ROI?" Both of these are simple questions with not so simple answers.

Obviously, the overall price of the system will be higher if it is deployed on an enterprise-wide basis, rather than departmental. Not only will integration with other enterprise systems need to be tackled, but the volume of documents being processed will undoubtedly increase. Also, an enterprise-wide implementation will almost certainly require the addition of workflow technology.

All of these factors have to be accounted for when you are formulating a budget proposal for the addition of a document management and imaging solution. According to Michael Berman, executive vice president and co-founder of Intelligent Document Processing (Sudbury, MA), this form of realistic budgeting is often lacking. "End users see the technology, and they know that it can help their companies. Then, they use a SWAG (scientific wild ass guess) when it comes time to budget money," says Berman. "An end user will tell me that he has put aside so many thousands of dollars for the implementation. I have to break it to him that the document scanner alone will take up all of the money he has budgeted. There are so many component pieces to a complete system, and users have to budget accordingly for all of them."

If your company is serious about this technology, then it should be prepared to spend money. And, the first check to be signed should be for consulting fees. A company can use a vendor as a consultant, but the results of this effort will not be as independent as they should. Industry consultants will offer more unbiased appraisals, but that's not to say that consultants don't have relationships with particular vendors. In either case, be prepared to pay for expertise. Neither the vendor nor the consultant will give away their knowledge.

Document Management, Finding The ROI
Now that your company has a committed document management and imaging budget, when is your impending implementation going to pay for itself? In turbulent economic times, this is the question that is likely to garner the most attention. In terms of hard-dollar ROI, end users can expect to see a reduction in hard-copy storage costs and reduced labor costs involved with accessing files. Some less tangible improvements can be found in areas of customer care and employee productivity and satisfaction.

Moving beyond basic document management technology, end users can expect ROI to increase with the addition of complementary technologies like workflow and ERM (enterprise report management). "By adding workflow, for example, users will see a higher rate of ROI and it will happen more quickly," says Hupke. "Good workflow software allows companies to identify process bottlenecks and eliminate them. That has a dramatic effect on productivity and the subsequent ROI."

Just as an integrated document management system can produce good ROI numbers, a poorly designed solution can result in no ROI. Instead, the costs of the obsolete manual processes are simply shifted to the new system. This is particularly true if the front-end capture processes are not configured properly. "If you don't pay attention to [document] capture, it can become a very labor-intensive area of the solution. You might find out that all you're doing is moving your costs and not really reducing them," says Hupke. "In this area in particular, expertise is so important."

The Value Of Vertical Expertise
If your industry can really benefit from document management and imaging technologies, then the chances are good that there will be more than a few vertical solutions on the market. There are some vendors and integrators that are expert in these technologies, but that does not qualify them as experts in your company's industry. Instead, end users would be wise to select vendors that offer solutions for particular vertical markets. Of course, vendors will be able to tell you the markets that are their specialties. But, they should also be able to provide you with a list of references that includes companies in your industry.

"Customers don't want to deal with vendors that dabble in a specific vertical market. If I'm selling into the healthcare market, I should be able to show customers the other successes I've had in that market," states Berman. "Also, this allows us to speak the same language as customers." For instance, Berman's company understands the back office processes that take place in hospitals and all of the paper that exists in that environment. These processes and documents differ from the banking industry, where other vendors offer vertical solutions for that market.

Adds Hupke, "If you sell across many different verticals, then you never develop an expertise in any of the markets. If customers have to choose between a vertical solution or a horizontal solution, the choice is pretty easy."

Obviously, the first decision that end users have to make is whether they actually need document management and imaging technology. Once that initial question is answered, then it is time to get serious. First, be willing to spend money on upfront consultation from either a vendor or a consultant. Next, be prepared to budget appropriately for what is recommended by way of the consultation. Finally, choose a vendor or integrator that has expertise in your particular market. Following this simple blueprint will result in a much simpler implementation and a significantly better ROI.

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