Magazine Article | December 1, 2001

Forms Processing Doesn't Have To Be Taxing

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

A document imaging solution enables a state revenue office to process up to 70,000 pieces of paper every six hours and eliminate hand scanning of bar codes.

Integrated Solutions, December 2001

January through mid-April is income tax season in America. In the weeks and months leading up to April 15, the nation's taxpayers drop thick envelopes filled with tax forms and attachments into the mail. For the individual taxpayer, the nightmare of wading through piles of paper is over the second the envelope is sealed. However, in the various local, state, and federal tax collection offices, the paper wading process remains at its peak for several long months.

One such office, the Revenue Processing Division (RPD) for the New Mexico Taxation Department, processes 750,000 personal income tax (PIT) returns each year. In the last few years, electronically filed PIT returns have increased; nevertheless, RPD still processes just under 500,000 paper returns annually. One third of those paper returns are processed during the mid-March to mid-April period. That's a lot of paper, requiring a lot of scanning and data archiving.

To avoid being mired in a swamp of returns, RPD uses the ImageTrac Scanning Platform, a forms processing system from Imaging Business Machines, LLC (Birmingham, AL). The system comprises the ImageTrac color scanner and SoftTrac, a scanner software suite that provides tools for scanner administration and performance monitoring.

Keeping Documents On The Straight And Narrow
When a PIT return comes in, an RPD employee extracts the contents of the envelope and verifies that the submission is complete. If so, the taxpayer's documents are forwarded to ImageTrac for scanning. Scanned documents are sent through an optical character recognition (OCR) application in order to perfect the data. Perfected data is sent to RPD's mainframe computer, which validates whether or not the calculations on the return are correct. After the tax due or refund due has been determined, the data is entered into a permanent database.

The ImageTrac system's job definition module allows system administrators to set templates for various kinds of jobs performed on the same scanner. These jobs can require the scanner to read banking numbers on personal checks, as well as bar-coded tax forms. According to Mario Maestas, deputy director of RPD, the system's user interface makes for simple job selecting and process monitoring. "From your desktop, you click on the icon for the scanner, log on to that machine, and select the job you want to run. At that point, it's ready to start scanning," Maestas explains. "As the documents are scanning, you can study the images as they pass by. If you get a message that an image is queued out of order, you can use a simple pull down menu to replace the image with the correct one and continue the process from that point."

In addition to offering a simple user interface, ImageTrac reliably handles documents differing in size, shape, or thickness - a capability put to the test every time RPD processes a return. Paper returns include standard tax forms, as well as personal checks and W2s. Many taxpayers include additional documentation submitted on various kinds of paper. For returns that arrive after the April 15 deadline, RPD must also scan the envelopes in order to record the dated postmarks. Because ImageTrac scanners use a vacuum/belt system rather than pinch rollers, documents don't become misaligned as they move through the machine. "The ImageTrac scanners do a good job of keeping all documents, no matter what the size or shape, upper left corner justified," Maestas says. "The previous scanners we were using had rollers only at the front end, so small sheets of paper would get skewed left or right during the scanning process. We ended up having to tape W2s to standard letter-sized sheets of paper."

Bar Code Scanning Means Labor Savings
During the peak income tax season, RPD processes 15,000 paper returns every day. On average, each return includes 4.5 pieces of paper to be scanned, including W2s and multiple double-sided forms and attachments. Consequently, ImageTrac is handling 65,000 to 70,000 pieces of paper each business day. More importantly, it is completing that task in only six hours. Maestas estimates that, by enabling RPD to complete eight hours' worth of processing in just six hours, the division has freed up two FTE (full-time equivalent) employees to work on other projects during the four-month peak season. The scanner's ability to read 2-D bar codes on tax documents contributed to additional labor savings by putting 100,000 paper returns back into the automatic scanning process. "We used to have three people working four hours per day for four months doing nothing but manually scanning 2-D bar codes using handheld scanners."

Satisfied with the reliability and efficiency of the ImageTrac system, RPD plans to roll out the document imaging system to more of its 32 state tax programs, including gross receipts tax, corporate income tax, fiduciary income tax, and gasoline tax. Eventually, it may need to add another ImageTrac scanner. But, for now, it relies on its single, labor-saving workhorse.

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