Magazine Article | July 21, 2009

Production Scanning: More Than Just Hardware

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

High-volume scanning solutions integrate document management with the enterprise.

Integrated Solutions, July/August 2009
Technology has drastically altered the way companies share and disseminate information — email, instant messaging, and even corporate blogs have replaced the flurry of memos and missives that used to be shuttled through interoffice mail, for example. But despite that, most companies still manage mountains of paperwork.

Integrating the information in these paper documents into enterprise content management (ECM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems requires digitization. For banks, hospitals, government agencies, and other businesses that handle large quantities of documents, high-volume production scanning systems are a key component in collecting the information in these forms and ensuring compliance with regulations like Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Sarbanes-Oxley.

"Access to specific content is vital for managing customer demands, complying with government regulations, and remaining competitive within the marketplace," says Rod Hughes, director of marketing, document imaging, for Eastman Kodak. "Despite the ubiquity of electronic devices available today, paper-based sources of information continue to engulf the offices of professionals. For example, more than 80% of business information lies within unstructured documents. In the healthcare industry, an estimated 90% of patient information remains in hard copy." While distributed scanning solutions can provide some relief, production scanning systems provide a standard, centralized approach that can have enterprisewide benefits."Production scanning is a key component to operations, providing efficient processing of documents in all industries," says Peter Caporal, director of portfolio management for BancTec. "It allows imaged information to be readily accessible and improves operational efficiencies as well as customer service."

The healthcare industry, for instance, faces increasing pressure from the government to convert to electronic records systems. "Backfile conversion is a big challenge in that industry," Caporal continues. "The idea of converting the multitude of existing paper patient files with desktop scanners is just not practical." In the past, production scanning systems have been viewed as generic hardware solutions. But modern scanning solutions are much more solution-oriented, with application-specific capabilities built into both the hardware and software that drives these systems. "When you look at the evolution of individual scanning devices, you may get more dots per inch and better rated track speeds, but that doesn't always equate to more operational throughput or lower operating costs, and those devices certainly aren't a catalyst for real process improvements," says Derrick Murphy, president and CEO of ibml. "You need intelligence, flexibility and the power to improve your business process." Intelligent production scanners can identify and sort documents as they are scanned, which can save time and labor in both the preparation and postscanning exception handling processes. Application- and industry-specific functionality within the equipment can also improve efficiency, and tighter integration with ECM and ERP systems provides organizationwide access to the digital files. "If the scanner has more intelligence and advanced capabilities, that changes what you need to do in terms of preparation and back end exception processing," Murphy says. "When you have robust intelligence in the device, it starts becoming more of a solution rather than just a piece of hardware."

When looking for a new scanning solution, users should try to get beyond the "speeds and feeds" information or the price tag to find a device that not only meets their throughput requirements, but that can optimize the entire document management operation. Evaluate your overall staff, the number of scanners you currently use, and the number of exceptions you have to deal with using those resources. "Look at the entire operation," Murphy says. "Intelligent scanning improves procedures and operations. If you evaluate your whole scanning process, you can get a good return on investment on these systems. Lower end scanners don't change the operation; they just add capacity. " Take a close look at your immediate and long-term needs for information management, your budget, current regulations and mandates that your company must meet, and your existing information management capabilities. Consider using a systems integrator to develop a production capture solution that can best meet your business needs. When selecting a partner, look for industry-specific expertise. A scanning solution for a hospital would need to meet a different set of requirements than one designed for a financial services company. Flexibility is also important, however; that same hospital might very well need a solution to handle internal financial and human resources documents as well as patient records and billing information. Investigate a vendor's service and support offerings, since maintenance and downtime could adversely affect the entire document management process. "Throughout the lifetime of a production capture system, regular maintenance and available upgrades can help maintain best performance and prevent technical problems," Hughes says.

Production scanning systems do more than just digitize documents. Advanced document processing options like optical character recognition and bar code scanning make it possible for the scanning system to classify and sort documents, as well as perform quality assurance functions. New scanners can also handle documents of variable sizes and thicknesses (which eliminates time-consuming file preparation) and automatically detect misfeeds. While this functionality may come at a price premium, intelligent scanners can save countless hours of labor both before and after scanning.

New control and feedback systems also help operators monitor the scanning process. "One challenge that many operations have is in the area of image quality," Caporal says. "Even though the quality of image capture with today's technologies is extremely reliable and of high quality, it's a stretch for some operations to trust the process, and many will continue to do manual verification of the captured image to the document itself. This can prevent the operation from realizing the true benefits of production scanning. We feel that providing the ability to monitor the image quality at scan time can go a long way toward reducing this concern."

By approaching production scanning as a content management solution, rather than just a hardware fix, companies can gain new efficiencies and reduce costs while improving enterprisewide access to the data held in their paper documents.