Paper still has a place in digital world

perspective Despite rise of digital communications, many businesses still rely on paper documents. An analyst explains how to keep them under control.
Written by Louella Fernandes, Contributor

perspective Managing and accessing the huge volumes of both paper and electronic documents generated each day is a huge challenge for businesses.

While many companies have implemented content management systems to bring order to their electronic documents, these often overlook paper documents which play a vital role in many business processes.

Many industries such as legal, financial services and healthcare still rely heavily on paper documents. Mismanagement of these can lead to significant cost burdens, inefficiencies and security compliance risks.

Controlling paper documents is just one part of the challenge; integrating the management of paper and electronic documents is also critical to ensuring an organization increases the accessibility and security of all business critical information.

With cost control and compliance initiatives high on the agenda these days, many businesses are turning to document capture products to transform their paper and electronic document workflows.

Document capture enables paper documents (such as forms, contracts, faxes and invoices) to be digitized, classified, indexed and converted into a variety of formats (such as text-searchable PDF, TIF, JPG, DOC, RTF or TXT). These documents are then routed to various destinations, such as e-mail inboxes, fax machines, network folders, network printers, mobile devices and enterprise content management (ECM) systems.

This enables both paper and electronic documents to be accessed via enterprise search. ECM systems also provide security controls and audit trails which can ensure compliance of information throughout its lifetime.

A fundamental component of any distributed document capture process is the multifunction peripheral (MFP) which has evolved to become a sophisticated platform for collecting and routing of documents. It enables office workers to capture and process information directly, reducing the costs associated with a traditional centralized approach.

Leveraging today's sophisticated distributed MFPs enables businesses to maximize their investment in existing hardware. Document capture products from vendors such as eCopy, Kofax, NSi, Omtool and OpenText can be integrated with MFPs from Canon, HP, Ricoh and Xerox. Indeed, such offerings are becoming a key value proposition for hardware vendors who are looking to maximize the value businesses get from their MFP hardware.

Payback from implementing document capture can be significant, although return on investment will vary between those industries that are more reliant on paper-dependent processes, such as financial services, legal and healthcare, and those that are less so, such as retail. However, any business environment using paper stands to gain from integrating paper documents with their electronic documents.

For example, law firm Taylor Wessing wanted to minimize its use of paper documents. It recognized that the pervasiveness of paper documents was a big hidden cost, particularly in relation to on-site storage that was running at more than 80 percent of its current available capacity.

The firm wanted a product that would integrate paper documents with its Interwoven document and records management system. It chose Omtool AccuRoute and now lawyers and secretaries can scan documents using MFPs and route them to their own PC, a network folder or directly into the Interwoven system. Emails are also automatically filed and remote access from mobile devices such as BlackBerry devices means documents can be accessed and shared efficiently.

As a result of reducing the need for on-site storage of paper records, Taylor Wessing reduced its storage space requirements by 50 percent.

In order to conduct business quickly and comply with any given regulations, capturing documents as early in the business cycle is crucial.

The benefits of using a document capture system include:

  • Maximized value from existing investments: Document capture and routing can harness hardware investments such as MFPs and ECM systems. Products which are compatible with a range of printer and copier brands are particularly crucial to organizations operating a heterogeneous hardware environment.
  • Reduced costs: Minimizing paper processes reduces the costs associated with delivery, storage and retrieval of paper documents.
  • Accessible documents: Providing immediate access to business critical documents across an organization improves collaboration and productivity.
  • Cost-effective disaster recovery: Electronic documents are easily duplicated and widely accessible. Original paper copies can be stored in safe repositories where they will be less vulnerable to fire and flood.
  • Enhanced information security: Audit trails ensure every document can be tracked, users can be authenticated at the point of capture and electronic documents can be encrypted for transmission and storage.
  • Reduced environmental footprint: By reducing the use of paper, ink/toner, file space, and paper waste, organizations can improve their green credentials.

Document capture technology can clearly offer a range of benefits to any business reliant on paper-based documents. The key to success in implementing such technology is to ensure it is integrated with existing ECM or document management systems, and also supports existing MFP devices enabling their functionality to be fully harnessed.

Many platforms are customized for vertical markets which ensure that particular document workflows are specifically handled--such as invoice processing, mortgage applications or healthcare admissions processing.

With careful planning, a document capture system can add real value to existing investments in document management by reducing costs, improving productivity and ensuring document compliance.

Louella Fernandes is a principal analyst at Quocirca. She and five other analysts contribute to a regular column in ZDNet Asia's sister site, Silicon.com, that seeks to demystify the latest jargon and business thinking.

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