Where does distributed capture fit in the digital office transformation?

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Here’s a question to ponder - why is it that, despite decades of innovation across nearly all industries, the same problems plague daily office work? It still consumes too much mental and physical energy to address the high frequency and variability of information flowing into organisations to service customers, suppliers and partners. But as we get closer to the last quarter of the year, it is worth exploring the reasons why traditional technologies have been unable to serve the distributed workplace and take a fresh look at more modern solutions with capabilities that align well.

The more things change…

Sales orders, new loan applications, new account opening requests, requests for insurance quotes, benefits enrolment applications, employment applications, information requests, change requests, service agreements, price quotes and proposals… in the world of office work, the list of information and document types go on and on. All this content serves the critical purpose of providing enough accurate information to deliver business results while reducing risk.

The more customers, clients and partners, the greater the number of documents, information and rules we need to reference, cross-check and validate and the greater the number of systems that need to be fed this information. When done well, workers can effectively track, measure and evaluate the performance of each and any transaction. When the systems are aligned and integrated well, it can be game changing, even transcendent. Workers are elevated to making smart, intelligent and engaging decisions. Customers, suppliers and partners recognise the difference.

…the more they need to change

But in today’s world, as cycle times accelerate, the tools needed to support these workers with fast flowing information have not kept pace. Management, customers and competition all increase pressure on the business to work better, faster and smarter, but the systems don’t always work that way. The burden of managing all this information falls on people, the office workers striving to do good work, but who are trapped in a difficult, grinding cycle. Processing all that information, day after day, is a lot of work and it’s the kind of work that sucks the soul out of many. These important tasks are the by-product of the rewarding part of work; engaging customers, solving meaningful problems and pleasing customers while doing good as a business. It’s 2018, and the office of the future is still somewhere on the other side of the technology horizon, still just a dream for another future. Or is it?

Advent of the Digital Office

Over the last thirty years software innovations have evolved to address a wide range of different problems related to processing office documents. In the early days, when everything seemed to be on paper, the focus was mostly on digitising paper and scanning. In the past 10-15 years, the focus shifted towards more accurate, automated document filing and information extraction, beginning with data collection through structured forms.

If these tools have been around for 30 years, why aren’t they in use everywhere? The tools that are most widely deployed in the market today are known as “document capture applications.” Document capture is a very broad term that can include many different technologies. To keep it simple for this discussion, we’re referring to software applications and hardware that automate the movement of documents, and the extraction of information inside them from a wide range of sources to just about any computer application. This includes scanned paper documents, faxes, photos from a mobile phone, email attachments and the like. The more sophisticated capabilities automate a wider range of the same key tasks:

  • document filing (classification)
  • information identification (extraction)
  • information verification (validation)
  • data migration

Getting back to our question, the reason why we don’t see wide adoption of capture solutions in the distributed workplace, beyond basic scanning applications, has a lot to do with how the technologies were designed and have evolved. Document capture tools generally fall into two categories that are far apart when measured by capabilities and applications that they support. These two categories include those solutions that are centralised and sophisticated and those that are distributed and simple.

For example, a typical centralised capture solution is commonly located on a single desktop, connected to a large scanner with a document feeder that is used primarily by one trained worker. In many cases these capture workstations are in a production centre, like a mailroom, where large volumes of documents are collected for high volume batch processing. A distributed capture solution features lightweight apps running on dozens, hundreds or thousands of desktop/laptop computers, mobile devices, multi-function printers (MFPs), or from a web browser, with many users interacting with the same system quickly to process small volumes of documents. The former has been available much longer, but is not designed well for general office tasks. 

A lack of awareness at a time of digital transition and transformation

For a variety of reasons, most organisations are simply unaware of the capabilities available to them, especially when it comes to capturing and processing digital documents from desktop and mobile devices. Traditionally, most capture technology has been deployed as an extension of a scanning device, either production scanners or with devices like office MFPs. Partly out of habit and to avoid complicating the buying process and solution design, not much emphasis has been placed on the power and value of the digital capture tools that exist today. With so many software tools trying to solve similar problems, it can be challenging to figure out which tools really align best to the jobs we want them to do. In the case of office tasks, many organisations have tried unsuccessfully to apply centralised solutions to distributed tasks and as noted in the table above, those tools are not well suited for those applications. The result is that the same problems persist.

With an explosion in attention being paid towards process digitisation and digital transformation solutions, it’s a good time to revisit the tools that exist in the market today with better educated understanding of which capabilities matter most to the distributed worker. If you see the same problems in the digital office getting worse as more applications are deployed and work volume increases, a little bit of education can go a long way in making a transformational change.

Joel Mazza, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Capture solutions, Nuance Communications
Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock