Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An Introduction to Document Scanning

What is ERM/EDM? EDM or ERM is all about the way that we deal with processes that involve paperwork. As computer systems have evolved over the years, many people believed that the amount of paperwork would be drastically reduced, perhaps even leading to the paperless office. Indeed, in a few cases this has proved correct and I am led to believe that some organisations have managed to go paperless, however, I am yet to find one of these organisations. In fact, what seems to have occurred is that despite a smaller percentage of data ending up in the printer, the overall volume of data has grown so much that the overall amount of printed material has also risen.
Much of this printed data does not need to be kept as it will also exist in electronic format. However, some items cannot simply be disposed of. Organisations will always have a need to keep hold of certain documents for legal or regulatory reasons. The type of documents and the time that they are to be kept (the Retention Period) will vary from industry to industry. However, many of these documents can be kept in an electronic format, scanned and made available on your computer systems.
Using the latest EDM/ERM solutions, many documents can now be scanned into an electronic format, this can be done in a way that allows the document to remain legally compliant, even to the extent that the digital copy will be admissible in court - so long as the proper procedures are followed. Once scanned to an electronic format, this paperwork no longer takes up valuable office space nor does it necessarily need to be stored in off-site archive. Furthermore, it can be accessed instantly by any authorised person within your organisation and shared electronically at the click of a mouse. Very often, by making the information widely available within the organisation, further efficiencies are found be the de-duplication of tasks.
In short, through the digitisation of paper based records, organisations can benefit from extra space, the freedom of information to be accessed around the organisation or even routed automatically through established business processes - workflow solutions.
Key EDM/ERM terms
Prep / Pre Scan Preparation Documents arrive for scanning in various formats. Sometimes there are simply reams of A4 pages neatly organised in boxes. More often however, the documents are contained within files, often stapled and un-structured. The prep process is designed to organise these documents ready for scanning. This will involve the removal of all folders, staples and paperclips, the unfolding of folded pages and the repair of damaged documents. This process allows the documents to be scanned in an efficient manner.
Document Separator Pages Although this is strictly part of the Prep and or Indexing process it is best explained separately. Document separators can be as simple as a page with a specific pattern that tells the scanner software that a new document has started or more complicated sheets that use barcodes for the automatic capture of index data. These barcodes can often be incorporated into commonly used documents to reduce the indexing costs.
Substitution Sheets Substitution sheets are used where mixed page sizes occur within a document. Mixed page sizes may mean that different document scanners are required to scan one document. Often, large format items will be removed from the document and replaced with a substitution sheet. These large items can then be processed through large format scanners with the remaining document being scanned on more conventional devices. The software then marries the two resulting sets of output images into one complete set.
Scanning / Capture This is the process of digitisation. Digitisation can be via an inexpensive low volume scanner or via more advanced technology capable of scanning 10's or even 100's of thousands of pages in a day. Document scanners are able to scan in full colour, black and white or greyscale and varying levels of quality according to the required resolution. Scanners can often scan both sides of every sheet in one pass, automatically removing blank pages as they are found
Indexing / Data Capture During this process, key information is gathered about a document that has been scanned. It is this key information that is then used to retrieve the document when it is required or to trigger an automated process. The quality of this information is paramount and as such it is usually keyed from the scanned image. Sometimes, where the data is very important it is double keyed, by separate operators and the software flags up any miss-matches in the keyed data. Software can also be used for this purpose, see Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Forms Recognition. Furthermore, document separators can be created which contain this data for automatic capture through the use of bar codes (see above).
Quality Control (QC) Quality Control is the next stage in the process. Random samples are selected and compared to the original, both the scanned image and the index data can be QC'd in this way. The level of QC will depend on the budget, the complexity of the project and the value of the final data to an organisation.
Scan-on-Demand Scan-on-Demand is a hybrid of traditional archive storage and EDM/ERM solutions. Where a high volume of paper based documents are produced that only need to be retained for a relatively short period of time, scan on demand can be a very cost effective solution. Documents are stored in off-site archive and when a document is required a request is made, the document is located, scanned and delivered electronically.
Retrieval Systems Retrieval systems allow scanned information to be recalled for storage. Regardless of where the scanned information is stored, be it on optical disk, a server in the office or more commonly hosted off-site as part of the service, a system is required to access this information. Usually, documents are located through the use of search terms which will return a list of matches. The correct document is then selected and displayed on screen. Retrieval systems will then allow the user many options, the ability to email, annotate, add notes, add pages etc. to the document. Changes should always be tracked for the system and the original be accessible. Retrieval systems may also provide a method of adding new documents to the store and workflow functionality.
Workflow Workflow refers to what is often a complex process of which there are a number of steps or actions required. A rules based system allows a set of rules to be created that relate to a particular document type and will determine where this document is routed through the organisation. For example, an invoice will be routed around an organisation for approval finally ending up with the accounts payable department, authorised for payment. Dynamic rules provide further possibility for documents, for example, low value documents may only need to be authorised by a junior member of staff whereas higher value invoice need the authorisation of two members of senior management. The routing can be to specific individuals or to departments. Workflow has many applications not limited to the Accounts Payable department. Customer complaints, holiday requests, training requests etc all benefit from automated processes.
Retention Period Retention periods determine the length of time that an organisation is required to keep a document, either for internal or external reasons. Legal and Regulatory requirements require that certain documents are kept for certain periods of time, furthermore, an organisation may have its own required retention period for different document classes. Retention can be automated, setting an expiry or destruction date against each document as it is added to the retrieval system. Once the expiry or destruction date is reached, an administrator or manager is notified and can authorised the removal of such documents for the system.
Metadata Metadata is similar in nature to the index data, although it is usually appended to the document by the retrieval system. Metadata may be information such as the date the document was added, the date and time it was accessed and by whom, who it has been emailed to and why. This metadata helps to create an audit trail pertaining to the document which will prove invaluable to any investigations in the future.
Document Access Rights The retrieval system chosen by an organisation must always provide secure access to the data and records stored within it. At the bare minimum there users must be required to use a username and password combination to access the system. It is preferential that the solution allows for multiple layers of security and encryption. For example, one group of users may require access to accounts payable records but must not be allowed access to HR records. Furthermore, when the ability to email or print documents from the system is provided, a genuine reason must be logged along with the recipient.
Conclusion I trust that you have found this introduction to electronic records management and document scanning useful. Here at Sterling we are able to provide organisations of any size with a solution that will provide excellent value for money and a quality of service that is second to none. Please browse our site for more information or contact us and we will be happy to advise.
Using our fleet of Fujitsu Scanners and CapSure software, no project is to big. We are able to scale production to meet clients needs, maintaining high standards through staff training.
Large and unusual formats pose no issue for Sterling. From large drawings and plans through to photographs, negatives and even film, Sterling can deliver.
Sterling has been involved in document scanning bureau services for more than 30 years. We have extensive knowledge in microfilm systems, the conversion of microfilm to digital, production scanning, data capture and indexing.
Services can be delivered on and off-site with very fast turnaround and extremely high standards. Once scanned, Sterling can provide a choice of solution for hosting and retrieval purposes. These solutions can be both on site or hosted for secure web access.
By indexing the documents accurately and through the use of OCR technology, finding the information that you require is a just a few clicks away.
Our transparent pricing policy ensures that there are no 'hidden' costs that can soon add up. Coupled with this is our dedication to agreeing a technical specification with our clients along with a free of charge sample service which allows potential clients to send in some samples pertinent to the project for scanning.

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