Enterprise mobile capture -- using smartphones and tablets to scan documents as part of your organization’s important business processes -- constitutes one of the changes in the content technologies that are ending the era of enterprise content management (ECM) and bringing in the era of “content intensive applications” (or term of your choice). For those getting started in enterprise mobile capture, there are two primary issues you should address as you plan your strategy.
A few things to know about enterprise mobile capture before you jump in: One example -- there’s a huge difference between different kinds of mobile capture opportunities. The highly distributed capture of checks, business cards or travel receipts is very different than, for example, introducing mobile capture to line of business processes like loan applications. They differ in business objectives, scale and complexity. You can’t get from one to the other by just quantitatively “scaling up.” They are qualitatively different and you will not succeed in mobile capture unless you treat each appropriately.
A great way to start is to:
- Identify your candidate mobile capture opportunities.
- Clarify the business drivers, size and complexity of these opportunities.
Identify Your Candidate Mobile Capture Opportunities
What makes a capture application good or bad? Good capture applications in general typically have the following characteristics:
- Capture is necessary and workflow is highly recommended for them, though you can get great benefit by starting with capture alone. I should add that not only capture but mobile capture is probably necessary or desirable -- not just optional.
- The required technologies actually work really well.
- The applications are mature, they’ve been proven in production with your peers, and you can show that you can get ROI if you do them well.
- Most organizations have them.
OK, those are good criteria for capture applications in general. We have to take them a little loosely because mobile capture is still young so the technologies may be a little dodgier and some of the killer applications for mobile are not yet mature. But let’s start conservatively and start with the safer mobile capture applications that are both mature and can also benefit from mobile capture -- like AP in accounting and/or an application like loan application processing.
First, consider the “classics”: administrative ECM applications that can be enhanced with mobility.
Administrative applications for accounting, HR and customer services are mature in ECM and are often a good place to start before tackling LOB applications or those requiring heavier mobility and redesign.
Then consider a few more “classics”: general and LOB ECM applications that can be enhanced with mobility.
They are usually more complex -- and both higher value and higher risk than the Administrative ECM applications. If you mess up, you’re going to significantly impact your customers and business.
Moving up on the complexity scale, there are highly mobile vertical LOB applications.
These are typically high value (and thus high risk) “e-clipboard” applications, developed primarily to be mobile. Notice that they typically depend on trained employees -- not untrained “citizens” -- to create and capture information, to participate in workflows, to search and access information and to act on it.
In this category you can find some highly specialized applications that are great candidates for mobile capture.
Now that you have a list of candidate opportunities to consider pursuing, let's take a look at the decision rules that will help you sort and prioritize your list and clarify what you’re getting into.
Clarify Business Drivers, Size, Complexity of Opportunities
Let's start from the top. First, we can segment all your capture opportunities into centralized and mobile -- which are of course highly decentralized. There are different types of decentralized mobile capture applications, and it’s important to understand the differences. They may differ in the following three ways:
- By primary business objectives: reducing costs (of shipping paper) or increasing business process efficiency (primarily reducing cycle time of workflow -- and thereby making customers happy).
- By application complexity: simple or complex. If you want to reduce costs, you can get by with simple distributed mobile capture. But if you want to improve process efficiency, it’s going to be complex -- with tight coupling, QA, better document management, workflow and integration.
- By deployment size (# of contributors): small or big. If you get big, you’re going to have to scale up -- and that’s often a qualitative rather than quantitative change. You need sampling for QA, automated rather than manual indexing, a formalized training program, etc.
From these three factors, you can derive four basic types of mobile capture scenarios (and note that business objectives and complexity are linked):
- Small Simple
- Small Complex
- Big Simple
- Big Complex
1. Small Simple Distributed Mobile Capture
So what should you look for? Recall that the driver is reducing paper and the manual processing of mail, shipping or fax.
You will have distributed contributors (people doing mobile capture), each capturing low volumes. And there will be minimal indexing or incorporation into downstream processes. Some good examples can be found anywhere you can capture to file systems, email folders or a repository for simple search.
This means administrative applications like employee expense receipt and report processing. I know this isn’t riveting line of business stuff, but administrative applications are often the best way to start because the consequences of messing up are lower than if you mess up a customer-facing application.
There are plenty of opportunities -- but don’t hinder your ability to get Big or Complex. You can get started almost right away if you have smartphones and tablets with capture capabilities.
2. Small Complex Distributed Mobile Capture
The driver here is to quickly incorporate critical information into complex high-value business applications.
It requires significant processing and incorporation into downstream business processes. It therefore typically requires manual indexing by experts, visual QA, filtering to designated workflows and notification or confirmation upon delivery of images to downstream systems.
Examples include customer service, customer enrollment and mortgage loan processing at branch offices -- anytime you have a customer sitting across from an agent or rep at a branch desk. Or the customer’s at home.
Regarding opportunities, fewer firms are executing this successfully than Small and Simple. I think both organizations and vendors often underestimate the complexity of the applications. We see the best success when companies extend their existing centralized capture and ECM approaches into a decentralized model.
3. Big Simple Distributed Mobile Capture
Since this one is simple, the key driver is reducing paper and manual processing of mail, shipping or fax. But because it’s big, the other key factor is volume -- scaling infrastructure and components.
Fewer firms are undertaking Big Simple Decentralized mobile capture. The applications are not high value, but have infrastructure and support requirements and costs requirements of high volume capture applications.
The most typical examples include capture to file systems, email folders or a repository for simple search and retrieval for compliance and customer service.
4. Big Complex Distributed Mobile Capture
With this type you focus on quickly getting information into complex high value business applications such as loan processing or new customer enrollment.
Because it’s complex, it requires significant indexing and incorporation into downstream business processes. It may also include mixed configurations of decentralized and centralized capture. So you are mixing your centralized capture center with lots of branch scanners, MFPs -- along with smartphones and tablets.
Many of these applications look like small complex applications (application, enrollment, mortgage loan processing) -- but differ significantly in scale and complexity. They are often big because they are applications where documents originate from external senders and are captured by them with mobile devices -- or delivered to large numbers of field offices or agents, who then capture them.
Since the customers are capturing or sending in documents, be prepared not only for increased scale but a lot more QA, error correction, etc.
Putting it Together
I’ll end by pointing out some implications of the above:
- Gain consensus on the purpose of the mobile capture initiative -- whether it’s cost reduction or to improve process cycle time.
- Prepare for increased investment in centralized capture (yes, I said centralized) -- particularly if it’s Big or Complex. You will probably want to use your centralized crew to help with indexing, QA, error correction and release.
- Plan for significant integration efforts – if it’s Complex.
- Prepare for significant user training efforts to ensure participation and indexing accuracy – particularly if it’s Big or Complex.
- Don’t box yourself in with a simple small solution that can’t scale Big or get Complex if you want to do develop in that direction.
- Implement to enable future extensibility and scalability (to get Big and Complex).