Enterprise Document Capture Initiatives, the Right Way

9 minute read
Richard Medina avatar

The highly public and underwhelming rollout of Healthcare.gov probably has many of you reflecting on whether your own organization’s complex IT initiatives will avoid similar problems of scale and complexity. I can’t address public healthcare -- but I can provide some help if you are embarking on a high volume enterprise document capture initiative. Such initiatives comprise the first stages of the most important business processes that many organizations have, so it’s important to get these right.

We’re also at an inflection point in enterprise capture, as many organizations are trying to incorporate online ingestion and mobile device capture -- radically opening up participation in the capture process, and greatly increasing complexity.

What Are Enterprise Capture Applications and Why Are They Complex?

You probably use capture for your line of business processes, like new customer enrollment, loan applications, insurance claims processing or order processing. You may also use it for enterprise resource planning (ERP) related processes like accounting, supply chain, customer relationship management or human resources.

Such capture operations may be ingesting tens or hundreds of thousands of documents per day, from centralized locations but also from distributed employees and customers and from multiple channels (paper, email, mobile). They typically involve extracting data from the documents, and then releasing the documents and data to downstream processes that are using enterprise content management (ECM), business process management (BPM) and business applications.

Many organizations, though particularly in financial services, insurance and other document-heavy verticals, have two to five “rings” of distributed document capture. For example:

  1. Most have a centralized operation, with big scanners and a dedicated capture staff.
  2. Then many have a few or many remote distributed sites, which may be departmental in scope and size.
  3. Beyond these are typically employees or independent contractors and agents who are capturing and submitting electronic documents -- from multi-function peripherals (MFP), mobile devices, emails and other channels.
  4. Then capture gets more challenging as you widen the circle to include businesses (we’re still talking B2B) beyond your sphere of control -- who are submitting documents like forms, invoices and other documentation.
  5. And finally you get to the outermost ring -- which is pure B2C. Your “civilian” end user customers are capturing and sending you electronic documents. Such capture can be straightforward if the volumes are low (some trailing documents in a loan application), or if the variety is low (check capture with mobile devices), or if the stakes are low. But you probably need to ramp up the volumes, variety, value and risk with these multiple rings of distributed capture.

Most organizations have developed their rings of capture organically, without a lot of detailed planning for the challenges of increased scaling and complexity. As a result, most organizations who are trying to implement these multiple rings of enterprise capture face the following issues:

  • No consistent, enterprise-standard process or input flow for documents
  • No easy method for distributed staff or non-staff to upload electronic documents; only options are typically printing and scanning, or faxing
  • No use of online-fillable dynamic forms
  • Indexing and quality control (QC) are nearly completely manual for most areas; limited automation to reduce capture staff time and improve quality

I suggest that you approach enterprise capture with two fundamental principles to guide you: 1. Focus first on the back end rather than the front end (start from the inside). 2. Design quality control and exception handling to address problematic documents as efficiently as possible -- which means at the front end rather than the back end (start from the outside).

1. Focus first on getting the back end right. (Design capture from the inside out.)

Many organizations focus first on the various front ends of the capture process. They try to roll out mobile capture or MFP document submission applications to one or more of the variety of distributed users, without first redesigning the centralized pieces. In our experience this is a big mistake.

If your production capture initiative has a significant degree of volume, complexity and value, you should focus on improving automation at the document processing layer first, rather than introducing change to the “front office” or customer facing outer rings in the near term. The biggest reason for this is that the most important challenges to address in most production capture operations are:

  • Automation: Planning and executing as much automation in the process as you can effectively use, and
  • Quality Control and Exception Handling: Identifying and addressing problematic document submissions as efficiently as possible; usually this means as early in the process (“upstream”) as possible.

Building a comprehensive submission front end with all of the logic to eliminate problematic documents at the point of submission is unrealistic as a first step. We recommend starting with clearly defining the rules and conditions for document processing, then introducing automation to start realizing benefits in the capture process, and determining just how far automation can go and what will remain manual or operator-assisted.

These processes must be rock solid before introducing any type of change to the front office or customer facing rings of capture (such as introducing a unified interface for multi-channel document capture).

2. Identify and address problematic document submissions as efficiently as possible

In capture, one of the primary requirements for integrating the front and back ends is to ensure that the incoming data and documents are in good order -- of sufficient completeness, quality and accuracy -- and are consistent with the information contained in the downstream business systems. Checking that documents are in good order, and correcting the ones that aren't, is the job of quality control (QC). The guiding rule is to try to identify and correct problems as early in the work stream as possible.

Automating QC involves multiple, distinct types of validation and verification -- which will require a combination of techniques at various stages of document processing. For example:

  • Auto-recognition can be used to index documents and then verify that the required documents were submitted.
  • Data extraction and validation steps can be used to cross-check auto-recognized data and enable manual correction.
  • Quality control steps can be configured to validate image quality, signature presence, etc.

Any of these steps can identify errors, suspend the capture process and notify capture staff or upstream document submitters to resolve the issue. Your organization will need to evaluate each of its document areas or transaction types to determine what type and level of automation to use at which processing stage, and what tasks should be handled by capture staff.

Note that one critical step for automating QC is that you have to clearly document them first. You have to collect, analyze, standardize and communicate the document set and document-level QC rules. Your various document QC policies (and knowledge of how to apply them) must be clearly documented so they can be translated into rules that can drive automation and can simplify problem processing for capture staff that participates in exception handling. Otherwise, you run the risk of automating poor processes with undocumented rules, which will compromise benefits.

The Major Capabilities You’ll Need for Enterprise Capture  

and a Snapshot of What Your Peers are Doing

Most organizations that are implementing enterprise capture have a vision for document submission -- they want to provide their staff and customers with a common mechanism for submitting documents associated with business processes.

Here are five of the major capabilities that you’ll need for such document capture, along with a snapshot of where most organizations are with respect to their maturity for each capability. By “most organizations,” I mean most organizations in the document-heavy verticals like financial services, healthcare and some areas of manufacturing.

Learning Opportunities

For enterprise capture, you’ll need:

1. A common mechanism for submission of all types of documents (e.g., loan documents, investment documents, etc.) that supports:

  • Capture of paper and electronic documents at the point of receipt
  • Multiple user types (e.g. sales reps in branch or field, operations and call center staff, customers, etc.)
  • Multiple channels of submission (e.g. from hardware devices, from the desktop, from email, from mobile devices, etc.)

Where is everyone?

  • While the best-in-class firms have implemented solutions for both distributed paper and electronic capture, most are separate processes.
  • Many are using e-Forms to reduce the need to capture paper documents.
  • Mobile document capture has been embraced by some market segments (e.g. insurance claims processing, check imaging), but adoption has been much slower for traditional financial services processes.

2. Ability to electronically complete and electronically sign documents, both in distributed offices and online.

Where is everyone?

  • e-Signatures are widely accepted in industry sectors such as retail, but adoption has been slower in financial services.
  • Intelligent, dynamic, online-fillable e-Forms have been widely adopted in sectors including life sciences and government.
  • Some financial services firms are targeting advances in this area.

3.Automatic document identification, recognition, indexing, data extraction and validation capabilities to reduce the manual effort required for indexing, document vetting and passing information to downstream processes.

Where is everyone?

  • Except for automatic document identification, these capabilities are mature and widely implemented across many industries, including financial services.
  • Automatic document identification is the newest capability in this group, and is gaining adoption.

4. Ability to use business rules to ensure that all required documents are submitted, and that the documents and data are in good order -- to reduce the incidence of NIGO (not in good order) submissions.

Where is everyone?

  • Many of the requirements in this area are commodity capabilities provided by all industry leading document capture platforms.
  • But some of the business rule and workflow capabilities needed to determine whether submissions are in good order require more advanced BPM capabilities. An example of such a capability is if the documents in a submission must be held for a period of time -- days or weeks -- while additional documents are collected and evaluated. Such capabilities require either a separate BPM module provided by the same vendors or a third party BPM engine.

5. Export documents and metadata for storage and management in the company’s ECM repositories, which ensures proper records management as well as accessibility for customer service and other downstream business processes.

Where is everyone?

  • The requirements in this area are commodity capabilities provided by all industry leading document capture platforms.

Editor's Note: Read more of Richard's insights in How to Succeed at Mobile Content Management

About the author

Richard Medina

Richard Medina is co-founder and a Principal Consultant at Doculabs. Doculabs is founded on three simple principles: objective recommendations, analysis grounded by benchmark data, and a specialization in content-based applications.