Welcome to the Paperless World
I’ve heard a wide range of terminology used when colleagues or customers refer to converting paper to an electronic image or maintaining digital images in a document management system. The terms include, but are not limited to; going paperless, imaging, photocopy system, electronic filing, document management w/workflow, and so on. None of these identifiers accurately describes taking a paper based business setting and turning it into a more nimble, user friendly and efficient place of business by eliminating the dependency workers have on paper documents.
First of all, the notion many companies have of eliminating paper altogether may not be realistic. Paper, in some shape or form, may still be relevant to some business owners and their customers, all be it in a diminished capacity. Having said that, with advances in technology and the ever prevailing shift in the workplace to a more “wired-in” need for multiple users simultaneously being connected to relevant data that support business practices, paper and hardcopy files simply aren’t able to keep pace with the demands of today’s business’, staff and customers.
I’ll be blogging over the next few months on topics directly related to Electronic Imaging in the work place to share with you some helpful ideas and tips as well as substantive tricks of the trade that our Courtland Consulting team and partners have used in transitioning government agencies from a paper based office to an electronic document based system.
Taxonomy – What It Means To An Imaging System
- Developing an initial strategy on how or where to start an imaging project, whether it’s large or small scale, identifying the anticipated documents that your business currently generates from the existing computer system or the new system being developed is the first step.
- Next, identifying the documents or information that is routinely received on a daily basis generated from other sources outside of the current or newly created computer system is equally important. I will refer to those documents generated from the existing or soon to be implemented system as ‘internal documents’ and those documents received from outside sources as ‘external documents’.
Both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ documents should be captured and organized in a tool referred to here as a ‘taxonomy’ document. This tool is used as a living document that is both filterable and expandable as the needs of the project grow and the details regarding each document are identified. One thing to remember is that simply identifying all of the internal and external documents known to be used and/or anticipated to be used in the future is just the beginning of the taxonomy’s creation. The taxonomy tool may also be used to clarify document details regarding classification and indexing needs. That is, what will each document be referred to within system parameters and how will those documents be indexed or attached to a specific individual and/or case. In this respect, whether it is a small department or business system implementation, or full statewide government implementation, having all parties and staff that enter data into the new system identifying documents in the same manner is critical for accuracy and overall performance. Putting it in plain text, each worker must enter data and imaged documents to the system in the same consistent manor for several reasons; office efficiency, system health, historical recall, document storage, workflow and system accuracy.
The ‘taxonomy’ tool acts as both a guideline for staff entering scanned images into the system as well as a tool when attempting to recall or filter existing data already scanned. Users are able to recall data from any time frame knowing that the information scanned in last week or last year was identified and saved utilizing the ‘taxonomy’ information.
Automation and Bar Codes – Making Your System Smarter
One of the great advantages of creating an imaging system is that internal documents may be enhanced by adding bar codes. Bar codes may come in many shapes and sizes such as those used in supermarkets with many lines of different sizes. Another example may be a 2D bar code that appears as a stamp in the shape of a square with many pixels that appear lighter, darker etc. No matter what bar code system is selected and no matter what type of software is to be used in support of this, the benefits of programming information into the bar code for each internal document produced is measurable.
Why use bar codes? Including bar codes on certain documents can make a system smarter. Bar codes may be coded to include specific information on each document generated for a specific client or case. This may include case identifiers, date produced, how many forms or letters are included in each mailer, if a returned page from the original internal document is received and scanned how should the host system respond and so forth.
By taking advantage of bar codes, your current and future computer systems may be programmed to take automated movements and actions systemically without having to look further at documents or even physically store the document once scanned. Just how much workflow automation a returned document is to initiate within your system is subject to the needs and/or the rules and regulations governing your business. However, the benefit of simply having a document identified by a bar code when returned to an office when scanned not only saves time, but opens doors to new business flows and greater efficiency throughout the office or agency.
Scanned Images and System Integration
Back in the day when imaging was a relatively new form of technology, documents were prepped, identified and scanned by the workers and sent to those staff that needed to review them, much like a typical email service today. I get my documents, you get yours and that was the end of it. Much of these early imaging systems weren’t even connected to the primary computer system being utilized by the staff they were intended to help. Workers needed to view the document in a standalone system without the document being directly linked to or stored in their primary computer system.
Let’s just say image integration has significantly changed for the better! Scanning and imaging documents today is a fully integrated process with the computer system being used in your office. No more stand-alone scenarios or simply storing documents in a repository that may only be viewed within that structure. Today, images are stored in a way that they are available for recall not only within your business application in a structured manor, such as a specific screen within your system, but may be recalled in several areas or screens if that image has been determined to be needed in multiple application areas. For example, if a client’s driver’s license is imaged and stored to a screen that contains all images relative to that party or case, it is not limited to just appearing on that screen. If need be, the image of the license may be recalled on several screens if it is beneficial to staff and their workflow needs. The idea is based on the need to view the imaged document in any scenario or decision making process where a worker may find it useful or necessary when completing his or her tasks. This all but eliminates staff from having to make a disconnected search for a document in a specific or different screen within the same system.
Business process reviews, workflow reviews and application analyses exercises work well in determining what documents should be linked to what screen or case outside that of basic storage requirements. The important thing to remember is that scanned images may be programmed to appear wherever needed to assist your business flow and improve customer service overall.
Over time I will be providing details regarding the importance of certification and the benefits this may bring to either a statewide or smaller scale system. We’ll answer the question “Now that we scanned all this paperwork, what’s next and what do we do with it?” I’ll also be talking about the many benefits Imaging Systems offer that may not always be thought of when determining if an agency or office should take on the challenge of implementing such a solution. These include workflow improvements, staff accountability and staff flexibility when using imaging solutions and so on.
Until then, thanks for reading!
Author: Tim Bonnette. Tim is a Senior Consultant with Courtland Consulting working as an Implementation Team Lead for a large Electronic Content Management project for a client in New Jersey.