Dealing with Documents

The paperless office is far from a reality, as most businesses accumulate masses of paper-based documents each day. But while in the past storing crucial documents meant filling up filing cabinets and consequently using up valuable office space, 'going digital' is fast becoming an affordable option for small and medium sized firms. WINDOWS MIDDLE EAST explains

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By  Matthew Wade Published  April 24, 2005

|~|ScanSnap2--m.jpg|~|Products such as Fujitsu's aptly named ScanSnap 2 are targeted squarely at the small business sector|~|According to research analysts IDC, 90% of corporate memory still exists on paper. Unless a document is irrelevant and can be flung in the trash then, it must be indexed, stored, easily retrievable and capable of being shared amongst colleagues and customers. This begs the question: as your paper load increases, should you invest in yet more filing cabinets or complement the e-documents arriving in your inbox by converting your paper files into digital versions and bringing these documents together? Document management (DM) can perhaps best be defined as digitising and indexing documents, and storing these in a central location from which they can be quickly accessed across a network. There are several potential benefits to be had from this approach. For instance, DM can help prevent records being lost or misfiled. For example, if a physical file or folder is misfiled it could take hours for a staff member to track it down. If a digital document is saved in the wrong system folder however, a quick file search should locate it in seconds flat. Comparing filing cabinets to hard disks, DM can obviously help firms save on physical data storage space. Thirdly and crucially to businesses, storing digital documents on a network makes them available to everyone, meaning they can be sent to colleagues, suppliers and clients with one click of a button. Until now DM was seen as relevant largely to enterprise-level firms but, similar to ERP's gradual move into the SMB space, that is changing. “A firm with 50-100 employees will still have information management issues,” says Simon Taylor, business development and integration manager at e-mail archiving company KVS. “People need to understand that all the information they receive is of value. If we don't retain it, we don't have efficient systems.” Mark Ward is IPG business solutions manager at HP Middle East. He claims business customers realise they have difficulty tracking their info, but because of its complexity may consider it too large a problem to solve. “Then a reseller places a scanner with them for two weeks,” he claims, “and it reveals itself as the way to solve some of their problems.” Canon Midde East’s solutions products manager, Audai Altaie, instead talks space, giving Dubai as a prime example of how firms can save it: “Here rent prices are increasing, so you need to save space. DM is one way to do this. You can archive your documents and store hard copies somewhere with a lower rent.” In addition to businesses organising their document resources, those that have dealings with government or authority bodies are under increasing pressure to digitise their docs to comply. “Some companies now, including government agencies, are making all their suppliers provide the necessary documents in electronic format,” explains Angelo La Duca, Kofax's sales manager for Southern Europe and the Middle East. “If you want to participate in such a project, you have to comply to a standard. One of these is that nothing is received on paper.” Lars Bogvad Jeppesen, managing director of Dicom FZE (formerly Valuvad) agrees that compliance is starting to affect more of the region's firms. “I think for the Middle East that document management has been traditionally practiced in government and the banking industry,” he explains, “but now the rest of the market is following on.” Step-by-Step To discuss the document management process in more detail, we caught up with Johni Jabbor, regional sales manager at Forefront Tech-nologies. Jabbor talks to companies about their requirements and then provides them with the right mix of hardware and software to meet their needs. In addition to having worked in DM for over a decade, Jabbor is also writing a book on the topic. He cites the steps involved as: deciding which documents to digitise, preparing and scanning them, indexing files, managing a storage location and, of course, being able to retrieve documents effectively. First off then, a manager must decide what to digitise. “It's very rare that documents spanning back years will be used,” Jabbor says. He cites companies such as Veritas, which he says claim the lifecycle of a document today is a lot shorter than previously: “The average document life is between three and six months,” Jabbor asserts. “Anything more than two years old isn't used, unless an organisation is forced by law to keep it.” A business must then invest in the correct hardware for the job. “Many businesses have a scanner,” Jabbor says, “but this mightn't be a professional document imaging scanner. It could be a consumer model, which is especially likely following the introduction of low-cost MFDs. “Such basic devices really aren't likely to be up to the job,” he says, as they're aimed at users looking to scan just a few documents a day. For DM, organisations need more. The HP ScanJet reviewed on page 66 of Windows' June issue for instance incorporates a 50-sheet document feeder, duplex unit, and scan to e-mail and PDF features. From a staffing point of view, we asked Jabbor to give an idea of the time employees might spend scanning and storing documents, compared to physically filing them in the past. “If it's a backlog conversion where a company has a million documents to scan, there has to be a team to prepare these for scanning, remove staples, separate pages and so on,” he says. “When there is limited time to scan a huge number of documents, this is when you need to really prepare: the human resources, scan operators, a supervisor to see that the project runs smoothly, and a quality checker to see that documents are scanned effectively.” A 50-person company will not need a mass of production scanners says Jabbor, even if they have several hundred documents or more. “One member of staff, a document scanner, and a couple of scan stations can speed through it.” How a small or medium sized business with moderate scanning needs staffs this work is an issue of some debate. Jabbor suggests that particular staff members should be made responsible for the process. However, HP IPG's commercial product manager for this region, Steffen Papke, made the point that, “with the introduction of new capture devices, we are creating a better opportunity to decentralise the capturing, and moving it closer to the end user.” A business's decision on this question will likely be based upon how much scanning needs to be done, how IT savvy office staff are (with regards working with hardware and storing files on a network), plus which employees are likely to have the time available. Readers who haven't scanned a document for years might be raising an eyebrow about the storage capacity required to store all of a company's crucial paper documents. However, with the powerful JPEG compression technologies now on offer DM is less demanding than you might imagine. Apps such as Kofax's VirtualReScan (VRS) for instance can scan a mono A4 page, complete with text marks and comments, and use up just 65 kilobytes. This type of scanning software will also ignore blank pages and scan to fit; for example if a business card is attached to a blank sheet, just the card will be scanned. After the scan process, documents must be checked and indexed. “If I use a good scanner, I'll be able to get different types of output document - JPEG, PDF, TIF formats and so on,” says Jabbor. “The document capture solution comes between scanning and storing a file,” he explains. Some applications have built-in OCR functionality to turn image scans into text files, which helps when retrieving documents as a user can search a document's text rather than just its file name. Another useful feature is ‘zone OCR’. “For instance, if I know an invoice number is always at the top left of a page, I can zoom in, OCR this, and save the file under this number,” Jabbor explains. The main scanning issue yet to be resolved in this region is that perennial problem - Arabisation. In this respect OCR programs available still lag some way behind their English language cousins. “OCR software is still maybe only 50% accurate,” explains Epson Middle East’s technical manager, Ahmad Zeidan. Sakar is the leader at this but handwriting is still the problem, even though with most titles you can teach the software to recognise your style.” Storing files securely in an accessible location is key to the success of DM, because if users can't grab a file easily then a system is of little use. In the early stages of DM, optical drives found favour due to the high cost of hard drives at the time, however as hard disks have dropped in price RAID storage solutions have become popular, whereby several hard disks can be linked together. Many mid- to high-end motherboards also now offer RAID functionality as standard. “I would say that maybe 90% of our customers go for a SAN (Storage Area Network) solution,” says Jabbor. “If you are transferring lots of images across a network at once, you might create a bottleneck, so people tend to use either fibre-connected SAN storage devices or SCSI drives as their online storage devices. As back-up solutions people usually go for tapes.” Once a business has made the decision to embrace digital document management then, how should it get started? One option is for an IT manager to sit down with a vendor such as HP, Canon or Epson to discuss what scanners, software and associated kit will fit its needs. Vendors in this field are now regularly bundling all the relevant software a business might need with such purchases, plus the latest hardware often includes useful scan-to-PDF, scan-to-email and duplexing features. Off The Shelf Alternatively, DM specialists such as Forefront can provide the whole gamut of scanners, storage devices, software and even PCs, tailored specifically to a particular organisation. For almost two years now Forefront has sold an off-the-shelf, small business package. “We thought of having a small bundle for businesses that could only invest a small amount of money,” Jabbor explains. “This is aimed at 10-15 users and costs a thousand US dollars.” The DM pack incorporates a Fujitsu scanner, DynaMO hard disk, PaperPort archiving software, Adobe Acrobat and ABBYY OCR software. Selling this complete package, says Jabbor, still requires effective communication with the customer however, in order to make sure the bundle will provide just the functionality they need. Neither is Jabbor alone in taking this approach as Canon Middle East has been doing the same. “Our business bundle has been very successful in the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” says Altaie. “This includes our 20ppm DR2080C scanner with ADOS Personal Edition software. The user justs opens the one box, installs the driver and they’re away. If more users come on-board, firms just buy another licence.” The price of the bundle is $1,100. ----------------- Company Links www.forefrontec.com (includes useful document management starter guide) www.hp.com/me www.canon-me.com www.kvsinc.com www.fujitsu.com www.kofax.com www.valuevad.com www.scansoft.com www.abbyy.com ----------------- ||**||

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