Tying It All Together
Advanced Technologies International now provides front-to-back integration services and products for document and image management installations. The new philosophy has led to $9 million in gross sales in 1998 for the company. Find out how you can put the strategy to work for your company.
Simply put, the answer is, "Yes," according to John Knight, CEO of Advanced Technologies International (ATI). ATI started as a high-speed printer manufacturer in 1979. The company has since grown to offer all the services and products included in a front-to-back document imaging sale. The concept of tying together all the pieces of a document imaging system was a matter of survival through evolution.
With increased printer competition in the last 10 years, the Milpitas, CA-based company could not afford to butt heads with the Hewlett-Packards of the world for market space. In the early 1990s, the company entered the backfile conversion market. ATI subsequently began implementing front-end systems for some of its backfile customers. This, in turn, led to selling back-end document imaging systems for the images being scanned on the front end.
In 1998, ATI posted $9 million in total revenue and printer sales accounted for only $700,000 of that number. The majority of the revenue came from conversion and integration work. That trend will continue, according to Knight. "I think we have about a year and a half left for additional printer sales. But, then I think that part of the business will have to go away," comments Knight. "However, I think the integration revenue will double during that same period of time."
It certainly helps document imaging integrators if they can provide a complete solution to customers. But, acting as the sole resource for document imaging services for a customer can be tricky. Some customers aren't comfortable having one company provide all its integration. "I have found that some customers are leery about giving too much control to one integrator," adds Knight. Still, if positioned correctly, Knight says integrators can act as a sole resource for customers.
Sell Beyond The Initial Sale
ATI's goal is to continue to sell document imaging integration and services beyond the initial sale. ATI is working under the business rule that sales to current customers are usually more profitable than sales to new customers. "The cost of a new customer is very high. There is an awful lot of up-front selling in that first sale," explains Knight. "You really only make money from a customer when you get to that second application and beyond."
In most cases, getting the second sale is a reflection of how well you did in the first sale. For ATI's front-to-back strategy to work, the first installation for a customer has to be successful. "You have to have a measurement system in place for an installation. You have to constantly remind the customer that you are ahead of schedule and the technology you sold them is saving them money," says Knight. "This is a business of credibility. Once you prove yourself, the inertia will carry you forward to the next stage of integration."
Show Your Client The Way
While an integrator can offer a full range of services, Knight has learned that not all customers are as forward-thinking as he would like. Clients can be intimidated when an integrator charts a technology course for a customer for the next five years. Customers may not be think that far in advance. But, integrators must. Integrators have to be able to preach the benefits of forms-processing technology. And, integrators must also have a plan for storing the images created by scanning forms. The next step should be integrating a workflow solution for routing images to the appropriate employees at a company.
Of course, a complete integration of all document imaging technology requires a total business reengineering process, and that can take years. Your client may not be ready to commit to such an ambitious plan. "As a good marketer, you have to be able to speak to the big picture and what integration you see in the future," comments Knight. "But, you have to be careful. If you are painting too pretty a picture, some clients will not buy into it. Ideally, you want to induce the customer into identifying what the next integration step should be."
Take Your Solution To A Vertical Market
ATI has found that offering a complete document imaging solution to customers is easier when these customers are within a few vertical markets. For instance, ATI is currently converting millions of documents for title companies. This focus led the company to develop an application for extracting data from title forms. Using Mitek Systems' optical character recognition (OCR) software, ATI has written a program for automatically processing title documents. Each document has 18 pieces of information. However, the information (such as address, location, and date) is listed in paragraph form and not contained within fields or boxes. ATI is able to scan the form, extract the 18 pieces of pertinent information and image the document.
This front-end solution should lead to back-end sales. A title company will now be able to store all the images on a network. And, the images will be indexed using the 18 pieces of data extracted from the form. Title agents in the field can access the images from a remote location. The images can be reviewed, and approved or declined, using workflow software.
In addition to title companies, ATI is also focusing on other customers with agents in the field. These markets can include insurance and some finiancial institutions. Higher-education and certain manufacturers are also markets that ATI is pursuing.
Remind Customers Of Your Success
To move beyond the initial sale, integrators must prove to clients that their work has been a measurable success. Automated forms processing systems usually reduce the amount of employees needed for manual data entry. Slashing data-entry staff from 300 employees to 50 offers an obvious return on investment (ROI).
Moving beyond labor, integrators should also use other factors to calculate ROI. For example, data-entry employees may have been shifted to other parts of a company to increase productivity. Accessing images on a network eliminates the cost of many consumables like copier paper and toner. "One of our customers would copy a document 100 times and distribute it throughout the company. That's an enormous cost," says Knight. "Another company saved $1.6 million annually in FedEx charges by scanning documents."
The key to selling a complete document imaging solution to a customer is to sell in stages. There is no sense in presenting a five-year DIM integration plan to a client who barely understands forms processing technology. "You have to be careful not to frighten the wits out of your customers," advises Knight.
In addition to scaring off clients, small integrators rarely have the credibility to offer a complete business reengineering process to a company. However, integrators have the ability to offer a small piece of a total solution and prove its value to a client. Then, they have the ability to offer the next piece, and so on. "It is very difficult to sell 'the whole enchilada' to a customer; I'll leave that to the 'IBMs' of the world," comments Knight. "I can, however, sell a total solution piece-by-piece without putting a client's entire budget at risk. I can prove myself at each step. I think that's the only way to get a client to listen. If I was a client, that's the only way I would listen."