Distributed Capture: Winning The Numbers Game
Apply imaging expertise and distributed capture in new ways to win larger accounts, bigger customers.
Analysts have been predicting the growing adoption of distributed capture for some time, and recent high-profile installations suggest that the trend is gaining ground. For instance, FedEx recently installed 1,000 Bell & Howell scanners at 850 locations to implement a distributed capture solution for 1.2 million documents a day. While the FedEx solution may be exceptionally large, scanning software vendors say distributed capture opens a whole new set of larger, more lucrative prospects for VARs who look beyond the traditional archival functions of imaging.
Deliver ROI By Speeding Workflow
In a conservative spending environment, VARs have to be able to prove the economic advantages of distributed capture. Since most scanned documents involve a financial transaction, bringing them into the workflow sooner speeds the payoff for the customer. David Oldfield, senior product manager at Kofax Image Products, Inc. (Irvine, CA), cites the example of an investment firm that was shipping all of its applications for new accounts to a central location. The several days lost in shipping and processing were days when the company could have been generating revenue by conducting trades on behalf of its customers. In this regulated vertical market, having the consumer fill out an online application isn't sufficient, as that agreement isn't binding until a signed document is recorded. By scanning documents at the point of origination, the investment firm can begin billable activities days sooner.
Another attractive aspect of distributed capture for many customers is that it can often be assimilated into the existing environment, reducing expenses and disruption of business. If a customer already has a content management system of some kind, a VAR can facilitate the transfer of documents to that centralized repository without a massive overhaul of the entire system.
Incorporate Imaging Into Line Of Business Apps, Appeal To Larger Customers
"Distributed capture via the Internet is making imaging a fundamental part of a much larger solution," comments Oldfield. "The distributed nature is used to accelerate the business process rather than just providing the traditional archival functions." Oldfield says the biggest imaging opportunities involve image-enabling line-of-business applications, linking scanned documents to files with accounting or enterprise resource planning packages. Because distributed capture allows those images to be included sooner, customers realize improvements in customer service, enterprise visibility, and cash flow.
Integrators who focus on the scan, store, and retrieve functions of an imaging system may be missing out. "VARs are not getting into multimillion-dollar deals with that mentality," warns Oldfield. Mike Morper, also a senior product manager at Kofax, points to a recent installation that involved 10 hospitals spread across three states. Delays in filing paperwork were causing delays in payment. Capturing all of the information in the admissions department begins the process much earlier. The key to winning an account like this is realizing that the requirement was for a solution that facilitated a process, not just one that reduced paper.
"Distributed capture is just the first wave," agrees Kurt Kristmann, director of North American channel sales for Captiva Software Corp. (San Diego). "Resellers are redefining what an image is, and it's not just a scan of a document. Face recognition technology at airports, for example, has to be tied back to paper, but it represents an unexplored market for most integrators." Imaging VARs are beginning to apply their understanding of the core technology in new and different ways by looking at other vertical markets that have documents to manage. Kristmann says the potential for creative applications is virtually untapped. "There's a lot more they can do with images in places where they can demand top dollar," he says. "What the imaging market will see is VARs taking the current technology and marrying it with other industries to create super solutions."
Kristmann says wireless looks like it may be a major element in many of these super solutions. One Captiva customer, GOSOF, has created an in-cab scanning device for the trucking industry. When a truck is dispatched to pick up freight, there is often little information available other than location. By scanning the bill of lading upon loading and transmitting it wirelessly, the terminal receives information about the load hours before it actually arrives.
VARs may also find increasing opportunities to bring their customers value by incorporating digital photography into distributed and possibly even wireless solutions, says Kristmann. An insurance adjuster, for instance, could find that submitting a digital photo attached to the claim would provide information necessary for approval and speed processing of the claim itself.
Maintain Image Quality In Uncontrolled Environments
As with any solution, the human factor presents a potential problem. If a company puts the responsibility for scanning in the hands of inexperienced operators whose core function is business-related, is it possible to maintain the image quality necessary to make these documents useful? According to Morper, the answer is yes and no.
"If you're imaging pristine documents, it's less of an issue," notes Morper. "For a first-generation document [an original, not a photocopy], any low-end scanner or MFP [multifunction peripheral] will probably do. An MFP has scan templates and profiles, so if you're scanning the same type of document repeatedly, those settings can be preselected." However, Morper advises resellers to provide an automated image-quality product for use with scanners, particularly for customers who will submit the documents for forms processing or other applications at the central location.
Capturing documents at the point of origination also has some advantages that may offset the issues surrounding image quality. Because the person providing the key indexing information is directly involved in the transaction the document represents, the reliance on the image itself is reduced. "There's some chance the image won't be perfect," admits Morper, "But as long as the key indexing is correct, that can be compensated for."
An integrator can decrease reliance on the end user and the original image by incorporating database look-up in the capture solution. In a hospital application such as the one Morper referred to earlier, indexing fields could be automatically populated when the admissions personnel enter the social security number.
"Though there may be some issues, there are fewer issues than with a fax server," notes Morper. "And it's conceivable that the subject-matter expert will put in the two or three pieces of key information and may be the last human to interact with that document."
Browser-Based Technology Expands VARs' Geographic Coverage
By its very definition, distributed scanning connects sites that could be across the country or potentially across the world. For most VARs, the challenges of providing service and support to numerous sites in a wide geographic area could be prohibitive. "Most imaging VARs make less than $4 million," says Ken Peterka, president and CEO of Captovation, Inc. (Edina, MN). "Even if they landed a deal with lots of remote sites, it would be impossible to manage if they had to send a trained technician around to install and load software." Browser-based scanning and indexing makes distributed capture much easier for the integrator to manage because the application and repository are in a centralized location. Another benefit is that it can be accessed by the end user without installation at individual work stations. With the remote management functions of many applications, the VAR may be able to administer the solution even if it isn't in the same city as the central location.
In addition to opening up deals VARs may have been cut out of previously, distributed scanning can increase hardware sales as well, despite the geographic challenges. "Entry-level scanners can easily be drop-shipped to the various locations," says Peterka. "Try to standardize on one or two models for a particular solution to ease remote support and administration. With USB [universal serial bus] connectivity, many scanners can be installed by the end user, or the end user could at least be talked through the process. A customer can be scanning in 10 minutes."
Using a browser-based solution addresses many of the objections voiced by large corporations about scanning operations and makes it less disruptive to their businesses. "One of our target markets is insurance and allowing third-party agents to use the application to scan and index. When you're looking at a large number of independent agents and possibly thousands of remote sites, traditional licensing just doesn't allow for it," says Peterka. That's on top of the cost of services associated with installations at each site.
According to Peterka, one reason many large businesses didn't buy into imaging in the first place was because they thought it just wasn't logistically possible. Though they never wanted to operate a centralized scanning and capture facility, practical executives recognize potential challenges of providing a unified, interoperable solution across a number of sites. The consistency and ease of administration of a browser-based solution addresses many of those concerns and may bring new prospects.
"One problem with some browser-based solutions is lack of features," warns Peterka. Even if a customer is satisfied with the existing functions provided by a browser-based application, VARs need to be sure to choose products that can offer enhanced features as the user's needs and abilities change.
Education is still one of the biggest challenges facing VARs in delivering distributed scanning solutions. "VARs who lack Internet knowledge and expertise may be missing out on opportunities," says Peterka. Imaging VARs must learn about issues such as configuring Web servers, managing bandwidth and volume from distributed sites, and corporate firewalls.
In its 2002 Corporate Document Imaging Scanning Study, InfoTrends Research Group, Inc. (www.infotrendsrgi.com) found that nearly half of those surveyed were using decentralized scanning in departmental or workgroup environments. Of the nearly 47% who weren't, almost 18% indicated they planned to moved to a decentralized structure to save time, reduce errors, eliminate shipping, and increase efficiency. Among the objections to distributed scanning are the unwillingness to change the status quo, costs of buying new equipment and training employees, image quality, and low scan volumes. VARs who can use the latest technologies to provide those benefits and eliminate the objections could be the market leaders as distributed scanning continues to gain ground.