From input to output to input

Parallel worlds: Many companies still keep input and output management separate – organizationally and technologically. Inconsistent data management is typical, like when different terms are used for one and the same thing. Some departments call it a “customer number” and others a “reference,” necessitating elaborate data mapping to merge documents into one and same process.

The activities associated with processing incoming (input management) and outgoing (output management) mail are similar both organizationally and technically and are thus eminently combinable. Think of the convenience. Say a mobile provider receives a customer’s cancellation notice. It is automatically captured, indexed, forwarded for proper review and approval, and archived. In turn, archiving triggers the confirmation (including formatting, conversion, and metering) and delivery over the customer’s preferred channel (output management).

In principle, this type of inbound-outbound communication could be represented as a workflow in a system, provided that the interfaces to the upstream and downstream applications are correctly set. It would be easy to incorporate high-powered scanners into the process for digital read-out of image data and use of different communications processes, such as creating and sending electronic identity documents.

Data unites worlds

The fact is that IT-supported connection of input and output management offers several benefits for customer communication – shorter processing times, lower costs, and better control of compliance with company-internal service level agreements (SLAs) with respect to delivery schedules and response times. It’s only logical that the two worlds of documentation processing should grow closer, especially because input and output management share many technical components, such as the archive system.

What links the two together, of course, is the raw data in the document. Optical character recognition (OCR) is typically used to read out the data, which then proceeds through the entire document processing cycle. Take the previously mentioned customer confirmation as an example. The data would just need to be retrieved, possibly enhanced with additional data, and then formatted based on the corporate identify (CI). It would then be forwarded automatically to the delivery center.

So much for the theory. In actuality, most companies split input and output processing. What a waste of resources! Certainly personal sensitivities play some role in maintaining this divide. No one likes to relinquish turf. But this “rift” is senseless for reasons of cost and quality.

One platform for all processes

The goal must be to create a central instance for managing data. From there the data is made available for the different applications. It’s no accident that companies in the USA now have a chief data officer (CDO) who is exclusively responsible for data gathering and processing. Because regardless of how a document is received or sent, the data is and remains the same on the input and output end. But there’s more – process logic needs to be standardized (including plausibility checks).

The organizational and technological foundations must also be laid to support the coexistence of screen-based (web) and physical (paper) documents, because both will continue to be used in customer communication for some time to come. Different IT systems should not determine a customer’s preference to conduct business over the web or on paper. Both worlds, input/output management and web applications, must be integrated into an overall architecture.

To offer customers a number of alternatives for handling the same business transaction – whether filling out an HTML input screen, an interactive PDF file, or a paper form – uniformity is required, first by breaking free from the standard page format. In most companies, that means shifting responsibilities. Input and output management need to apply their document processing competencies to Web development, or even make the latter a separate organizational unit. Finally, document capture, processing and output must be done on a single platform.

Interconnection brings a high degree of automation

In other words, document processing should not be tied to form (paper, PDF, web) in future, but to the processes and the data. However, this requires that the company restructure its existing workflows. Issues that need consideration include:

  • standardization of rules, such as releases and signatures in interactive processes (who may sign what, approve payment, respond, etc.). By way of clarification, releasing an invoice (input management) is really nothing more than an “OK to print” (output management).

  • clear definition of interfaces between automation and manual intervention.

  • linking the existing and previously separate applications for input and output processing in an effort to achieve the highest level of automation possible.

The resulting new structures can then be implemented using appropriate solutions for integrated input and output management.The growing number of input and output channels (print, secure mail, web portals, mobile end devices, social media) needs to be considered, and their interdependencies precisely defined and managed.

Once the new workflows are refined with the appropriate logic (rules, text/syntax modules), business process management (BPM) is already in place. This principle goes far beyond combining input and output management; it marks the beginning of a new era in document processing.

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