Central Rendition Service: Clean Up Your Data!
From John P. Lynch, VP of Technology and GM Compart NA
Digitalization here, digitalization there. There's talk of nothing else, especially in document and output management. Considering all the hype surrounding this topic, you would think we would be awash in success stories. But nothing could be further from the truth. It starts with a basic understanding of how digitalization really works. Many companies believe that capturing incoming documents electronically lays the necessary foundation for a digital transformation. Their motto? "Just a little scanning, no problem!"
But one thing is clear: creating an image of e-mail and attachments destroys information. You can't extract metadata from a "dead" image format, and it's the metadata you need for automatic downstream processing.
But that is just one aspect. Strictly speaking, many companies simply do not have the technological foundation to digitally transform their document processing. As a company, how do I automate my processes from end to end, from incoming to outgoing mail, without a central control instance? So much for the data.
In reality, many companies are only just beginning to standardize their document production. Media discontinuity, redundancies, and decentralized data management abound.
Most companies understand they need a data hub. But the reality is different. Batch-produced documents may be archived, for example, but without meaningful metadata.
Mergers and acquisitions leave large companies with extremely heterogeneous IT structures. Not only are there multiple archiving systems running simultaneously and asynchronously, but frequently they are "dinosaurs." The stored documents are in formats so outdated that extracting the data needed for further processing is a real chore.
And then there's the good percentage of documents that are archived decentrally, i.e., stored locally on a processor's computer or a field agent's notebook. That's not central data management; it's chaos. Bits of information are often stored in CRM applications, others in ERP or archiving systems. In light of this situation, how can you possibly produce a reliable analysis of document processing? There's no way to seamlessly track the communications history with a customer including all the correspondence.
Scanning without metadata is old school
All in all, this is a poor prognosis for universal automation. Particularly in the financial, energy supply, and public administration sectors, the burgeoning volume of communications makes automatic processing of as many documents as possible extremely attractive.
Digitalization in document and output management requires dealing with the data first. The goal is to create a control center for standardized archiving. That means storing documents uniformly, centrally, and in a searchable format.
It is no longer enough to just scan a piece of correspondence and then store it as an image file. It's all about intelligent documents enriched with structural information. In a perfect world, they would also be barrier-free in accordance with the PDF/UA WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standard. As of this year, barrier-free documents are mandatory for government agencies, so companies may as well start tackling the job, too.
But setting up a central archiving instance is by no means the end of the story. Consistent metadata records must also be made available. Only this type of database forms the necessary foundation for standardized, automatic processes – from incoming document processing to output management. It is virtually the bedrock without which any attempt at digital transformation in document processing is doomed to fail.
The following illustrates this perfectly. Until recently, the individual businesses of a well-known insurance company archived all their documents separately and in different formats (AFP, PDF, PDF/UA, etc.). The situation came about due to acquisitions of competitors.
Today, however, an enterprise-wide, central conversion platform is in place. The result: All documents generated and received in the company are, without exception, archived centrally in a consistent format, namely PDF/UA. Insurance customers can download a desired document from the company's web portal onto their PC, and the document is reconverted (on the fly) as needed for on-screen display.
Central and standardized conversion is a start
It's often the baby steps that lead to success. Central and standardized conversion (rendition service) can be a start. What is needed is a smart, unforced strategy that first identifies the points with the greatest optimization potential. Selecting the right IT technology makes sense only after the fundamental questions regarding archiving format, workflows, and permissions are resolved. In any case, a rendition service as described above is a viable solution approach for a sound digital foundation.