Finding an effective way to enter information into your document management system has been an issue since the inception of the paper scanner. Early on, people searched for a way to streamline the process of scanning and indexing paper documents. Today, however, it is far more reaching than just scanning paper, although for many the issues are the same. How do I efficiently get information into my system?
Let’s begin by looking at the type of information you need to save. We will start with the obvious: paper and electronic documents such emails, pictures, PDF, Word and Excel files. But let’s take it a step further. How about e-forms and the data that is entered on them? Then there is database information and print files from core applications such as an ERP system. And we cannot forget about database information as well.
Since everyone still has paper to contend with, we will start there. Paper scanners have become an essential tool for most people. Whether it is a small scanner on your desktop or a departmental MFP that you walk to, we all have some type of scanner for converting paper to digital form. But what about storing the electronic file into your document management system? For small ad hoc scanning jobs manual data enter may still be the best method for entering the information. But for larger, or more repetitive projects, the use of barcodes may ease the burden of data entry. Barcodes have been used for years for automatically indexing and organizing scanned paper images. If you control the outgoing document, you most likely can use this technique. Barcodes are nothing more than a font that can reside in your word processing program. As an example, many HR departments send out annual employment letters that include items such as wages, benefits, PTO, etc. The employee acknowledges the letter by signing and returning it. Since the letter was produced through the companies HRN system, barcodes can be printed on the form to identify the form type, year and employee name or ID. Once scanned, the capture software reads the barcodes and automatically indexes and files the document without anyone hand keying information from the form.
Another effective option for entering information from documents is Optical Character Recognition or OCR. This technology has the ability to efficiently read both handwriting and machine print. Perhaps you have filled out a rebate or warranty form. Have you noticed the boxes or “combs” that require you to print one character per box? That is for the OCR engine that will read your hand writing and convert it to machine text. By constraining where you can write the software knows where to look to read what you have written.
And then there is smart advanced OCR used for forms such as vendor invoices. In an Accounts Payable process each vendor invoice is different from one another. The software has the ability to recognize who the vendor is, and automatically extract information such as invoice number, date, dollar amount and even the line item detail within the invoice. This can all be accomplished with tremendous accuracy and in far less time than it would take a person to do the work.
Many companies attempt to eliminate the need to scan paper by removing it. Electronic forms or e-Forms allow individuals to complete a form online and submit it. These forms are popular for job applications and flexible benefit reimbursement. What is great about an e-Form is that all of the data that is on the form can be used within a workflow process for intelligently routing the document for approval. It can also be used for analysis and populating databases.
Accurate data entry is critical when saving electronic documents. To insure the highest quality, existing databases can be used for comparing data and adding supplemental information. Using an existing database not only increases the speed of processing information, but it also increases accuracy. Database files are typically easy to access from the host system and to input into you capture software.
The days of scanning and hand keying data are long gone. Today’s technology allows users to quickly and efficiently scan, index and store information.
Jack Arnston is a Principal at The Priton Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.