Reliable digital scanners have brought document image processing applications to mainstream business. Advocates say document image capture can prod- uce significant productivity benefits in its own right.
As the data-capture front-end to a workflow process, document image processing is changing the work culture of some companies. For example, the Consumers? Association, publishers of the ?Which?? reports, uses scanning technology to speed up the process of reading and analysing survey questionnaires.
Gan Insurance has also implemented a scanning system to deal with the flood of paper its business generates. This means that claims staff do not have to spend time looking for paper files and so are free to concentrate on customers? needs.
BUPA International is looking closely at document image capture, and plans to assess its benefits before moving to a complete workflow implementation.
Phil Ellis, director of consultancy company Cambridge Technology Partners, says that one of the most useful features of document image processing is what can be done after the images have been captured.
He cites the store credit card as a prime example. ?If you cannot make the monthly payment on a purchase from Debenhams or Dixons, for example, the worst thing you can do is ignore the bill,? he says.
He explains that the processing for most store credit-card transactions is carried out by one or two specialist companies. And most of the processing is done using document images captured in the store when the customer signs the creditcard form.
Ellis says that, in the past, most records were stored on microfiche, and it used to take a day to request and receive a specific document. So the cost of a search was a drawback. It is now easier for card operators to chase non-payers using the contact details and other information on the database, such as the customer?s bank or next-of-kin.
Subject: Consumers? Association
Activities: produces consumer surveys
Uses: to analyse survey results more efficiently
The Consumers? Association has installed document scanning to help with the analysis of its survey results. The company uses a software package which has been tailor-made by data image specialists Formic, to automatically capture the results of its consumer surveys.
Surveys such as Holiday Which? can generate up to 75,000 responses from members, eager to benefit from fellow holidaymakers? experiences of tour operators. Members fill in the questionnaire and return it to the CA?s survey centre in Hertfordshire.
Leslie Sopp, head of the CA?s survey centre, explains: ?Scanning is used to read the survey results, replacing the old system of manual coding of questionnaires.? Sopp says that capturing survey responses automatically cuts down the number of steps from raw data to completing the finished report that appears in the magazine.
?In this way, the analysts just have to edit the results and input the analyses,? says Sopp, ?they don?t need to alter the code labels or the text of the questions. It?s seamless.? The results also go into a database that can be referred to in the future for further analysis.
?You don?t have to go back to the specification writer,? says Sopp ?a researcher does it on screen. When we publish the magazine, we always get queries from tour operators and the media ? the database is interrogated as needed.?
Despite the advantages of the new procedure, the CA had considerable teething problems. This was partly due to the pressure it was working under to get the Holiday Which? survey published, but also because the questionnaires had to be scanned.
?When we started, we had the biggest scanner on the market,? Sopp says. ?It was a workhorse, but not as reliable as I would have liked ? the roller mechanism was not as efficient as it should have been. It did not like certain types of paper which, for a scanner, is absurd. We have now bought a second scanner, a Fujitsu which, so far, is working like a dream.?
The CA first introduced scanning for the 1994 Holiday Which? survey to meet tight publishing deadlines. Sopp says: ?It was the only way we could mail the questionnaire in September and publish in January?.
Sopp claims that the Formic package is flexible and gives CA?s researchers the scope to design survey questionnaires with the respondents in mind, rather than just for the analysis specification.
?We tested other character recognition systems,? says Sopp ?but they were all hardware-driven. Formic is software- driven, and the forms are more user- friendly. People still have to mark boxes, but they don?t have to completely shade them in for the answers to register.?
The CA?s original investment in the technology was about #30,000 for the software, new PCs and scanner. It has since bought another scanner and paid for further software development.
Sopp expects a payback period of around five years. A shorter time span for processing surveys means there is scope to carry out analysis work for external clients.
Because of the improved productivity, the survey team does not need to employ temporary staff during busy periods. According to Sopp this has resulted in a saving worth about #50,000 a year. It also means that permanent staff can concentrate on more skilled jobs.
Subject: Gan Insurance UK
Activities: personal, motor and household insurance
Uses: to improve customer service
The direct insurance market has led conventional insurers such as Gan to win business by providing incomparable levels of service to customers through their brokers. Birmingham-based Gan is using document image processing and workflow to help deliver that service.
Jacci Taylor, manager of the personal lines claims group at Gan in Birmingham, says: ?Our business is about brokers. They are our lifeblood, our shop window. They bring us business because of good service. No one wants to pay a premium ? until they have a claim. Then, if they receive good service, they might just choose Gan again.?
The document image and workflow project followed a move to centralisation five years ago, which Taylor believes could have had disastrous results. She explains that Gan had operated through a countrywide network of self-sufficient branch offices, each with its own administrative setup. The centralisation of underwriting and claims departments made sense, but the integration effort put a strain on keeping the workload flowing.
?It was not efficiently managed,? says Taylor ?and there was complete mayhem. It jeopardised all the goodwill that existed with the brokers.? Gan had some ground to make up and decided that systems and processes were a priority. ?Our concerns were chiefly with the broker,? says Taylor. ?We had to prove we were not just another ?can?t find the file? insurance company.?
The company began searching for a solution in 1992. Taylor says: ?We found that most organisations were just promoting document imaging as a file-and-retrieval mechanism. But it was obvious that workflow was more important than just capturing images.?
Gan eventually opted for a Viewstar system supplied by EDS. The company wanted to use the system to get rid of all paper in the claims department. This would allow staff to focus on customers rather than files.
When customers contact Gan?s personal claims department, their file is electronically retrieved, and archived only when the claim is settled.
Before implementing the system across the company, Gan selected groups of users to test the technology. ?By piloting the system, we were able to show basic images to staff so they could see, touch and smell the technology,? says Taylor. ?We kept asking the user teams: ?What would you do? What would you cut out?? Their opinions counted because this was the way they did things, and the technology was supposed to meet their needs.?
The new system had to cope with big folders. A single folder could contain anything up to 25 documents, each with up to 40 pages. Moving such a mass of information around led to unacceptable response times on the system, until staff dealing with the largest files were provided with upgraded PCs.
The Viewstar system captures 7,000 images and messages daily, most of which are indexed and routed through the claims administration centre.
Incoming documents are matched with existing claims files, which saves staff having to do a lengthy manual correspondence match. The matched mail is routed to the relevant staff member?s desktop PC for processing, while managers can monitor progress and reallocate work if necessary.
According to Taylor, the system has helped eliminate the ?can?t find the folder? syndrome, because enquiries from customers can be retrieved instantly.
Subject: BUPA International
Activities: medical insurance
Uses: to manage an increasing volume of paper-based business
With business increasing, medical insurance specialist BUPA is addressing the perennial problem faced by insurance companies ? that of managing large volumes of paper.
BUPA International is responsible for all the company?s non-UK business. The Brighton-based office handles claims from expatriate customers, as well as the business of BUPA companies in Ireland, Spain and Hong Kong which is not administered locally.
Seventy per cent of incoming paper is connected with claims. These come from individual members and group schemes. Letters and faxes are passed from the post room to customer service staff who make sure they are valid and contain all the supporting documentation. Claims then have to be authorised at the appropriate level before they are paid.
Suzanne Diment, manager of system replacement at BUPA International, says the company has decided to introduce a new system in order to handle the increasing volume of incoming and outgoing documents.
?We?ve investigated the technology and know where we are going?, says Diment. ?We will buy scanning software at the lower end of the market, then integrate and customise some of it ourselves. We want to capture document images in the post room before passing them to customer service staff.?
Diment expects BUPA to use the Watermark software supplied by Filenet, one of the largest providers of workflow systems. ?But we will only be able to put a full cost-benefit business case together when we have discussed the situation with the software distributors,? she stresses.
In general, Diment is maintaining a cautious approach. ?I?m not convinced that spending a fortune on document image processing is the right way forward,? she says. ?I hope that the first phase will not cost more than around #200,000. That will buy a decent scanner, two large scanning stations for the post room and the software for integration. But that does not include the PCs ? we already have those.?
Before making a final decision, however, the BUPA team hopes to visit rival health insurance company WPA which runs the Watermark software in its award-winning workflow system. BUPA has also commissioned a project to help finalise its plans, working with specialist consultants Text Systems.
Diment wants to see early results from the document image work before replacing the current administrative systems and adopting a full workflow implementation. She questions the value that another rival, PPP, is seeing from its combined document image and workflow project, which is based on Viewstar.
Diment understands that PPP has spent around #6.5m on the project over the past three years, and says she is not totally convinced the company will reap the benefits from its investment.
According to Diment, BUPA wants a system which can benefit customer service, particularly for staff who are responsible for dealing with clients on the phone. Currently, she says, they have to leave their desk to look up a file, read it, go back to the desk, and then maybe read the file again. ?It?s just a nightmare,? adds Diment.
With the new system, staff can call up the image on screen and respond to queries immediately ? even those regarding company schemes which may involve long lists of questions for group members.
But Diment also expects tangible savings on staff costs as a result of the change to document image processing. She anticipates the system will enable the company to contain the growth in staff that the increase in business would otherwise justify.
?If we get rid of paper files,? says Diment ?we?ll make space for eight people.? That could mean postponing the expense of expanding into another floor of the office block.
Document image processing lessons:
1 Before making a decision, look at the entire business process. Are the document images the end in themselves, or a front-end to a workflow system?
2 Set clear targets to measure improvements in service levels, such as speed of response to customers.
3 Match document indexing to organisational structure. For example, decisions on making payments can be made more efficiently by indexing documents so they are passed to the appropriate management level for approval.
4 Involve staff in testing the new system to make sure it meets their needs, as well as those of the business as a whole. Ask them what they would leave out.
5 Choose a software-driven package for flexibility of design.
6 Consider specialist advice from consultants or software distributors.
7 Arrange visits to companies in your line of business to see how they are using the type of system you are considering implementing.
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