Welcome to the digital age

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The paperless office has still not really arrived. Ironically, the real effect of computerization has probably been to create more paper output than ever before. However, this is changing. There is a great deal happening at the moment in the area of automated invoicing systems and signs of other applications that will benefit from the latest document processing capabilities.


OCR software recently launched onto the market from software manufacturers such as Paradatec and Neurascript can read unsorted documents in their original format, whatever that may be, and includes the capability to read numeric tables. This makes it eminently suitable to read invoices, prior to routing them automatically into a workflow system.


The accounts department is also an ideal candidate for automation, for another reason; the fact that so much of its activity is purely routine data entry and clerical work. With many businesses under pressure to cut costs, projects are driven by the need for efficiency and users are looking for a swift payback. Document imaging systems are reducing routine clerical work and are delivering exactly this kind of bottom line benefit.


One company that has just converted its processing of accounts payable is BUPA Hospitals of which has just installed Prosar-AIDA from Paradatec, as part of a complete solution provided by systems integrators Digital Vision.  Having identified the pinch points in their business process, the company was seeking a more efficient way to process its invoices but was not entirely happy with the option of outsourcing the process, We decided that we could maintain much better relations with our suppliers if we managed the work ourselves, said John Brazell, Head of Finance and Information Systems for BUPA Hospitals, Ownership of the work makes a great difference to the quality of the work performed. BUPAs new invoicing system is delivering consistently accurate results already, only weeks after the project was completed and is on target to deliver a payback in 10 months.


On the continent, where wages for clerical work are relatively higher than in the UK, the Germans have taken the concept furtherto create fully automated digital mailrooms where all of the mail arriving for a company in the morning is read and captured by intelligent OCR that will also route it to its destination department for processing. While UK users may find it difficult to believe that this is feasible, corporate companies in Germany have at least 30 such installations, and many of these have been operational for as long as six years.


Analysts looking at the UK market for automated mailrooms predict that the post room could be the next department of our companies that can feasibly be automated. This could be a major business opportunity for systems integrators. In a recent technology review, the Butler Group commenting on the market potential for the scanning products that make this possible concludes that they would be beneficial to organizations with high volumes of paper-based documents of many types, with a need to process them with speed and accuracy.


Commenting on the changeover to these new systems, the Butler Group report says: When implementing an automated document identification OCR system, business procedures will need to change The resources previously allocated to manual pre-scanning batch preparation will no longer be required and the manual correction and indexing will no longer be paper-based. Workflow systems can be implemented to handle the distribution of the scanned images.


The role for the reseller in all this will be to work with the user as they re-engineer their business processes and to assist them as they define their business requirements in terms of software modules from various sources with rules and decisions and interfaces, to deliver automated solutions that really work.


Many software manufacturers are dependent upon integrators to perform this role for them and are looking to build relationships with channel partners that have expertise in specific market sectors. Gary Hodkinson of Paradatec, supplier of OCR software to BUPA Hospitals, says, Our expertise lies in writing the advanced software that makes this intelligent reading of documents possible. We never sell directly to end-users, we rely totally upon working with partners who have the detailed knowledge of the business sectors where our products are used. They need to be capable of leading the users through the changeover process until their system is fully operational.

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