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Successfully Deploying Document Imaging Systems

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A successful document imaging project is much more than just installing scanners, software, and/or hardware. For a project to be successful, meticulous research into a company's business process and effective strategizing must be conducted prior to implementation. This ensures that a company's business process will truly benefit from the solution and that employees will quickly embrace the new technology. Organizations that skip this essential—but sometimes lengthy—planning phase will inevitably be plagued by the common pitfalls prevalent in most technology implementation projects:

  • Lack of understanding of what the problem in the business process really is
  • Resistance from users on changing the way they usually do things
  • System integration issues
  • Short-term focus, sacrificing long-term viability
  • Limited, undefined, and misunderstood scope
  • Missed deadlines

Not surprisingly, the Standish Group Chaos Report of 2004 found that 53% of software projects were "challenged" or had difficulty meeting their goals, 18% failed, and only 23% were successful. Additionally, other analyst firms, such as Gartner and Forrester, have concurred with these findings, revealing that very few IT projects end up seeing the light of day.

Document imaging projects are not an exception and in fact are much more susceptible to failure. This is because "changes" are usually implemented companywide and affect the very core of the business process. Combine this with software and hardware implementation issues, user training, integration with business systems, new rules and exceptions, and different handling situations, and it is easy to see why document imaging projects are not only challenging but are usually doomed to failure.

The good news is that companies can steer clear of the "implementation drama," while easily avoiding common pitfalls. However, for this to happen, project leaders must have a firm grasp of the basic tenet of document imaging—namely, that the focus should be not on the technology, but rather the business process itself.

It's Not About the Technology

Most technical implementations fail not because of the technology per se, but because the needs and desires of the business user community were not taken into account. As a result, it is vital that project leaders listen intently to their business users as a prerequisite, especially where information is interconnected to legacy and leading applications that keep track of all facets of the business process. This ensures that document imaging projects are successfully addressing real-time problems and not creating more obstacles for users in the future.

Additionally, project leaders should take into account the role of each department in the business process, while taking note of the way departments are interconnected and the large amount of information they share on a daily basis. In the past, document imaging projects were specific to a single department, but trial and error has shown that successful document imaging projects provide a technical infrastructure capable of carrying an enterprisewide imaging solution.

Let us take as an example the procurement-to-pay process. Departments involved in this part of the business process may include IT, Purchasing, Receiving, and Accounts Payable. Each has an intrinsic part in how paper gets from the mailroom to its final resting place in a filing cabinet. A document imaging project leader should successfully determine what role each department has in this process, while at the same time determining what kinds of papers are being processed (invoices, purchase orders, etc.), how documents are filed and stored (e.g., by customer name or number, invoice number, etc.), and how documents travel inside or outside of the company. Project leaders will also find that once users are tapped for information, more and more important facets of the business process will come to light. It is only after this information is gathered and understood that efforts should be put in determining what type of technology is needed.

After the research phase, a detailed "business design" should be created that will identify or define the following key elements:

  • The current business process, business goals, a proposed design, and the way it will change or modify the current business process
  • What role each department will have in the implementation project and who the contact in the department should be
  • An overall project leader responsible for keeping the project moving forward
  • Implementation milestones
  • A project sponsor responsible for serving as a liaison between project leaders and the company's executive body

While this plan, or blueprint, may take sometime to research and create, it will ensure that all parties are kept informed and have the opportunity to voice their opinion. Most importantly, it will ensure a successful document imaging project.

Common Problems

It is important to distinguish between masking a problem versus eliminating
a problem. Many software/hardware solutions tackle the problem but not the cause; therefore, the problem continues to come up endlessly. As a result, it is important that not only are project goals identified, but also it is understood why changes are being implemented. Common problems many organizations may want to resolve include these:

  • Too much paper bogs down the process and makes it difficult to respond to customer inquiries.
  • Too many file cabinets result in lost physical space and added expenses for document retrieval.
  • It takes too much time and costs too much to find information.
  • Distributed offices make it challenging to share documents.
  • A need exists for increased security in accessing information.
  • Industry/government regulations must be adhered to.
  • Too many unintegrated systems make it difficult to distribute documents.
  • The company can't take advantage of vendor discounts because of the time required to process payments.
  • The approval process is cumbersome and time-consuming.

Identify Goals and Requirements

Identifying goals and requirements is the key component to a successful document imaging project plan. It is important to have consensus among all team members what the goals and requirements will be. This will help define the scope of the project, while keeping everyone focused. Here are some examples of goals:

  • Eliminate paper-based retrieval.
  • Provide immediate access to purchasing through A/P-related documents
  • Streamline workflow and exception-handling processes.
  • Provide an automated audit trail to meet regulations.
  • Reduce people costs/time.
  • Eliminate off-site storage.
  • Provide greater longevity for your documents.
  • Make more space available.
  • Take full advantage of A/P discount opportunities in a more timely manner.
  • Consolidate Accounts Payable operations in one single office, eliminating redundant processes at other locations.
  • Utilize immediate access to all POs, requisitions, receiving documents, and invoices for better, timely, accurate information.
  • Provide access to all authorized users at any location from their workstation.
  • Electronically capture invoices and POs when they arrive at the company and use electronic workflow for approval and GL coding.
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for multiple copies of certain documents.
  • Reduce the labor expense for processing POs and Requisitions (printing, copying, filing, document research, etc.).
  • Reduce the mailing and shipping costs associated with delivery of customer records to and from remote locations.
  • Reduce the time and work effort for audits with imaged documents.

The Technical Design

Another important aspect of the planning phase is to document the technical design. This helps solidify ideas, goals, and analysis, while giving individuals an opportunity to review the technical design as a whole. Additionally, this process ensures that each person is aware of what exactly he/she will be held accountable for.

The technical design should answer the key questions of the underlying foundation of the paperless implementation. Essentially, it serves as a blueprint that will guide the technical aspects of the project. In other words, while the business design answers the "what," the technical design answers the "how."

Team members responsible for creating this document must go back to the process identified in the business design and fill in the technical details. By thinking through a technical lens, team members must investigate how available technology can be used to achieve business goals and what requirements must be met to successfully implement the identified technology. This process will not only elicit important questions regarding the technological infrastructure, but also will prevent major integration problems.

Calculate ROI

The ROI justifies to all stakeholders of the company, especially those making the decision to go forward with the proposed imaging solution, that it is worth the risk. The RO I numbers can also serve as metrics against which the project will be measured. Used as measures of success, they clearly illustrate whether the solution is delivering on its promise.

For a document imaging solution, the ROI is broken in two major categories: hard and soft savings.

Hard savings:

  • Reduction in personnel
  • Reduction in operating costs (photocopying, postal mailing, courier services)
  • Reduction in infrastructure costs (sell a building, remove filing cabinets, etc.)
  • Increase in productivity, measured by man hours saved not handling paper (standing at fax machine, looking for lost or misplaced files, etc.)
  • Increase in cash flow (taking advantage of vendor discounts, being able to invoice earlier, etc.)

Soft savings:

  • Improved customer service (higher customer satisfaction)
  • Better and faster access to information
  • Faster internal communications

One of the best ways to fully capture the ROI is to understand what the current costs are and identify how much you will save by implementing a paperless solution. In fact, most companies are surprised to see how much money they are actually spending on document management tasks. Take into account the following figures reported by the Gartner Group.

  • Knowledge workers spend 20% of their time on document management tasks.
  • The average document is copied, either physically or electronically, nine to 11 times at a cost of about $18.
  • Documents cost about $20 each to file.
  • Retrieving a misfiled document costs about $120.

A good ROI for a document imaging opportunity is Accounts Payable (A/P). All invoices and other payable-related documents lead to A/P, thus making it one of the most paper-heavy departments in a company. As a result, it's not a bad idea to start your imaging project in the A/P department and then extend to others.

Other paper-heavy departments that will benefit greatly from a document imaging solution include customer service and human resources.

Moving Forward

To recap, it is important that all pertinent users from all collaborative departments be involved in implementing the document imaging project. This will provide project leaders with a more holistic understanding of how things are being done at present and what problems are prevalent in the business process. It will also help project leaders identify the costs associated with the current process and estimate what the overall ROI will be. It is also important to have a detailed project plan that documents your findings, goals, technical design, and requirements. This will not only help identify the concrete obstacles the business process faces, but also help in identifying and achieving goals that the entire team can agree upon.

The most critical factor in ensuring a successful project, however, is to always keep in mind that paperless or imaging projects are more than just technology. As a result, it is imperative that you select a solution provider that can help your company create your business and technical designs or that you use your business and technical designs to choose a solution provider. Beware of those who say you don't really need this. Project management is vital to any successful implementation, and there is no way to avoid the planning phase without putting your project in jeopardy.

Kurt Wachtendorf is Director of Solution Sales at Quadrant Software. Kurt is a Certified Document Imaging Architect (CDIA+) with over 15 years of experience in Paperless Process Management (PPM). Having been personally involved in the sales, design, and implementation of turn-key solutions for customers in virtually every industry, Kurt is a frequent speaker on topics involving the application of technology to business issues.

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