How to Boost Value of Microsoft Applications with Document Imaging

Many businesses struggle with getting paper-based information into the electronic workflows that are enabled by Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Access and SQL Server. By using document imaging software and multifunction peripherals, knowledge workers can seamlessly and securely integrate paper documents into the electronic workflow. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Ed White explains what IT professionals should know when integrating document imaging software with Microsoft applications.

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When it comes to moving, sharing and managing information throughout the enterprise, Microsoft's Exchange, SharePoint and database applications are core to the fabric of business operations. But many businesses struggle with getting the information that is on paper into the electronic workflows that are enabled by these Microsoft business applications. The best way to address this challenge is by allowing knowledge workers to scan, store, distribute and share paper documents the same way they handle electronic files at their desktop.

The scanning devices most readily available to accomplish this task are multifunction peripherals (MFPs) or copiers. Already used by knowledge workers for printing, copying and faxing, MFPs can be used by anyone in the enterprise to add paper-based documents into business workflows by simply scanning them to a Microsoft application.

There are two problems with this, though. First, Microsoft business applications do not include native support for MFP scanning. Second, MFPs bring additional challenges from an administration and training perspective. Therefore, third-party applications are needed to bridge this gap and add the needed capability. Let's examine some key considerations for enterprise IT professionals to keep in mind when integrating MFP document imaging software with Microsoft applications.

Improving business communications with Microsoft Exchange

Today, companies rely on e-mail applications such as Exchange and Outlook to get business done. It is difficult to imagine a business today without e-mail, as it facilitates collaboration between employees, partners, customers and other stakeholders. Document imaging software can provide this means for paper-based information directly from the MFP.

To be effective, document imaging software must support the same capabilities provided by Outlook on the desktop at the document capture device. These capabilities include the ability to send mail from the authenticated user's personal Exchange account, automatically deliver a copy to the user's Sent Items folder, provide access to the Global Address list, and provide access to the user's personal contacts and lists.

A major issue for IT is that there is no such thing as a "standard" Exchange environment. At one end is a small business environment, where a single server may host Active Directory and Exchange. On the other end of the scale are complex, multiforest environments. Check that any document imaging software considered is flexible enough to handle the requirements of your environment.

Expanding information available through Microsoft SharePoint

Microsoft SharePoint has had a significant impact on how companies look to manage their business. It's popular due to many factors, including its cost of entry, usability and its ability to be extended to incorporate virtually any content and application into an organization's business processes.

SharePoint allows organizations to set up electronic workflows, but most still find paper-based information a necessary part of business processes. This creates an awareness of a "paper problem" or the slow, manual process working in parallel with a SharePoint workflow that's moving at Internet speed.

In today's economy, companies seek to avoid dedicated resources for scanning. Adding document scanning capabilities that are easy for any information worker to use enables the most appropriate individual to capture the document at the most appropriate point in the workflow. It also allows information to be captured more quickly and reliably into SharePoint, where the entire organization can maximize the value of that information.