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.
Integrating Document Imaging with SharePoint
Here are six tips on what to look for when integrating document imaging with SharePoint:
Tip No. 1: Consider capabilities such as optical character recognition (OCR) to create searchable text from the document image-a capability not native to SharePoint. This enables users to search for a document, or content within a document, using character string search to find and retrieve relevant information.
Tip No. 2: Administrators should be able to configure imaging profiles for standard document types that can be tailored to the required level of user input. Indexing of documents needs to be configurable to suit the workflow, leveraging various techniques including data extraction (such as zonal OCR), user entry or predefinition based on the workflow.
Tip No. 3: Document scanning software is more powerful if it has real-time integration with SharePoint, essentially bringing the SharePoint client to the MFP. It makes it possible to immediately notify users while they are at the device that the document has been saved. This reduces the need for handling exceptions and improves productivity by enabling collaboration and workflows to proceed immediately.
Tip No. 4: Security and user authentication through Active Directory enables access control and a complete audit trail by storing the document based on the user rather than the device.
Tip No. 5: Consider the impact of any third-party, server-side modules. It is beneficial when document imaging software communicates with the server through a Web interface, maintaining zero footprint on the server, reducing testing requirements and risk. This can be critical if you are planning to use hosted SharePoint services.
Tip No. 6: Document library structures and scalability are often overlooked-until it becomes a problem. While document imaging solutions can build a content taxonomy to improve scalability, the best practice is to take a holistic approach to address the issue across your entire SharePoint environment, for any content from any source. Establish rules and processes to manage content based on business logic.
Integrating Scanning Apps with Office Access and SQL Server
Integrating scanning apps with Office Access and SQL Server
Most organizations have many business processes and applications that utilize Microsoft Office Access or SQL Server as their database. Whether it is ERP, CRM, e-commerce, accounting or any other business application, it can be advantageous to tie the document imaging solution into their databases. This can be done to validate metadata, set relationships between information or to store content directly into these systems.
An imaging solution should provide simple configuration tools to query tables, and present the information in a manner that maintains the integrity of the database while being intuitive to the user. Administrators should be able to expose to the user selectable values from a data source that can be stored in another data source, enabling disparate systems to be leveraged through document imaging. Understanding the relationships of this information is key, and having software that is flexible enough to support such relationships without the need for programming is critical.
The user experience must also be considered. Users must be able to easily select values and save records, or append existing records while at the MFP. Once a document is scanned, it needs to be stored and accessible through the applications that leverage the databases. The user also needs to receive immediate confirmation that the job was done successfully and the scanned image is available.
Putting it all together
One of the most important considerations for any solution is how easy it is for users to use and incorporate it into how they work. The scanning software needs to handle complex activity transparently and consistently. If it does, then users can perform their tasks without the need for additional training. This enables users to store document images and related content in the proper locations, where it is then exposed in real time in the business applications they use.
Any organization can successfully maximize the value of investments in Microsoft applications by including document imaging, as long as they consider these important elements. By doing this, organizations ultimately can achieve greater operational efficiency and business effectiveness, eliminating the “paper problem” from their work processes.
Ed White is the Software Alliance Development Manager for eCopy, Inc. Ed is an experienced software and product manager for the IT industry. As an AIIM ECM certified professional, Ed is versed in enterprise strategies, technologies and solutions for managing content, as well as in governance structure and integration techniques for managing information assets. Previously, Ed served as a product manager for eCopy (managing integrations with partner software applications) and as a software solution specialist within the Ricoh sales channels.
Prior to his roles at eCopy, Ed held several positions at Aerovox Corp. in engineering and marketing management. Ed holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Ed also holds a Master’s Degree from Bentley College where he specialized in marketing, with concentrations in IT and management information systems. He can be reached at EWhite@eCopy.com.