From the August 2007 Issue
I enjoy doing paperless implementations. Although that has to sound odd to some of you who have either struggled with paperless in the past or are in the middle of conversion today, the end result of converting your world into a digital world, and making your culture a paperless one, is very rewarding. The sad news is that we see very few paperless implementations that are done correctly. As with all technologies, there is no one “right” way to do paperless. Rather, there are dozens of right ways to implement the technology and hundreds of wrong ways. Plus, over 300 content management systems are available from which to choose, with approximately 15 products working best for tax and accounting firms.
To do paperless right, certain key features that have a higher return to the business should be considered. Most products offer literally hundreds of features, but I believe the following save the most time and money: 1) OCR, 2) Portal integration, 3) Workflow, 4) E-mail integration, 5) Versioning, and 6) Practice/CRM integration. Does your paperless system have all of these features, and have you implemented all of them?
Soft Copy, Hard Copy & ECM
First, let me suggest a different terminology to speak about paperless. The documents we produce or receive can come in original digital form or “soft copy” or they can come to us in a physical paper form or “hard copy.” Whether the content is hard or soft copy, the idea is to make all content managed electronically. Our business goal is to manage all content for the enterprise regardless of size. Hence, Enterprise Content Management or ECM is the broadest way to speak about managing digital content today.
ECM means we can manage the content regardless of source: productivity software, e-mail, mail or other applications. It is always best to capture content in electronic form since this will be the most clear and accurate rendering of the content. As a last resort, we can convert paper hard copy back to electronic soft copy, and this should comprise no more than about 10 percent of our efforts. So often, people focus on scanning or capture, and they don’t handle the rest of their processes electronically as they should. When documents are captured in electronic form, they are typically about 3,000 characters per page and are searchable by word. On average, hard copy documents converted to soft copy average 23,000 characters per page. By the time soft copy is processed for text recognition and compressed, the average page is 65,000 characters.
Problems with Hard Copy Conversion
When hard copy is being converted, I see several common problems. Among these are the following: 1) using non-production scanners that are slower and don’t handle mixed paper as well, 2) using multi-function devices (MFD) such as copiers or printers to make the scans, and 3) not using pre-production software, such as Kofax VRS, which cleans up and compresses the image. The issues with non-production scanners and MFDs are that the scan settings are almost always set incorrectly resulting in too coarse or too comprehensive of a scan. Scanning at 200 dots per inch (DPI) or in full color at 1200 DPI will produce an image, but it will not be an optimal image. You should consider how you intend to use the images after they are scanned. If you intend to convert the hard copy image to be searchable text with technology known as optical character recognition (OCR), then a pretty good rule of thumb is that original copy must be 600 DPI to resolve 8 point fonts. The common error here is with scanning images that wind up being huge (1,000,000 characters per page instead of 23,000 or 65,000). These unnecessarily large images are then stored in ECM or paperless audit systems, making the resulting files big and slow.