A Beautiful Life

I learned a lot these past two weeks about living and life….through death, ironically.

I experienced the greatest of the human spirit.  I witnessed the compassion and caring for others.  I saw family come together and forget about long ago differences.  I learned that it’s okay to discuss taboo topics such as death and dying.

My mother-in-law passed away peacefully this morning.

Death and dying is part of the lifecycle.  It doesn’t mean the end if you truly believe in your faith.  It only means that you have left the physical life.  Your spirit is still present and even stronger with those who are left behind.

Some lessons that have been absolutely reinforced with me are the following:

* Be a good person because you only have one chance
* Do not let petty arguments and disagreements linger
* Make decisions and do not regret those decisions
* Make these decisions for the right reasons and be happy with that
*Live life to the fullest – it’s too short
* Leave a legacy
* Help others
* Do for others as you would like them to do for you
* Pay it forward

I cannot express how grateful I am to all the caregivers that have given such great effort these past few weeks.  They have done their jobs with the utmost professionalism.  From the doctors and specialists, to spiritualists and counselors and even the cafeteria workers, parking attendants and janitors.  This really helps renew faith in the human spirit.

I’ve had experience with hospital care previously with other relatives so I’m somewhat familiar with what to expect.  Doctors are there to try and heal people.  The hospital care in this case was simply outstanding and the doctors were terrific about trying to heal with a great deal of attention to detail in  keeping us informed on status.  What, however, I had never experienced was Hospice.

Hospice taught me that the taboo topic of Death is part of life.  It’s okay to talk about this process.  Hospice taught me that dying is just as much about the spirit, if not more, than the physical body.  This experience was about closure.  You probably hear the term ‘closure’ far too often and it probably gets somewhat diluted being overused as it is, but this is true closure.  When you have nothing more to give other than soul; that is closure.  When words seem like little consolation to you, yet mean everything to those who will be leaving; that is closure.  The pain you might feel losing someone is the dying person’s relief so have comfort.  When the dying person is ready, they will go.  Be at peace because they are.  Dying is just a temporary physical departure from each other.  You will have eternity with each other.

bjh

-RIP BJH

Building an effective capture solution – Part 3 of 3 (Storage/Business Policy/Workflow)

Building an effective capture solution – Part 3 of 3 (Storage/Business Policy/Workflow)

 

The real value of capture is realized when the information extracted from images is used within a business process whether this information is used, for example, to kick-off an approval process for expense reports, or this information is a Social Security Number used to retrieve your medical records.  The ‘index values’, ‘metadata’, or ‘tags’ (whatever) you would like to call these extracted keywords help create the workflow that helps make processes more efficient.  After all, an image itself without recognized characters, numbers or words is useless to a computer for knowledge of what information is contained on the document.  It’s the information on the document that is of most importance, not just the image.

These days there are many great storage options for images and metadata captured but not all are created equal.  Below are a few considerations for storage as it directly relates to document capture.

Storage considerations for document capture applications:

  • Does your storage, and image viewer, support well known document formats such as TIFF, PDF, PJEG, DOC, XLS and others as well as emerging formats such as PDF/A or XML?  A universal viewer that supports a wide range of formats is preferable because you never know how requirements might change in the future.  Also, you might want to consider a viewer that allows for annotation, or markup, of images with items such as sticky notes, highlighting or shapes if your process requirements dictate these needs.
  • The capture process is all about extracting metadata from images so, therefore, does your storage provide a metadata framework in which you can store this information to enhance search and retrieval?  Basically this means does the storage provider offer a method to map captured index fields to database storage fields.
  • Security.  Of course security should be a major concern if your information is not intended for public consumption.  While it’s an important issue, in general, if you ensure three simple features of your solution then you will address 80% of potential problems:  (1) Secure disk-wiping of temporarily image files, (2) Encrypt data in motion and (3) Encrypt data at rest.  Of course these are not the only three items to consider but start with these and research other security techniques based on the sensitivity of your information.
supporting_file_formats supporting_metadata encryption

Now that we have covered two of three basic components of ‘Building an effective capture solution’ which included User Experience and Processing and having just outlined some Storage considerations, we should focus on the main theme of these posts and this is the point that ‘Capture begins with process‘.  In other words, and as I stated in the prelude to this series of blog posts, before considering all the technology and architectural options you should careful consider the business process or process workflow first.  Capture does not begin with a scan of a paper or picture of an image from a smart phone, it begins with process.

Below are a few considerations of business applications providers as it relates to document capture specifically:

Business rule considerations for capture:

      • Data Type constraints.  If the field is a ‘Date’ field then restrict the data in this field to only date values.  Or if the field is a ‘Social Security Number’ or ‘Phone Number’, then, naturally, allow only number instead of letters.  Conversely, if the field is a ‘Name’ field then the data type should only allow for letters instead of numbers.
      • One of the greatest ways to ensure business continuity, as well as reduce errors in your document capture solution, is to perform database validation.  In other words, when a particular piece of information, such as a Phone Number, is extracted from a document then a database lookup is executed to match that the Address field corresponds with the Phone Number field.  If it doesn’t, or there are multiple matches, then the capture workflow can automatically send the information to a validation station where a human will verify the correct data.  This helps to achieve the highest level of accuracy.
      • Handling exceptions is a critical, yet often overlooked part of the overall capture strategy.  We all hope our system works 100 percent perfect but this is just not reality for many reasons.  After all, there are a lot of moving parts in these types of solutions:  People, process, hardware, software, client, server, etc.  Be prepared, and actually expect the fact that ‘things’ will happen.  Try and define the possibilities.  For example, if you are automatically classifying documents, expect that the system will have unrecognized documents and be prepared to send those to an exception queue for manual classification.  Consequently this is also a great opportunity to ‘tune’ the system by adding a classification technique to recognize this document type in the future.  It’s an opportunity to create a process to improve the system accuracy over time from an activity that might have been perceived as a negative had exceptions not been considered.
data_type_constraints database_validation

Now that we have discussed some of the high-level concepts of building an effective capture solution, I invite you to dig a bit deeper into specifics of each area of interest to you.  We have many educational articles to supplement each of these three components of a solution including some of the following:

Building an effective capture solution:

Part 1 of 3 (User Experience/Device/Interface):  Network scanningmobilemultistream/color dropout
Part 2 of 3 (Capture/Processing/Transformation):  High resolution scanningforms processingAs a Service
Part 3 of 3 (Storage/Business Policy/Workflow):  SharePointcloud computingtaxonomies/metadata

Finally, if I could leave you with one bit of advice, or wisdom, from my industry experience is that in order to build a highly effective capture solution you should reverse-engineer the solution starting from the process and, ultimately, the choice of device and other considerations should be fairly obvious.  Not device to process.  Start by defining the process then build accordingly.  This will ensure the highest level of success, efficiency and high user adoption.

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capture begins with process_network

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Building an effective capture solution – Part 2 of 3 (Capture/Processing/Transformation)

Building an effective capture solution – Part 2 of 3 (Capture/Processing/Transformation)

 

Implementing capture software technology these days offers many new opportunities that simply were not available just a few short years ago.  Just like other ‘traditional’ on-premise software applications there are now many options to develop advanced technology, yet make the user experience extremely easy and efficient.  In the first of this three part series of blog posts we focused on (User Experience/Device/Interface) and how to properly select the most appropriate hardware capture device and also how to narrow user interface architecture based on the ‘User Experience’.  The point-being was to carefully consider how the technology will be used to make decisions on devices and interface instead of forcing a technology to be used in situations that might be less than optimal for the users themselves.

Disruptive technologies offer great promise

The convergence of mega internet bandwidth, cheaper CPU’s, inexpensive memory, virtualization, web services, mobile, social and cloud (to name a few) allow innovative technology providers, as well as savvy systems integrators to create enterprise class capture solutions without compromise.  Not only are these systems worthy of use within enterprise organizations but this advanced technology, typically previously available only to these large organizations, is now being made available to the masses in small and medium businesses with the Economies of scale:  Cloud processing.  Below is a high-level summary of three possible deployment methods for a capture solution:

 

Deployment methods for capture:

  • On-premise deployment is the method which is most familiar.  This simply means that the capture technology is connected to a capture device usually via a USB cable.  The device could be a scanner, camera, fax machine or even image import.
  • On device capture means that the software capture technology is embedded or part of the overall capture solution.  Basically, the technology is ‘face-less’ and is integrated with some other software.
  • Hybrid is an emerging capture deployment method which is quickly gaining popularity with the emergence of mobile and cloud computing.  This method provides for maximum efficiency and typically the best performance.  Hybrid is a system architecture that is constructed where each component performs some function in the process.  Some of the interesting things that can be accomplished with a hybrid deployment method is that an application can, for example, take a picture of a document with a cell phone camera and perform image enhancement such as crop, deskew and auto-rotate on the phone itself.  Then, on the server-side, perform the rest of the capture process such as classification, data extraction and export.

 

 

One of the next steps in building an effective capture solution is to decide if your organization will utilize off-the-shelf software, create something custom or use capture as a service.  There are many decent off-the-shelf capture applications yet all will need some degree of configuration.  This type of application usage is typically for smaller, less demanding types of requirements.  When customization of a software application is desired, or required, then several capture software vendors offer Software Developer’s Kits, SDK’s or Software Engines.  SDK’s are software tools that allow for software development so these are certainly not an out-of-the-box type solution but it does allow the flexibility to really customize the software application to meet specific organizational requirements.  Last, but not least, is the “As a Service” option for document capture or conversion.  This means that an organize would ‘rent’ or ‘lease’ these services from a provider.  The ‘As a Service’ business model is similar to your internet service provider, cable/satellite TV provider or electricity to your home.  You don’t own any of those services, rather you pay for the services they provide.  Read more here:  Economies of scale:  Cloud processing.  Your choice of usage model for capture should be rather obvious but only after requirements are clearly documented and market research is done to find out what products/services are available.

Types of capture application usage:

  • Capture applications installed from local media has historically been the traditional way in which most organizations integrate capture into their organization.  They will download the software or install from a DVD typically and are generally more generic in their set of features.
  • Software Developer’s Kits (SDK’s) and recognition engines are for Independent Software Vendor’s (ISV’s), savvy Systems Integrators or even end-user organizations to take software tools provided by a vendor to create a new application.
  • Capture/Conversion as a Service is a relatively new concept where a users can upload images directly to a third-party hosted service for processing.  This is especially true in cloud computing scenarios.  In these cases the organization usually doesn’t not buy the software they are using.  Rather they ‘rent’ or ‘lease’ it from the vendor.  This is appealing for many reasons including less initial capital expenditure, reduced time to begin using and no technical staff required for the organization.

 

In summary, more than ever organizations are empowered to build highly effective capture solutions.  With more available options this creates a vendor competitive environment which will help drive innovation, decrease prices to organizations and make advanced technology available to everyone.  Legacy capture software vendors are being forced to innovate new products and services in order to remain relevant.  With internet bandwidth being more and more stable as well as less expensive, it is bringing a new dimension to what, honestly, had become a somewhat stale industry.  Then factor-in cloud applications which have enterprise class functionality available for organizations of all sizes to easily consume and you have a recipe to create Capture/Processing and Transformation to fit precise, not general, business requirements.

 

I invite you to re-visit the introductory post in this series of posts on “Building an effective capture solution” by reading this post on Capture Begins with Process.  Or, I invite you to continue on by reading Part 3 of 3 (Storage/Business Policy/Workflow)“.

Building an effective capture solution – Part 1 of 3 (User Experience/Device/Interface)

Building an effective capture solution – Part 1 of 3 (User Experience/Device/Interface)

 

In this three part series of blog posts I would like to walk you through building a highly-effective, yet extremely agile and surprisingly affordable document capture solution.  Not a piece-part of a solution, rather a complete solution from start-to-finish.

First, before any technology is ever considered the prudent thing to do is to clearly understand the use case for capture.  In other words, think of real world scenarios and carefully consider the user experience of capturing information.  The ultimate success, or failure, of the entire system can depend on whether users themselves feel comfortable with the capture experience.  If the experience is not easy, available at all times or effective then regardless of how fancy the back-end technology is, they will surely resist.

Let me give some examples of use cases and how understanding the user experience first, before considering back-end technology, will help define the proper hardware device for capture:

mobile_scanner_multifunction Use case will determine choice of capture hardware:

  • Imagine the user works in the sales department and receives various Price Lists often with many line items that they must enter into the company’s inventory management system.  In this case a dedicated document scanner is most likely a logical choice of capture device hardware because they are frequently scanning documents.
  • Next, consider the use case scenario of a traveling business person that needs to capture an image and details from an expense receipt.  In this case using a mobile device with a camera is much more convenient and practical because they only need to capture information every-so-often and, of course, a mobile device is portable.
  • Finally, in typical shared office environments where groups of users need to occasionally capture information from business documents then a shared network scanner or multifunction scanning device might be most appropriate.  These devices have higher costs so it’s not practical to put them on everyone’s desk and the size is not reasonable for a desktop.

 

After you determine the proper hardware device based on user experience the next thing you must decide on is how information will be presented to users on the hardware device.  Or, in other words, the User Interface.  There are several options and whether you choose to design your own application or source an existing application a decision should be made wisely.  The implications are tremendous, and in particular when it comes to system maintenance and scalability.

User interface considerations for an effective capture application:

  • An application that is compiled and installed on a computer depending on the developers’ preference of operating system and development environment to create this application.  This is typically one of a few flavors including Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh or Linux.  This approach typically offers the most feature-rich user experience and historically been the most common method to deploy an application.
  • Web-based is a newer, popular method for creating capture applications due to the fact that web browsers are nearly ubiquitous across the various operating systems and devices; especially mobile.  Industry accepted standards such as HTML5 and XML are quite appealing for application development.  This makes supporting the widest variety of devices do-able and thus more attractive from a software development standpoint.
  • Another emerging popular option is to build a highly-effective, and extremely functional, user interface is using a Hybrid approach.  With the Hybrid user interface design this allows a developer to use both the native functions of a hardware device such as the camera on a smart phone or image processing of a scanner, yet still make the application itself open to the widest variety of devices because the application can be run in a web-browser via HTML5, for example.

 

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So, in summary, it’s critically important to take the user experience into account as an important first step in creating an effective capture solution.  Also, making the important decision early-on in your capture system architecture about user interface considerations will enable you to achieve the goals of providing efficient, cost effective tools with the ability to scale-up, or down, when necessary.

I invite you to re-visit the introductory post in this series of posts on “Building an effective capture solution” by reading my post on Capture Begins with Process.  Or, I invite you to continue on by reading Part 2 of 3 (Capture/Processing/Transformation)“.

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