New York City and Empire State Building

New York – October 2010

Empire State Building

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Stanford football

Stanford Cardinal vs. Washington State Cougars college football game – October 2010

Stanford won but it was a lot closer than expected.  Great seats – 2nd row!

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A “cloudy” future for document capture

Hearing a phrase such as “cloudy future” immediately conjures up bad thoughts and gloom-and-doom scenarios.  However, in the case of document capture “cloud computing” is bringing extremely positive change.  In this post I would like to break down the basic components of “cloud computing” and explain how document capture into “the cloud” is appealing for several reasons including scalability, interoperability and usability.  Simply put, the “cloud” = Infrastructure + Content + Users.  Using cloud computing is not magical or mysterious, yet it is a topic of great discussion and, might I say, confusing. Accessing data “in the cloud” is not too unusual from what most of us do every day;  E-mail, accessing web sites or even contributing scanned images to an ECM system.  While I don’t want to dive too deep into the general benefits and appeal of cloud computing, in each of the sections below I hope to describe a unique way in which utilizing the cloud as it relates to document capture and ECM can be beneficial for organizations of all sizes.



Existing Internet Infrastructure

Probably the easiest understood component in “Cloud Computing” is the existing infrastructure that most of us are familiar using with whether we consciously know it or not.  The fact of the matter is that data still needs to reside on a computer server somewhere.  In other words, it’s not technically stored in some magical cloud.  This data still needs to be hosted somewhere on high-powered servers.  Typically in a data center with a climate controlled temperature, backup generators in case of power outage and high security.Ever use Hotmail.com for e-mail?  Or, browse to www.KevinNeal.com using your internet browser?  Access your Blackberry messages on your handheld device?  These are all examples of hosted applications.  What is somewhat unique about hosted “cloud” applications, as opposed to traditionally hosted applications, is that at their core most cloud applications offer industry standard communication protocols to enable a wide range of open interoperability.  Basically it’s two completely different systems talking the same language.  To illustrate my point let’s use the HTTP protocol as an example.  What was probably the single most reason for the explosive growth of the internet over the past few decades?  It most likely was the fact was that two systems (your computer) and a web site (hosted/server application) had a common language to communicate by the means of an internet browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Chrome.  Look at the top of this web page you are viewing now.  See the “http://” prefix before the KevinNeal.com address?  This is an example of you accessing hosted information via the HTTP protocol and using advanced technology that was completely transparent to the you as the user. 

To over simplify things, my point is that cloud computing is really nothing more than a collection of many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of applications available on the internet.  The truly powerful concept of cloud computing and what has peaked the interest among users and vendors alike is the opportunity to “mash-up” or bring together the best-of-breed technologies from various sources to build powerful applications.  As it relates to document capture, many organizations are considering “cloud” for their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, Customer Relation Management (CRM) portal or even their Enterprise Content Management (ECM) repositories.  Scanning documents, with relevant metadata data extracted using document capture technology, into these various systems helps drastically improve efficiency.



Content Creation

There is an unbelievable amount of content available in the cloud.  Believe it?  Anything you can access over the internet whether it be public content or private content should be considered part of the available cloud-content.  What information an organization chooses to include as their available content is certainly up to their specific requirements but do not underestimate the value of these resources.  From a document capture and ECM perspective, the most valuable content to businesses and organizations, of course, is their intellectual properties and not just random data found doing an internet search.  Specifically, this could be their internal customer contacts, an accounts receivable database or their inventory management system.  All of this data is unique to the organization and the value of sharing among other employees and/or other departments helps to greatly improve process and the “cloud”, over the internet, represents a low-cost means to efficiently share this information.When organizations embark on a cloud strategy content is created in a wide variety of ways.  The content could be electronic files such as spreadsheets, word processing documents, presentations, video or even e-mail.  Additionally the content could consist of scanned images and metadata extracted from these scanned images.  Regardless, the challenge is to make this content available via search in order to find exactly what a user is looking for as quickly as possible.  This is the reason organizations should carefully consider a well thought-out taxonomy and metadata strategy for all of their content.  After all, just dumping a bunch of scanned images and other content into the cloud is not an effective strategy when making it easily accessible to users is tremendously effective.



Users
User interaction with data in the cloud can be a significant benefit for cloud applications.  Anyone that has any level of computing experience can use a web browser and this is the means (user interface) that most cloud applications utilize to deliver content to users.  Not having to install software, do any special configuration and the ability to have quick user adoption/acceptance of this new technology are all major benefits.For users that need to create content to be utilized within cloud applications there are several document capture methods including Manual Indexing, Automatic Indexing and Network Scanning which can be deployed depending on an organizations specific requirements.Cloud computing can offer extremely powerful and innovative applications to users and there is a lot of advanced technology behind the scenes.  However, from the user perspective, whether they are consuming information within a web browser or whether they are contributing scanned documents and relevant metadata, this advanced technology should be completely transparent to the users themselves in order to be effective.

Emerging Cloud Applications & Services
Hopefully I’ve done a decent job of demystifying the “cloud” and broken it down into it’s core components in a easy to understand way in this quick cloud overview.  Now I would like to briefly elaborate on the opportunity of document capture for Emerging Cloud Applications & Services.  In essence, everything described above was logical, had structure and most people are familiar with how to use.  Internet applications and services such as e-mail, browsers and social networking sites all make sense and are easily understood.  What is not easily understood or defined by most is how to implement an effective a cloud strategy.  I can appreciate this struggle because the cloud is new, emerging and dynamic.  What a cloud application might be today can be drastically different in just weeks for sophisticated integration/functionality or literally minutes for simple expansion or additional functionality.  This is because adding new functionality or capability to an open cloud platform is far easier than in the in the past using standard communication protocols as were described above in the HTTP example.  Most cloud applications utilize HTTP, Web Services, XML, SOAP, REST and other common standards to reduce development time, decrease costs and eliminate unnecessary complication.Cloud applications and services are developing quickly and will become exponentially powerful as different technologies are collaborated.  As more and more organizations rely on the cloud to reduce on-premise IT infrastructure there will still be a need for scanning hardware to digitize documents into the cloud.  Therefore, the near term future for document capture and scanning into cloud applications is extremely bright.If I was vague about what a “cloud application” is and you are looking for a definition, well, I would suggest there are many opinions that can be found with a simple internet search.  I, however, once read an article about how an industry expert was asked to define “the cloud”.  After he pondered the question for a bit he finally came to the most appropriate definition he could think of and it was just one powerful word;  Innovation.

Putting it all together

Cloud Computing presents a great opportunity for document capture.  For organizations that are convinced a cloud approach is in their best interest, hopefully they can realize that in order to maximize their investment to the fullest all the important information still trapped on paper documents in file cabinets and desk drawers must be added to their cloud applications available content.The most important and relevant data in the cloud is your organizations intellectual property and an effective document capture strategy can contribute greatly to providing quick and accurate access to information.

I’m predicting a “cloudy” forecast for document capture…..and this is a really good thing.  As always, I encourage any constructive feedback or comments.Sincerely,Kevin

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Document Capture from the user’s perspective

Sometimes it is not the technology itself that dictates either the success or failure of a particular technology.  I believe that the “user experience” helps drive adoption of a particular technology or ultimately will bring its demise.  Let me give you a few examples. Microsoft Windows:  Ask yourself this question; self: Was Windows the most robust and feature-rich operating system when Microsoft introduced Windows in the early 1990’s? Probably not, but what Microsoft clearly understood was that the Windows Graphical User Interface (GUI) and ease of use from the user perspective was going to be a key to their success.  Microsoft Windows now dominates market share among operating system software available in the market today.  The next example is the iPhone and iPad.  Unquestionably two extremely successful products released by Apple in recent years.  Most people will agree that the elegant User Interface and ease of use is one of the driving factors for the success of the iPhone and iPad.  My point is Document Capture vendors, both hardware and software, as well as even system integrators, should carefully consider how the user themselves interact with scanning applications and Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems.  True adoption of a technology only happens with users fully embrace the technology wholeheartedly. 


 

Businesses and organizations scan documents to capture information – not because it’s a fun activity like playing World’s of Warcraft on a Windows operating system; updating ones Facebook status on an iPhone or even watching a hi-def movie like Avatar on an iPad.  Document Capture is implemented for several reasons including reduced operating costs, improved efficiencies or adherence to compliance. However, “fun” is clearly not near the top of the list.  We must take this into account when presenting users with various methods of document capture. Therefore, I would like to share some of the common techniques that are used to scan documents into ECM/ERP/CRM/EMR systems.  These three general methods (manual indexing, automatic indexing and network scanning) of capture are intended to illustrate various ways to accomplish capturing scanned documents to these systems however; the specific techniques utilized will vary depending on individual organizations requirements.  


 

Three methods of document capture 

 

Manual Indexing offers a simple and cost effective way for scanned images and associated search words to be imported into document management systems or simply to make access to these scanned images easier.  In order to provide ECM users with relevant search results instead of vague results, metadata must be associated with documents.   Adding metadata to documents is a critical step in making an ECM system effective and not just simply an electronic replication of a previously paper-based system of disorganization.  The general concept of Manual Indexing allows a user to scan a document, choose a destination directly within the ECM Library then manually (as opposed to computer-processing) type metadata for that particular document type and then release into a back-end system.  This is drastically different than scanning to a folder, then importing.  Scanning to a folder is not an integrated approach.  This direct communication between an ECM back-end system (server) and scanning application software (workstation) allows for real-time changes within the ECM system to immediately be applied to the scanning application software.  Once the destination/document type has been selected by the user any associated metadata or search terms, are dynamically presented to the user for indexing purposes.  These index fields are specific to each document type and business rules to establish continuity in your document capture process can be transparently delivered to scanner users without any disruption whatsoever..  A manual indexing approach to document capture is best for ad-hoc use or low volume scanning requirements such as a knowledge worker scanning an occasional document where the amount of index fields is limited to under 50 total fields per day as a best practice.  Anything more than 50 total fields per day becomes quite tedious and should dictate consideration for some level of automation within a document capture strategy. 

Use scenario: 

  • Ad-hoc
  • Low volume
  • Desktop environments

  

Benefits of Manual Indexing: 

  • Easy to learn
  • Simple to deploy
  • Inexpensive

Scanner requirements: 

  • Paper handling
  • Image enhancement
  • Reliability

  

 

Automatic Indexing into ECM systems provides a way for organizations to gain additional productivity with the ability to scan large quantities of documents at a single time without interruption of the scanning process.  With this approach the scanning, indexing and release into the ECM system is more automated and highly efficient which is ideal. However, it typically requires some level of technical expertise to install, configure and use these software packages. 


 

In the case of automatic indexing, image quality is typically much more important than with the manual indexing approach.  This is because often times the system utilizes advanced technology such as Intelligent Document Recognition (IDR), Optical Character Recognition (OCR), or Enhanced Bar Code (EBC) Recognition to allow a computer to make decisions based on the accuracy of a collection of dots, or pixels, on a scanned image.  If you truly break-down document capture to its core an image is nothing more than a collection of dots.  A collection of dots then compose characters and then characters formulate words.  And then, eventually, you have a document containing many of these elements.  The whole entire capture process is directly affected by the quality of the scanned image and, therefore, excellent image quality is essential to the success of an automatic indexing strategy for capturing scanned documents. 

Use scenario: 

  • Centralized capture
  • Moderate to high volumes of paper
  • Process control

Benefits of Automatic Indexing: 

  • Enhance productivity
  • Immediate access to information
  • Reduce labor costs

Scanner requirements: 

  • Excellent image quality
  • Rated speeds for OCR
  • Hardware-based image processing

  

 

A Network Scanning approach to capturing scanned documents into ECM systems can use either the Manual Indexing or Automatic Indexing so the method itself is not necessarily the main appeal of a network scanning capture strategy.  Some of the many appeal points of network scanning, in contrast to USB-attached scanners, includes the flexibility of integration options, effective device management and, of course, ease of use.  Integration options using communication standards such as HTTP, Web Services and possibly even utilizing Cloud Computing infrascture can greatly benefit organizations by limiting their reliance on a proprietary vendor application or platform.  With a well-constructed network scanning platform, organizations are presented with a nearly limitless list of integration options with complimentary or even drastically disjointed systems.  All presented to the user through an ease to use, consistent touch screen interface.  Does this sound too incredibly different than the iPhone interacting with different sorts of data???  As I mentioned earlier and would like to re-iterate, true adoption of technology happens when users have a comfortable and pleasant experience. 


 

The flexibility of using a network scanning solution as a platform for each company/organization scanning requirement is a key appeal point for this method.  Most network scanners offer many useful features including scan to e-mail, folder, ftp, network fax and network printers.  Additionally, some network scanner platforms offer Software Developer’s Kits (SDKs) which enable third-party integration software to operate directly on the device which offers another level of tight integration possibilities to other complimentary systems and/or additional functionality.   And probably one of the most appealing attributes of network scanners, are the large high resolution/color touch screen interfaces.   This is truly innovative for users to interact with data directly in the ECM system via the touch of the screen.  These devices offer users an easy to operate and highly functional scanning experience that allows workers to get their scanning done quickly and efficiently. 

Use scenario: 

  • Shared environments
  • Remote locations
  • Multifunctional purpose
  • Platform for emerging technology

Benefits of Network Scanning: 

  • Consistent process
  • Limited learning curve
  • Easy deployment
  • Effective device management

Scanner requirements: 

  • Intelligent scanning
  • Large touch screen
  • Central Administration
  • Third-Party integrations and connectivity

In summary, I hope that you can appreciate the value of carefully considering the importance of the user experience when developing your document capture strategy.  The behind-the-scenes technology can be the best in the industry but when resistance among users exists then true adoption suffers causing terrible inefficiencies.  Or, you might still be able to find a copy of the OS/2 operating system for those fancy cell phones… 

 

Sincerely, 

Kevin 

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Kevin NealI am very fortunate and blessed to be where I am now with my career in the document capture and enterprise content management (ECM) industry. I would not probably have planned it this way but it has turned out to serve me and, more importantly I would hope, those whom I’ve work with well. I have had the honor of being asked to blog a few entries for AIIM’s new ‘document capture’ community and I would like to take this initial post to share a little bit about myself, Kevin Neal.

First, and as full disclosure, I work with Fujitsu as a Product Marketing Manager for our document scanners [Updated 12/5/13: I no longer work for Fujitsu]. That being said, I consider myself a well-rounded technologist based on my business experience rather than a “marketing guy”. You will find my writing and thoughts to be honest and sincere.

I have worked in the document image processing (DIP), errrr ummm, document imaging management (DIM), errrr ummm, I mean ECM industry for over 21 years now. I’ve seen the industry change (more than just industry acronyms) and evolve over these years into something that is now top-of-mind for organizations and even individuals alike instead of being an expensive, niche, hard-to-understand and difficult to deploy technology. I have a dry sense of humor and I can be quite sarcastic so I’m sure that you will sense these Kevin Neal-ism’s in my writing so I apologize in advance. I hope that I can contribute real value to this industry based on my work experience and perspective gathered over these years.

So, twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I started in this industry with “first-hand” experience (literally) observing document scanning technology and working with leading vendors such as ViewStar, Calera, Caere, Xionics, LaserMaster, TDC, Keyfile, Watermark, Cornerstone, Artist Graphics and others that have since been acquired and molded into new current leading ECM vendors. This “first-hand” experience was me working in the shipping and receiving department at Law Cypress Distributing Company so it doesn’t sound as glorious as I spun-it in the first sentence, but it was an introduction to the technology and vendors none-the-less. I was quickly promoted to Inside Sales at the Company where I helped support our sales team. I also worked with the marketing team to create our first print catalog (yes, print catalog – remember Al Gore was still inventing the Internet in those days). In retrospect I look back on that as an extremely valuable project because I became familiar with the different parts of a document capture solution and how they fit together and complement each other. In addition to the warehouse and inside sales positions I held at the Company I also managed the Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) and evaluation departments and this experience enabled me to test and troubleshoot all sorts of imaging equipment which was another invaluable experience. I left Law Cypress in 1993 only to return in 1999 but in a completely different capacity, as their Network Administrator.

During this time period between stints at Law Cypress, I held various sales and marketing positions at Bell Microproducts and International Computer Graphics, both of which have since been acquired. I was very proud of the success at both companies and it gave me great perspective on how overwhelming understanding even the basics of document capture and imaging can be for someone who are unfamiliar with this technology. You see even though both Companies sold IT products, document imaging was such a departure for our people internally as well as our customers that it took a lot of patience to eventually realize this success. This patience and trying to explain very technical things in a easy to understand fashion is what I gained most from this experience and I try to share in a similar matter to this day.

Fast forward to around the 1996 -1999 timeframe. I found myself completely out of the document capture business, yet still involved intimately with technology. Quite honestly I was frustrated with our industry at the time. Why? While the industry was growing and the technology was becoming better the truth is it was too expensive, too complicated to implement, too sophisticated to learn and way too niche. There were no big name IT players helping drive adoption of our technology an most of the technology was cutting edge type products only being embraced by true early adopters http://www.apte…net/. I don’t think the likes of Microsoft, Google, IBM, Adobe and others truly appreciated the value of “enterprise content”. Of course nowadays, each of these vendors has woven their products and services tightly into the ECM landscape through a series of acquisitions or flurry of product development recently which are directly related to document capture and/or managing business content. During these few years out of the document capture industry I worked as a consultant for a small company doing network installations and troubleshooting. Unbeknownst to me at the time this would turn out to be extremely valuable in my current position due to the fact that network-attach peripherals such a network scanners and multifunction devices seem to be all the rage. In conjunction to working as a consultant I also started my own web development company where I learned, mostly the hard way, many technical things not specific to document capture but are closely related.

As I mentioned earlier in this post I returned to Law Cypress in 1999 as their Network Administrator managing both the computer network and telephone system. I managed the network for the corporate location as well as several remote offices. Again, I could not appreciate how valuable this experience was at the time but, in retrospect, isn’t cloud computing somewhat similar to managing infrastructure, applications and communications over a network (internet)? Yes, I think the concept is somewhat similar and fortunately I can fall back on this experience for a basic understanding of concepts although the underlining technology might be different. It’s helped me to have a solid foundation of technical understanding. This experience has also given me great respect for the challenges of managing IT infrastructure. This is one of the reasons that I preach ease-of-use as a priority for vendors and one of the reasons we must strive as an industry to develop products that are highly functional, yet easy to use. IT departments know that they want to, and should, deploy document capture technology for the obvious benefits but most simply do not have the time or resources to add complication to their already difficult jobs.

I didn’t intend for this blog to be an summary of my entire business career but I did want to provide insight and background on myself. I think it’s important that readers of my posts understand I am speaking from experience and I can respect how document capture technology can affect, either positively or negatively, organizations. If an organization is attempting to change their whole way of doing business from paper-based process to electronic process this is not something to be taken lightly. A successful document capture and ECM strategy can drastically help organizations be more efficient, cut costs and improve process. While an unsuccessful implementation could become a burden with terrible consequences.

I hope you enjoy reading my, as well as my fellow bloggers, posts. I am always open to constructive criticism. I’m not always right – believe it or not – and I’m always willing to have a healthy debate about any topics. I look forward to your feedback and comments.

In summary, I hope you can appreciate my perspective and this is why I remain extremely positive in these challenging economic times. Because technology that improves efficiency, cuts costs and helps improve process can only be a good thing (when well understood) and that’s what we hope to deliver at http://www.aiim.org/Community/Blogs.

 

Sincerely,

Kevin

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