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Workflow automation: How printers are solving the paper problem

Michael Nadeau | July 17, 2017
Incorporating paper-based processes into digital workflows may no longer be a roadblock to full automation.


Automating the “first mile”

A paper document might require manual intervention for a number of reasons before the information on it can be incorporated into a workflow. Most commonly, data from fields in a form needs to be entered into a database where it’s accessible to systems of record. Less structured documents, such as correspondence or contracts, need to be scanned and digitized so they're searchable. In some cases, someone may have to read the document to select and enter specific data into a system.

The latest generations of printers and copiers have the embedded processing power and software to automate those tasks, and most of the manufacturers also sell document management applications designed to integrate with enterprise workflow systems and core applications. That includes adherence to popular standards such as AJAX and REST, and strong API support. Document imaging vendors bring a couple of other advantages to the workflow table: ease of use and content analytics.

Copiers and printers have very simple touchscreen user interfaces that even the least technically savvy user can understand with minimal training. Those are the same people responsible for digitizing paper documents for use in workflow. The workflow solutions that the document imaging vendors offer are accessed through that same intuitive UI.

“Having features and capabilities that are part of that user experience that customers really demand now as table stakes — having integrated viewer capabilities, search engines, separate integration with capture tools all that within one user interface — is really important in terms of providing these platform solutions at the document content management layer,” says Wasim Khan, head of global workflow automation at Xerox.

For its AP solution, Canon built its Enterprise Imaging Platform. “This is a server-oriented architecture platform that ties directly into Oracle and leverages Oracle’s Fusion middleware as a way for us to integrate Canon’s imaging capabilities with the Oracle ERP systems,” says Amorosano. He adds that Canon is in the process of scaling the Enterprise Imaging Platform to SAP.

Getting the document into the system is step 1. Step 2 is making sure the information in those documents is stored in the right places. That’s where content analytics come into play. With it, the software analyzes the document looking for word patterns or text placed in specific areas such as a field in a form. It then populates the data in the appropriate places in the system based on preconfigured rules. For example, data from a customer invoice might go into a CRM and accounts receivable systems.

“With Flex, you’re going to get a more integrated imaging capability in one simple user interface. It’s less cumbersome, less clunky,” says Khan. “When customers are using various Oracle systems or different back-ends, Salesforce or CRM systems, we have all those connections already built.”


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