A document imaging system converts paper documents to electronic information—typically a combination of images and data extracted from those images. A system is usually made up of a series of components, including elements of both hardware and software. Because of the diverse nature of organizations’ document imaging requirements, a VAR typically wants to carry a toolbox of plug-and-play components that can be configured to meet the needs of its customers:
Document scanners are sheetfed devices designed specially for capturing paper. They typically include automatic document feeders (ADFs) that can hold stacks of paper from 25 sheets to several hundred pages. Throughput on document scanners can also vary, starting at 25 pages per minute (ppm) and escalating to several hundred ppm—with price typically increasing as the speed goes up. Scanners can start for as low as a few hundred dollars apiece and range up into six figures, based on features and functionality.
Scanners also typically include software drivers that connect it to other software applications, as well as image processing for cleaning up images, and, often, some basic document capture.
If the volume or diversity of documents being scanned isn’t great, scanning with an MFP is an option. For low-volume remote capture requirements, there are apps that enable capturing documents with mobile phones.
Document capture software is like the Swiss army knife of the document imaging process. It can provide a myriad of functionality, including:
- Image processing – Cleaning up images by applying techniques such as cropping, deskewing, despeckling, rotation, and so on. Grayscale thresholding can be applied to create cleaner bi-tonal images for automated data capture.
- Batch management – Enables users to scan stacks of documents prior to processing them. It can be used to split these stacks, or batches, into individual documents and perform image quality control on multiple documents at once.
- Data capture – This is the process of taking information from the scanned images for use as metadata or to populate a line-of-business application such as an accounting or ERP system. Technologies such as OCR/ICR can be used to automate this process, which can also involve key entry and quality assurance.
- Export – This is the process of formatting images and data to be ingested into another application. Capture software often includes connectors to common export destinations. Custom integration can be done through APIs. Most capture software can produce standard PDF or TIFF images, as well as an XML data stream.
Once an image is captured, DMS enables a user to more effectively control it. There are two basic areas of functionality that DMS offers:
- Workflow – This is the ability to automatically move documents along in a process for steps such as approval, commenting, and collaboration, or to trigger some sort of follow-up action, such as a call to a customer or a request for more documentation.
- Records management – This can be more broadly defined as information governance, but basically, it provides users with control over their documents for purposes such as security, tracking who is viewing documents and when, executing audits, and maintaining a regulated disposition schedule.
A strong DMS will offer both types of functionality. DMS is available on premises or in the cloud and is typically sold on a per user and/or per document volume basis. Mobile and Web interfaces have expanded use cases for DMS in recent years.
Depending on the volume of documents being captured and how long a user wishes to keep them, a document imaging system often requires dedicated storage resources. A SAN or NAS is a convenient way to provide fast access to files, and utilizing a RAID configuration provides important file backup. For files that have a lower chance of being retrieved (typically, older/archival files), tape drives and libraries can be used as a more economic alternative.
A system backup should also be utilized, although best practices call for it to be run in addition to a dedicated file backup.