Whilst many businesses are moving towards digital document workflows, paper continues to play an important role in many business processes. It is now widely accepted that the paperless office anticipated by the digital age has not materialised, as glancing around any office environment will illustrate.
Growing usage of technologies like email, online collaboration and electronic documents, has driven an increase in paper consumption rather than a reduction. Paper remains the preferred choice of medium for consuming and digesting information - people prefer to read from paper rather than a screen, it is tangible and easy to annotate and is personal and portable. Despite technology advances in e-paper display technology to mimic paper readability on-screen, and e-paper reading devices such as Amazon's Kindle e-book, our attachment to paper is likely to long continue.
However, reliance on paper-based processes brings with it many costs in relation to storage, retrieval and transportation - and security, as paper remains the easiest way to leak data untraced. Paper based records are often hard to locate, can be easily lost or misplaced, are expensive to distribute and difficult to protect. Along with the obvious environmental costs of excessive paper consumption, reducing paper dependent workflows presents an ideal opportunity for organisations to reduce costs as well as improve on their green credentials.
With businesses striving to find ways to increase efficiencies, lower costs and improve productivity, many are looking towards leveraging their investments in digital multifunction peripherals (MFPs) to merge their paper and digital workflows.
MFPs are already helping many organisations to reduce printing costs by consolidating print, scan and copy features into one device. Cost savings can be made by reducing the printing and imaging fleet through upgrading outdated single function devices with fewer, more energy efficient MFPs. In addition, MFPs also offer many paper saving features such as duplex or booklet printing, can be managed over the network and be integrated into existing document management systems.
Using the enhanced document capture features of MFPs such as scan-to-email or scan-to-file, paper documents can be emailed, faxed or digitally captured securely and incorporated into business workflows. Once in an electronic form, documents can be located and shared easily, included in a regular offsite backup plan, and integrated with other information assets. The growing popularity of MFPs, combined with a rapid lowering of costs, means that document distribution can now be made accessible to virtually every office worker.
Taking advantage of the growing ubiquity of the office MFP is eCopy, a vendor that offers document capture solutions for both MFPs and document scanners, enabling paper to be captured at the MFP and distributed to electronic applications as appropriate. For example, any paper document - contract, fax, multi-page form or manual can be scanned and sent to one or more recipients directly from a MFP. Alternatively, a document can be sent to a content management system or to a desktop for electronic annotation, storage and re-distribution.
Take the expense form for example: receipts can be scanned and merged with a spreadsheet by an employee to create a pdf document which is then sent to a manager for authorisation. The final expense form can then be integrated with an ERP system such as SAP, providing the capability to instantly call up the image of the original paper document from the transaction. This reduces re-entry of paper-based information into workflows, giving users instant electronic access to information, which in this case leads to faster tracking, management and analysis of expense claims.
Although many MFPs are available with their own proprietary document capture solutions, a typical printing environment is often a mix of devices from different manufacturers with incompatible solutions. This brings with it complexity for IT managers in administering and managing a range of solutions and the need for end users to know how different MFPs handle document capture. Although this problem can be mitigated by standardising on fewer or even a single MFP brand, solutions such as those from eCopy, or other vendors such as NSI AutoStore or Omtool AccuRoute often offer more functionality than the MFP vendor solutions. Indeed, MFP vendors often also offer these third party solutions to enhance the document capture and handling capabilities of their own solutions.
Until now eCopy has traditionally focused on providing solutions for high-end MFPs, but has now extended its support to a broader range with eCopy Desktop for personal productivity use which complements its ShareScan Essentials for workgroups and ShareScan Suite for enterprise applications. This portfolio offers organisations a standard and consistent document capture platform across leading MFP brands including Canon, Ricoh, Xerox, Konica Minolta, HP, Sharp and Toshiba, meaning that office workers can use the same scanning procedures at any of an organisation's networked MFPs. Through its "connectors", eCopy solutions connect to a range of enterprise applications including EMC Documentum, Microsoft SharePoint, ERP systems and cost recovery applications such as Equitrac and Print Audit.
With MFPs now a common fixture in many office environments and with the continued pressure on reducing both financial and environmental costs, businesses should look to make better use of their MFP investments. Despite the cost drain that printing and imaging can represent, correctly deployed MFPs can be used as productivity tools to improve efficiencies in document production and actually reduce the amount of paper output. Indeed, exploiting the MFP as a document capture device as well as an output device can help businesses take control of their paper-dependent processes by integrating these into their electronic document workflow.
However, effective document capture is just one piece of achieving greater overall efficiency and reducing costs through paperless or "less-paper" workflows. Whilst MFPs have the functionality to reduce paper output it is as much a people issue as a technology issue. Users are more likely to embrace new document capture and printing practices if they are given simple and flexible tools. By extending its solutions to a broader audience, eCopy is making the unification of the paper and digital worlds simpler and more accessible.