Control over all your documents: How unstructured data can increase business success

According to a study by Bitkom – a German association for information technology, telecommunications and new media – in 75% of all surveyed organisations, more than half of all processes are still paper-based; and for 19% it is all processes. Material notes, invoices and timesheets are just some of many examples.

Decision-makers in this situation face a slew of different challenges. It is nearly impossible to achieve an appropriate level of transparency for the information in question, so in many cases it is often unclear what kind of data with which value and which degree of sensitivity is stored where.

In the context of the EU-GDPR, this can be markedly dangerous and when potentially important insights are overlooked, it can even endanger business success.

One approach to remedy this is to use Supervised Machine Learning-based Smart Capture. What exactly that is, how it works in practice and how this technology can help businesses of all sizes to take the next step towards smart input management, is explained here by Enno Lückel, Vice President EMEA at Ephesoft.

Enno Lückel, Vice President EMEA at Ephesoft
Enno Lückel, Vice President EMEA at Ephesoft

Moving to digital

The German energy company, innogy, wanted to digitalise 80,000 printed outgoing invoices to save room and improve searchability. But even when assuming a processing time of only 5 minutes per document, manually transferring all documents into a digital archive would have taken one employee three years: an impossible project, which only became feasible thanks to automation.

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By using Ephesoft Transact, innogy was able to capture, catalogue and digitally archive the documents during the scanning process already, no matter if the input came from e-mails, third-party systems or other external data sources. Classifying the information is achieved via Supervised Machine Learning technology, which uses a smart algorithm to recognise what kind of document is being scanned and where it needs to be stored.

The supervising is done by a human. Cases in which the system cannot determine the correct classification by itself, are referred to an employee who helps the system classify correctly. Those critical cases and the correct, user-provided solutions are saved by the system, so that the tool learns and optimises itself with each new case. The advantages for businesses are clear: less process expenses, reduced likelihood of errors and resources become available for complex, business-related tasks instead.

The right platform for every requirement

Every organisation has certain compliance and strategy guidelines, which the input management also has to adhere to. Therefore, innovative input management solutions are available from the cloud or on-premise, in order to fulfil different requirements.

Flexibility is also demonstrated at a project level: While SMEs are often glad for a step-by-step approach and being able to rely on the provider’s expertise, large businesses – like innogy – can benefit from the freely customisable platform solution. The company’s internal IT department uses it as a basis on which it can automate a wide range of different processes by itself.

“Ephesoft provides us with a stable platform and a cost-efficient licence model, with which we can realise our projects comprehensively and by ourselves”, said Alexander Stephan, Project Lead at innogy SE.

“We were especially convinced by the release of two new program versions per year. That way, the technology is continuously developing, allowing us to realise innovative digitisation projects in the future as well.”

Companies looking to free up resource and expand should look to digitise their documents. Image source: innogy
Companies looking to free up resource and expand should look to digitise their documents. Image source: innogy

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In many cases the ideas for these projects come from the company’s different departments themselves, who wish to preserve resources and make time-intensive document capture and processing more efficient. The accounting, logistics and fleet management departments have already implemented such innovation projects, while more departments will be able to do the same over time, all without any additional costs.

For example, after the digitisation of the archive was complete, innogy optimised the handling of material certificates, which used to be physically fixed to the pallets in paper form. By transferring this documentation process into SAP via Ephesoft Transact and an API self-developed by innogy, the certificates are now digitally accessible by all involved personnel at any time and the chance of documents being damaged or lost is minimised. A similar project has also been implemented to increase the efficiency of shipping document management.

Archived in ERP from the very start

In general, for many organisations the integration of documents into their ERP system is still based on the concept of late archiving. Paper documents are being transported to a central location via truck and scanned there, so they can be matched to previously recorded digital processes. There are several potential downsides to this approach: The transport is time- and cost-intensive, while manually matching document and system entry are prone to errors and the documents and digital processes are not available at the same time.

Smart document capture on the other hand allows businesses to go towards early archiving instead, during which workflows in the organisation’s ERP system are automatically initiated as soon as a document is scanned via an integrated interface.

Consequently, document and process are interlinked from the very start, creating a much more efficient workflow. All relevant metadata is autonomously recorded by the system and matched into the ERP solution correctly via Supervised Machine Learning. This does not only work for paper documents, but also for information from e-mails or third-party systems.

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In practice, the enormous potential of this approach becomes apparent. Only a small optimisation like this can already increase an organisation’s productivity by up to 400%. In the case of innogy, the fleet management benefitted significantly. Employees in this department supervised several hundred vehicles including all cases of traffic misdemeanours for these vehicles.

Manually processing a case before the optimisation took about 10 to 15 minutes and involved identifying vehicle and driver, getting in contact with the responsible authority to relay the relevant information as well as internally documenting the process. Now, after automating, all these steps are performed by Ephesoft Transact and the process expense has been reduced by 80%, freeing up fleet management to spend more time for important core business tasks.

Protecting data and minimising risks

Next to efficiency and better allocation of resources, automating input management has another critical advantage for businesses. The additional transparency it brings, makes it easier to fulfil the requirements of the European General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR). The GDPR covers all information, which a company holds, even that printed on sheet of paper in an old, dusty file stored in a forgotten filing cabinet in the last office down the hallway.

According to Gartner research, as much as 80% of all data in companies is unstructured. This presents most companies with an impossible task in case a customer asks them to delete all stored data about him. However now, in the context of the GDPR, companies who choose not to go through with this sort of request do not only risk reputational damage, but also large penalties – 10 million Euros or 2% of the annual revenue for less severe violations, double that amount for more severe ones.

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That is quite a risk. However, it is a risk which can be mitigated rather smoothly and with low costs of implementation via an innovative Smart Capture solution with APIs for a wide range of third-party programs such as SharePoint, Office365, Salesforce, Box and SAP.

To really benefit from digital documents at a company-wide scale, innogy is – for example – currently working on connecting several hundred multifunctional devices to their system, which allows for a searchable PDF file to be created with every scan. That way, different departments can spend less time and effort for a wide range of processes and enjoy optimal process transparency.

Innovation thanks to Smart Capture

Smart Capture helps businesses to streamline and accelerate processes wherever large volumes of documents are being processed. The software takes care of routine tasks quickly, reliably and with less chances for errors, so personnel is free to spend more time on business-critical tasks.

A cloud-based solution keeps the costs of implementation low and in combination with the optimised workflows this enables a quick ROI. Additionally, an open source approach as well as flexible APIs allow for provider-independent, cross-department use of the solution after the implementation process.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.