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Hello all, and welcome to this Ephesoft Webinar. My name is Steve Boals and today I will talk about how organizations can leverage modern smart capture to capture enable just about any device, application or process through the use of modern, standardized APIs. The expansion of capture and its pervasive nature can lead to extensive efficiency through what I call incremental automation.

Document = Pain

Documents have always been an essential part of business, both in paper and digital form, and present unique challenges for all types of organizations. Whether it’s a law firm that just received 1,000 boxes of paper documents from opposing counsel, and accounting department that processes invoice email attachments or a legal department processing visa applications, the impact on productivity can be massive if they are manually processed.

As technology companies began addressing the document problem, solutions began arriving on the market in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the advent of big ECM systems like FileNet and Documentum. And capture quickly arrived on the scene to help process documents and make them accessible digitally. While capture started with a paper focus, it transformed over time to take on all documents, physical and digital. Over the next few slides, I’ll talk about the types of capture that developed over the years.

In the early days, companies built centralized processing centers to digitize large volumes of paper documents. Documents were shipped and mailed to the centralized capture location, and expensive “big iron” scanning hardware was utilized. As the documents were scanned, some basic metadata was added, mostly for search purposes. In most cases, this was all performed to create a digital file room for speed of access and records management. These images were stored on optical media, and accessible to a select few centralized users.

As the price of capture hardware and software was reduced and networking technology improved, organizations could decentralize their capture efforts and move operations out to field locations. This eliminated mail and shipping costs and reduced the time for digital access. Still paper focused, the emphasis started to narrow in on automated extraction and indexing. The metadata was not only used for search, but was also entered in systems of record to reduce manual data entry.

With the rise of the scanning copier, the need arose for solutions that could leverage a single device that served many constituents. Organizations still leveraged centralized and distributed capture, but now the technology was pushed further out, to the individual end user. Automation and workflow were key, and the standardized, repeatable processes that capture could provide became necessary on a grand scale. Around this time, as more and more documents arrived digitally, email, fax and other multichannel capture features were added allowing efficiencies spread throughout the enterprise.

If you look at capture over the years, advancements were made in several technology areas:

  • Infrastructure and networking gave the ability to move documents fast and efficiently between locations
  • Applications like document management and content management systems provided an end resting place
  • Scanning hardware got faster, smaller and cheaper
  • Storage systems moved from optical to storage area networks to cloud

Along this journey, capture began to spread in an outward ring, becoming available to more and more users, and more and more applications. So just what does “pervasive” mean with regards to capture? What technology is driving it?

First, let’s start with a common definition and foundation of what pervasive means when it comes to technology. It can be defined as a technology that spreads and is available widely throughout the enterprise to everyone and everything.

Pervasive Capture

Technology Enablers

As with each era of Capture defined in the timeline, there are core technologies that have made pervasive a capture a reality:

  • The Cloud – providing smart capture services anywhere anytime, on-premises or in the field
  • Content Services – the advent of cloud content service providers like Box and SharePoint Online make content available once captured
  • Web Services – with OpenAPI standards, APIs are now easily accessible from any application through standardized formatting
  • Applications like RPA and IPA have revolutionized process automation but have a need for document intelligence

The evolution of our technology has led to a diverse enterprise landscape which includes human and digital users, and physical devices plus digital applications. These exist both on premise and in the cloud, creating a complex, hybrid operating environment that requires flexible and modular capture services.

If you overlay today’s applications onto this landscape, you see a diverse enterprise ecosystem contains a wide variety of applications that are hungry for document intelligence, down at the transaction level. The only way to service them is with simple, easy to consume services.

Current Technical Landscape

Tying all of this back to our historical transition to today, we arrive at an environment that provides an application interface for both desktop and mobile users to process and interact with documents and supports all the types of capture previously mentioned. But in the background, there are also OpenAPI/Swagger enabled Web Services that can support software robots, devices, workflow and all other applications that require document intelligence. This hidden layer, transparent to end users, is a critical component for pervasive capture. Of particular note is the trend towards Citizen Developer friendly apps that provide an opportunity for incremental automation.

One note here: the legacy capture platforms that grew up from the early timeline weren’t built to accommodate pervasive capture. Their technology foundation was built in the days of centralized capture, a client server architecture without native browser support or modern Web Services.

Aren’t APIs for Developers?

There’s probably a few of you saying: APIs and Web Services…those are for developers. If I can’t code, I can’t use them. Today that is just not true.

OpenAPI/Swagger

There is a relatively new standard in web services called the OpenAPI specification, previously known as Swagger. It provides a standard on how REST APIs are described and documented.  This format is easy to learn and readable to both humans and machines. The API definition can be imported into applications, which can easily understand, render and integrate with apps that publish OpenAPI endpoints.

Why does this matter?

Many software companies saw this as an opportunity to allow users to transform code, and use these APIs through a visual interface. With many of the applications seen here, you can import an Open API compatible definition and immediately have the API as a visual toolset that any user with a bit of technical background can leverage, aka Citizen Developers.

Plugin Document Intelligence

Now capture can be added to any application through simple configuration versus custom code. In this example, a document’s information can be captured and used to automatically make the workflow process more intelligent. This takes away the requirement for manual intervention or human data entry steps.

The result is something called incremental automation. With capture available to everything, document automation is possible, even in small instances. Front line users can now begin to eliminate all manual document interactions, making every process a target. RPA and IPA can now have an added layer of intelligence that makes them document aware, which is much more efficient.

Documents are so widespread throughout business today, any human touchpoint can be an opportunity for incremental automation. Processes where info is entered manually or where humans have to interact to choose how to route documents can be great candidates. Also, points where documents need to be validated and processed if incorrect, perhaps where signatures or data must be checked. All of these are great places to start in the incremental automation journey.

Incremental automation can provide immense value, and leads to broad reaching automation and efficiency, reducing the time to process and required personnel, ensuring accurate extraction and valid, clean data, while continuously getting smarter through operator interaction and learning.

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