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In Focus: Document Automation Requires More Than Scanning

Electronic documents as well as paper documents get united with eCopy Desktop.
"Too often, companies have two work processes tackling the same business task -- one electronic workflow working at Internet speed, trailed by a paper-bound process that slows everything down," says Keith Kmetz, an analyst at IDC.

Document imaging offers one way to bring paper documents up to Internet speeds, but the trouble with many scanning solutions is that they only address the paper side of the problem. To truly succeed, unified process automation solutions -- and particularly distributed solutions -- can't treat electronic documents as a separate world.

One of the secrets of the growing success of digital-copier-based scanning is that it lets workers unite paper and electronic records at the desktop through scan-to-e-mail and scan-to-inbox features. That's the case at Schneider Electric, where some 2,500 sales and project management professionals use 150 Canon multifunction copiers outfitted with eCopy software to bring together paper and electronic records.

The devices are deployed in 134 regional sales offices where proposals are put together for major building projects that require Schneider's electrical supplies and distribution equipment. The thousands of proposals and quotes generated each year must be retained for a period of three years in the company's PTC Windchill content management system, but the challenge was addressing both paper and electronic records.

"What we upload is not just scanned documents," says Don Simon, business process manager. "We also get e-mail attachments that might be in any format -- PDFs, it's all over the map. We also get data from our manufacturing systems, such as our quote-to-cash application."

Schneider took the copier-based scanning route back in 2001 in part because the devices were easy for salespeople to use and in part because the devices could handle ledger-sized technical drawings and documents.

"Our sales engineers want to get the images into the system so they can get somebody to help them prepare a quote," Simon explains. "Their time is extremely valuable to us, so the last thing I want them to do is spend 35 minutes trying to scan documents on a flatbed scanner."

Schneider relies on some 400 project managers in its regional offices to support the bidding process, and the company uses eCopy Desktop software to combine scanned images, e-mail messages and various electronic documents including CAD drawings, Word files, Excel spreadsheets and other formats into compound documents.

"The advantage of the eCopy Desktop is the ability to combine dissimilar formats into a unified document," Simon notes.

Completed proposals average 100 pages, and the final format for the document of record is typically PDF. Schneider wrote an API-level integration between eCopy Desktop and PTC Windchill so project managers could upload the documents to the content management system, which ensures fast, Web-based access as well as long-term retention. Since 2001, Schneider has amassed some 2 million documents in a one-terabyte Windchill repository.

Late last year, Schneider upgraded to new Canon MEAP-platform devices and eCopy ShareScan OP software. Despite the availability of new backend connectivity and workflow options, the company has stuck with the simplicity of its distributed scanning and desktop document assembly approach.

eCopy has sold 50,000 licenses of ShareScan and more than 2 million licenses of eCopy Desktop software, suggesting an average of 40 desktop users for each scan-enabled device. Its scanning software works with Canon, Gestetner, HP, Konica Minolta, Lanier, Ricoh, Savin, Sharp and Toshiba multifunction devices. Xerox offers its own capture and workflow solutions, and it bundles Nuance (formerly ScanSoft) PaperPort software to provide many of the same features provided by eCopy Desktop.