The technologies of scanning and optical character recognition have been used by businesses since the 1990s, but are increasingly being called upon in support of a newer concept called the digital mailroom. The idea is that wherever possible, incoming documents are scanned and their data extracted and fed into workflow processes for faster handling.
Melbourne-based superannuation fund VicSuper is amongst the latest to take the plunge, installing a large-scale scanner from GBC for its mailroom. Documents are opened by the device and scanned with minimal intervention from human operators, with data extracted by EMC’s Captiva content management software.
VicSuper’s manager of employer operations, Janine Westerbeek, says VicSuper currently receives around 450 mail items each day — much higher on peak days — and around 70 per cent of these mail items contain cheques.
“We wanted to look at ways to decrease the amount of manual processing involved,” Westerbeek says. “So the idea was that rather than have people entering data, to see if that could be automated, and let software do that as far as possible.”
According to VicSuper’s executive manager of employer services, Dean Pearce, this ties into the organisation’s greater goal of improving service to customers while maintaining its low fee structure.
“Our members and employers are looking for faster turn-around times, so when they are putting paper in they want to see that turned around a lot quicker,” Pearce says.
In the case of processing member contribution, Pearce says that seven years ago a five-day turnaround was fairly reasonable. “But these days members want to see that on their account immediately,” Pearce says. “We’ve got to get faster, but we don’t want to add a squillion people behind the scenes.
“We’ll never get to a paperless office, but in terms of paper volumes, ours are down dramatically — we must have dropped nearly half a million sheets doing this sort of technology enhancement.”
The goal is to bring some processes down from a matter of days to as little as an hour. VicSuper is currently implementing the new technology for processing rollovers, having linked six previously disconnected systems.
Once this is in place, Pearce says VicSuper will be able to look at any document that is arriving by paper and apply the same technologies to achieve similar efficiencies.
“You’ll be able to ask the question of why is anything leaving the mailroom,” Pearce says. “You can basically re-engineer the whole operation so it is much more efficient and working better for the whole organisation.
“That gives you the opportunity in the future to diversify your head office, and opens a whole lot of doors that we are a few years away from, such as flexible working hours and people working from home. If we are only dealing with images, we can start to look at those things. So it has the potential to revolutionise the way VicSuper operates, and that’s what I’m particularly excited about.”