Finding itself buried in paper, fragrance manufacturer Aromatique, Inc. installed a document imaging system which improved employee efficiency and customer service.
Of course, there are certain to be some discrepancies in the sales process when a company is manually handling 1,000 transactions per day. All questions about orders and shipments are handled by 14 customer service representatives at Aromatique. At the height of the busy season, the switchboard processes an average of 800 calls per day.
"The problem with our system was obvious. We were trying to process invoices the same way we did 16 years ago. The original system was satisfactory when we had 100 accounts, but trying to manage 7,000 accounts with the same system was a nightmare," states Fair.
The Solution Which Wasn't
Trying to find a solution to control the paper Aromatique was generating with each sale, Fair researched several possibilities. One option would have been a COLD (computer output to laser disk) system. This would allow all of the billing information to be stored and viewed electronically. "We felt the cost of COLD was more than we wanted to invest," comments Fair. "We also wanted to eliminate documents that were not stored in the system."
Another technology option was to install a document imaging system. This technology would allow the company to scan and store documents as digital images. Coincidentally, at the same time Fair was considering document imaging technology, he heard a radio commercial for a VAR (value added reseller) which sold the technology. He contacted the VAR and, after a demonstration of a document imaging system, Aromatique purchased the technology.
Fair's original plan was to image all of the invoices generated by his company. To accomplish this, Aromatique purchased a VisionShape document scanner, Pioneer 18-disk jukebox, OTG jukebox management software, Microsoft SQL server and document imaging software with OCR (optical character recognition). The invoices would be fed through the scanner. The OCR software would read data on the invoice such as company identification number, date and invoice number and use this data as index information. The paper invoice would be sent to the retailer and the image of the invoice stored in the jukebox. Customer service representatives would be able to retrieve a copy of the imaged invoice and view it at their desktops. Well, this was the plan.
"We spent about $40,000 on the system and the OCR software was not reading the data on the invoice accurately and the VAR could not increase the accuracy," comments Fair.
A Second Chance For Document Imaging
While Aromatique had struggled with current system, it did not give up on document imaging technology altogether. The concept of a document imaging system was rekindled when Rhonda Keith, president of DataScan, Inc., paid a visit to her friend, Ronnie Fair. Keith's company, located in Jonesboro, AR, sells and installs document management systems. "I asked Ronnie if his company had considered document imaging. He told me, ‘Yes, we have and we have a system that isn't working,'" recalls Keith. "However, he was still interested in the technology and asked for a demonstration of what I had to offer."
Keith demonstrated a software package called File Magic Plus from Westbrook Technologies. "The software actually had all of the functionality that the previously-installed software claimed to have," states Keith. "Aromatique had already made the investment in hardware (scanner, PC, jukebox) with the previous system, so we merely integrated the File Magic software. The cost of the software integration and training on the system was under $15,000."
OCR - A Viable Option
The File Magic Plus software overcame the biggest problem encountered with the previous software - OCR accuracy rate. Currently, the system has an accuracy rate of over 90%, while the previous system was accurate about 50% of the time. For example, an Aromatique employee scans 100 invoices. That employee then instructs the system to index the documents using the information gathered through OCR. The index information appears in columnar form on the monitor. "Out of the 100 documents, there may be a couple of OCR mistakes. The mistakes are not hard to recognize and it only takes a few seconds to make any corrections," states Keith.
Once the indexing information for the scanned invoices is accurate, the images are stored on a hard drive. After enough images are stored on the hard drive to fill an entire CD (650 MB), the images are burned on to a CD and deleted off of the hard drive. The CDs which store the images are housed in a jukebox. Network users can then access the stored images.
Improving The Accuracy Of OCR
Keith increased the accuracy of OCR through two methods.