Unlocking Efficiency: SMB Document Capture and Management in the Digital Age

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Taking a digital approach

Document capture and management is becoming increasingly important as more small- and medium-sized businesses digitalise their records and need to distribute them among an increasingly spread-out workforce. What solutions are they looking for, what role can resellers play to help SMBs to manage their records – and how is the market changing with the rise of AI-based solutions?

For many businesses in recent years where economic growth has been slim at best, there has been an increasing focus on how to improve the efficiency of how the company works to try and help boost profits. 

One of the ways businesses have done that is through digitalising their records, and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have been increasingly doing this to try and gain an advantage.

“In recent years, we’ve seen many SMBs move towards a ‘digital first’, or even a ‘digital only’ strategy,” says Antony Paul, global product head at Quadient. “It’s not hard to see why – digital documents enable more agile working, improve compliance and security, ensure business continuity and deliver greater economies of scale. This is particularly beneficial for SMBs that might have limited space or resources, as digitalising records can free up office space and associated infrastructure costs.

“However, some SMBs are in a ‘halfway house’ – wanting to digitise their records but doing so manually. This is an incredibly time-consuming, mundane task for staff, which increases the risk of errors and can damage employee engagement. 

“SMBs should look for solutions that allow them to automate every aspect of the digitisation process. For example, solutions that can scan physical documents and automatically input the data into an online system will significantly reduce time and errors. If SMBs are confident their software can grab data from a variety of different types of documents, such as forms and correspondences, and automation is optimising processes and simplifying workloads, they’ll find digitisation is a much less daunting task.”

Scanners and MFPs

Nicola Williams, manager for document scanning solutions at Epson, adds that the scale at which an SMB will digitalise records will largely be based on their sector and the stage they are at in their digitalisation journey. “Legal, finance, retail, logistics and hospitality industries, for example, each tend to have large document workflows, from invoices and receipts through to contracts, passports, inventories and so on,” she says. 

“Competitive SMBs will want all this content digitised to optimise information sharing, secure confidential material, save space, and generally improve business workflows through wider digitalisation.

“Digitisation is normally where scanning equipment comes into play – as companies seek to either shift entirely to digital workflows or hybridise with hard copy documents. And while some professions will rely on scanners atop of large or desktop MFP devices, those with high document workflows – such as those sectors highlighted above – will benefit from standalone scanners with higher speeds, smaller footprints, and the ability to scan direct to cloud, networks, or emails without needing a computer.

“Equipment requirements will also vary depending on individual roles within the business. For example, those travelling a lot may benefit from small mobile scanners so they can scan as and where they like; those working from home with limited desk space will benefit from a compact desktop scanner; those working with a wider breadth of materials may benefit from A3 and adjustable chassis for switching between sheet-fed and flatbed scanning; those requiring true-to-life visual imitations of content will benefit from ultra-high resolution flatbed scanners. The list goes on. And the shifts from in-office to home-based working, and vice-versa, are inevitably a huge factor in all of this.”

AI impact

Something that is becoming an increasing factor in document management is artificial intelligence (AI), as it is with many other aspects of business – and this is set to grow in the coming months and years.  

Nicola says there are numerous scanning solutions where AI can and is already playing a role, and development shows no signs of slowing. “For example, AI-powered optimal character recognition can be adopted to convert scanned documents into editable and searchable text,” she says. “AI algorithms can be trained to automatically classify scanning documents into different categories based in their content, layout, or other features to help companies organise and sort large volumes of documents differently.

“AI can also be used to extract specific data fields such as names, dates and numbers from scanned documents to automate data entry and processing or to analyse scanned documents for quality issues such as blurriness, skewness, or missing pages to help control quality. Finally, AI can be used to automatically summarise key information from scanned documents to make information sharing quicker and easier.

“Many of these AI benefits are already being utilised by our ISV partners paving the way for a more intelligent way of working using scan, and a greater relationship between scan and the digitalisation journey of businesses.”

Automation should be the first step in digitising document management, Antony adds. “But AI can help to take its abilities even further,” he says. “With features such as natural language processing, SMBs can also input prompts in everyday language to classify and delve deeper into documents with remarkable accuracy. This means that SMBs can use AI to not only digitise their records, but also spot trends in customer behaviours and predict cashflow, directly impacting business strategy.”

Trends

But AI isn’t the only thing impacting on document management currently. “Smartphones are a powerful data-gathering tool, and over the next year we’ll see SMBs take more advantage of what is in their pocket,” says Antony. “Smartphone document capture and digitisation combines ease of use with reduced costs. It allows employees and customers to process documents on the go – accelerating processing times and conversion rates. As a result, SMBs can improve customer service processes and the overall customer journey.

“We’ve also seen a trend of SMBs migrating from legacy on-premise capture technologies to the cloud. We fully expect this migration to SaaS technology to accelerate through 2024 and into 2025.”

Another trend is for smaller and more intelligent devices. “Epson’s manufacturing philosophy of Sho Sho Sei – translating from Japanese as ‘compact, precise, and efficient’ – has physically reflected in our new product development over the years with smaller, more intelligent, and more energy efficient technologies,” says Nicola.

“For Epson, this will only continue. We also have new updates around our document scanners coming later this year, and while we can’t divulge anything about this now, we can confirm it will mean exciting new opportunities for our resellers and ISVs.”

Reseller opportunities

With these developments and trends in document management, it means that there are a range of opportunities to resellers. “The challenge – and opportunity – for resellers is understanding how their targeted customer base is working, what stage of their digitalisation journey they’re at and stocking the appropriate equipment to put them front and centre when discussing technology solutions with them,” says Nicola.

“Technology has developed so much over the years to the point where businesses aren’t asking ‘what solution is there’, but they’re demanding from resellers a solution specific to their needs. This shift means resellers need to have diverse understandings of hardware and software solutions.

“The same can be said of scan, and while Epson’s proprietary Document Capture software suite can meet a great deal of digitalisation demands, our ISV partners offer a plethora of solutions that are tailored around very specific needs from across different industries and can be personalised to meet new requirements as well. Having the right network of ISV partners, the right stock of scanning equipment to facilitate these softwares and being fluent in changing business models and digitalisation processes is a great set of standards for resellers to succeed in this space.”