I have been invited to various round tables recently, with discussions and briefings around mobile capture. It is somewhat interesting to see the perception of this topic. Most of the time I read titles like “Mobile Capture – Is It Replacing Scanners and MFPs?” or “Mobile Capture – Where Is It Really Used?” While the topic of “replacing classic scanning devices” is of course always provocative, mobile capture needs to be considered “in addition to” rather than as “a replacement for” scanning devices.
So what is mobile capture? Technically speaking it is nothing more than a picture taken with a smartphone, tablet or a similar device and attaching it to something – but this something is actually the element that makes the difference. When people look at Ephesoft’s Transact Mobile Capture capture client, they will see an app capable of taking a picture, cropping the background, correcting various values and ultimately uploading the image to our server. This sounds like your average mobile scan app, but there is more to it; our SnapDoc client is not really a product (while it can be used as such), but a demonstrator app of what is possible.
Context Based Mobile Capture
In a prior life we have had a mobile client providing all sorts of functions whether doing mobile forms, attaching pictures to a workflow or allowing access to files on shared drives; and there are many apps doing one or the other. The challenge with all of the apps is that they do many things but not enough to really add value to the context that they are used in. The problem is – while being feature rich – they try to build their own context and are not purpose-built to work in the bigger picture. To illustrate what I mean with context, I offer several examples:
- Finance: Take a picture of an invoice which has to be paid and the capture application will read the account number, amount, recipient and a reference number.
- Maintenance: Repair form is printed in the morning and provided to the maintenance team. Once a task is completed the form will be captured, reference and signature read and the task is marked as complete in SAP PM or another plant maintenance application.
- Utilities: Picture is taken of an electric meter – number of the meter as well as current usage amount is being captured.
- Healthcare: Documenting which blood sample is taken at a given time – reading a barcode with the batch number and the patient number on the bed.
There are so many more examples of how mobile capture makes sense, but as these samples hopefully illustrate, mobile capture should be seen in the context of a bigger picture. Of course I am also “scanning” documents more and more often using my Smartphone; by taking a picture and attaching to email etc. However this process in most cases does not provide substantial value apart from being convenient.
What Ephesoft offers with the Transact Mobile SDK is exactly what I outlined above. We enhance an existing value-creating app — e.g. patient care, plant maintenance, online banking — with advanced capture so that workers, nurses or bank customers do not need to type in information on the screen of a smartphone, tablet or similar device.
Value Creation through Image Capture and PROCESSING
Capturing an image is one thing – processing it is another. As mentioned I am using an app myself (not SnapDoc) to “scan” documents, but “processing” in this case is just a full text OCR and some image management like the removal of skewing or keystone effects. To add value to a leading application it is important to create value out of the captured information, which can be more than paper, but also a meter or even a reference marker on a container where a picture is taken by a drone.
The important aspect is to read information and provide it back to a user, avoiding false input or delayed information processing. This is what SnapDoc does – like our Ephesoft Transact product, it classifies content and reads the needed information from it.
Online and Offline
While in traditional scanning applications, devices are connected to a server and can easily handle thousands of documents, with smartphones offline functions are more important than volume. 4G networks provide for quick and stable transfers, but mobile capture will often happen in places where internet is not available. To overcome this limitation we have built offline functions into our Transact Mobile SDK, allowing users to take and process photos from a basement, at the intensive care station, or on a drone flying over a container terminal at a harbor. SnapDoc will sync profiles and then process information directly on the device – uploading when connectivity is reestablished.
Mobile capture is best employed as a supplementary capture strategy, enriching business applications with logical methods to onboard analog content. In a professional environment, an imaging app will work in the context of a business process and therefore needs to be flexible enough to support what is required within this application. This is what SnapDoc offers; it enriches a process, but it will not replace batch scanning. Ad-hoc scanning will however be a very interesting area where smartphones, tablets and other devices like drones can add additional value.