StackOfPapersSmall.jpg I often tell my clients, "I don't believe we will ever see the truly paperless office but I do believe that we can create a less-paper office." I'd like to share with you one way that I recently helped do this for a very special client - my wife, Kathy.

I share a lot of details in the post. For a short overview, click to the image below to watch a brief video. It's a minute and 16 seconds long and shows how the process works, If you want to learn and understand how this all works, then I encourage you to continue reading the rest of this post after  you watch the video.

Video: Kathy demonstrates her new digital filing system.

We recently decided to move all of our personal and business accounting operations to my accounting firm. Having the accounting firm handle all of the QuickBooks accounting including bank reconciliations, billing and writing checks for us is great but it exposes another problem - how to quickly move lots paper securely between us and the accounting firm. My accountant is also an ICA client and they use Lotus Notes. (Can you see where I'm going with this?) I decided to create a simple application that would allow me to capture paper (Bank records, copies of deposits, purchase orders, tax and other legal and accounting paperwork) and digitize it and move it into a Notes database that can be accessed by the people who need to see this information. This way, we would not need to move paper around yet everyone who needed to could have immediate access to the documents that they needed, regardless of where they where and regardless of whether they were on-line or not.

I had a few requirements. First of all, my wife is not technically oriented and she derives zero pleasure from using her computer or trying to make a piece of equipment or software work. A computer simply a tool to her and using it is aboyut as exciting to her as using her can opener. She simply wants it to work and she does not need (or want) a technical education from me on how it works. Kathy's really no different than many of my clients - some of the most productive people in the world. She simply wants to use the right tool to get things done. I decided to create a solution for Kathy that would be easy and reliable. I did not want her to have to learn how to use any new scanning software or to have to do multiple operations to get a piece of paper into a Notes database. (So, the typical scanning process of scan + OCR + save+ create document + fill in fields + attach file + delete source file was not an option.) I decided to create a solution in which the user simply selects a destination for the document, pushes a button, and can trust that the document will be scanned and routed to its destination.

I shall now describe a powerful document imaging solution that I set up, but before I do I need to describe the components so that you can see how they all work together:

The HP Digital Sender

HP DS-9100c Digital SenderI use an HP Digital Sender 9100c. It's an older model, now discontinued, but I really like the form factor and user interface. It's much smaller than the newer 9200c, making it easy to fit easily under each desk or even in a large desk drawer.

HP Digital Sender 9100c Control Panel LCD & KeyboardWe have several HP Digital senders distributed throughout the organization, one at each desk and in the conference room. In addition, I have two mobile digital senders, one is WiFi equipped unit on a cart so that I can use it anywhere. The other, I have equipped with a VPN bridge so that I can take with me to use at client's office or for technology demonstrations.

Lotus Domino

It's no secret to readers of my blog that I like Notes... a lot. I've used  Lotus Notes since 1992 and, although I keep looking, I have yet to find an information management tool that can match all of its functionality. It's not the best product for every client, but it has proven to be the best product for many of my clients. In my role as Director of Technology at The David Allen Company, I deployed Lotus Notes 12 years ago to help David's team of 40 employees, located around the world,  communicate, collaborate, and coordinate their activities. As an eProductivity Specialist at ICA, I use Lotus Notes as my information repository and collaboration tool for a number of applications. Many of my other clients also use Lotus Notes as do the professionals that I work with. This makes it easy for us to share information between us.

eProductivity Document Library

Lotus Notes comes standard with templates for document libraries and a discussion database. These are very capable and come with the product. I've taken these two applications, combined them, and added a number of additional eProductivity tools to make getting things done with Lotus Notes much easier.

Cobra Image Router 5.1

For the past 25 years, I've helped companies deal with the daunting task of reducing paper in the workplace and converting paper-based information into an electronic format that can be quickly and easily filed, retrieved, and routed throughout the organization and beyond. I've been working with the HP Digital Sender and Cobra Image Router for HP (CIRHP), from Cobra technologies, since 2001. CIR is the middleware that makes it possible to define "destinations" and instantly push these configurations to any number of HP Digital Senders (or other selected digital sender devices) anywhere in the world. This makes it easy for a person to scan and file to a number of destinations, including an email inbox, a workflow application, or a custom database, like the one I am writing about. I've found the Cobra software challenging and problematic to get to work properly at times, but once configured it usually does its job very well. With the HP Digital Sender and the Cobra Image Router properly integrated, users can simply walk up to any digital sender, drop their papers in the feeder, login, and choose a destination from the screen to scan the documents. Behind the scenes, the Digital Sender transmits the files along with Meta data captured at the HP Digital Sender to the main Domino Server where the CIR process runs as a service and a Domino Add-in. From there, CIR OCR's the scanned pages and creates PDF+TEXT documents and then deposits them into the appropriate destination, automatically populating the various fields (e.g. From, subject, body, categories, etc.). From the user's perspective, it's about as close to easy digital filing as you can get.

Now you know about all of the pieces, so how does this all work? I'll show you by describing the accounting document solution that I described earlier.

Workflow Analysis

ICA Accounting System Workflow DiagramFirst, I sat down and did a workflow analysis of the process of moving accounting information back and forth between ICA and my accounting firm. This allowed me to identify what information needed to be captured, and  where, in order to have it available to the people who needed it, when they needed it and where they needed it.

Identify the Destinations for Scanned Documents

Next, I identified the "Destinations"  for scanned documents. These would be come the menu selections on the digital senders that would be used to chooser where the scanned documents would go. I decided to use two buttons and label one "ACTG-ICA" and the other "ACTG-MACK" to represent accounting destinations for my company and personal accounting. When one these buttons are pressed, they will display a list of destinations. Here's what I came up with for ICA:

CIR HP Destination Assigned Category in Database
Accounting Issues ICA\Accounting Issues
Bank Account ICA\Bank Account
Budget ICA\Budget
Credit Card ICA\Credit Card
Deposits ICA\Deposits
Expense Reports ICA\Expense Reports
Invoices ICA\Invoices to Pay
Payroll ICA\Payroll
Purchases @ Credit Card ICA\Purchases\Credit Card
Purchases @ Debit Card ICA\Purchases\Debit Card
Purchases @ Manual Check ICA\Purchases\Manual Check
Purchase Orders ICA\Purchases\Purchase Orders
QuickBooks ICA\QuickBooks
Tax Related ICA\Tax Related





(I used the same selections above for the ACTG-MACK button.)

In the above section, the first column shows how the destination will appear at the Digital Sender and the second column shows how the document will be categorized once it has been scanned and deposited into the Notes database. You'll notice that I use nested categories (with the back slash) so that the information will be organized the way I want it.

Set up the Document Library

I created a Notes Document Library database. As I mentioned earlier, I use my ICAAcctgDBIcon.jpgeProductivity Document Library, however, a standard vanilla document library or discussion database that comes with Lotus Notes will do. I placed a replica of this document library on my server, and on my accountant's Domino server. Changes made to one will automatically replicate to the other. Next, I made local replicas of this database onto the laptops of the he people that will need to work with the information off-line.

Create the Destinations

For each of the destinations that I defined in the previous step, I created a destination in the Cobra Image Router Destination Database. Cobra Image Router for HP - Destination FormThis is where the destinations are mapped between the digital senders and the destination database. In each destination document I specified which HP Digital Senders would be able to scan to these databases and how I wanted the documents to be processed. In this case, I wanted all documents to end up in the same database as searchable PDF+Text  attachments categorized according to the chart above. Cobra Image Router for HP - Destinations ViewAnyone can easily navigate the database to find a document. In addition, since all of the documents are automatically converted to PDF+Text format I could search for any document based on anything inside a document. The HP Digital Sender only allows for the entry of one text field which I have defined as the subject. Since many of my documents are date-specific and I wanted the date (the document date, not the date scanned) to be stored in a document date field, I came up with a way for someone to optionally prefix the subject with the document date. I then created an agent to parse out the date, validate it, and store in a separate field in the destination document. This small amount of extra setup work at the front end will make it much easier for anyone to scan a document and get it to the correct destination.

Test the configuration

For many of our documents that we will scan, we will shred the paper after scanning. For this reason, I wanted to be certain that everything would work and that I could trust the system to file my documents where I wanted them to go. I printed up a sample page with the title of each destination. I ended up with 28 pages (14 destinations each for ICA and Mack). At a digital sender, I scanned in a single document into each destination. I then opened the database to confirm that my test documents arrived and had been properly classified by the Cobra Image Router software. It all worked wonderfully.

How it works - 5 Easy steps to scan and file document

The real test of a system is not what the creators say or do, but what the users say or do. the easier and more effortless it is for someone to use the system, the more likely they are to do so consistently. Here's how someone will use this system:
1. Place the documents to scan into the Digital Sender

1. Login (Press initials and password)

2. Push proper function key for ACTG-ICA or ACTG-MACK

3. Choose a document category from the list on the screen

4. Type in a subject using the keyboard on the Digital Sender
(optionally, prefix the subject with the document date)

5. Press GO to scan the document(s)

That's it. The document(s) will be scanned and available in the document library in a few minutes!


To see this in action, click on the image below to watch a brief video.

Video: Kathy demonstrates her new digital filing system.

View additional pictures and screen shots

This is just one example of the kinds of innovative information and knowledge management solutions I create for my clients. As an eProductivity specialist, my job is to listen to my clients needs and show them how they can put technology to work for them instead of having them work around the technology. In this example, I was both the client and the consultant. The payoff in time savings and increased productivity are substantial. In the future, I hope to integrate the Cobra Bar Code and Mark Sense scanning option to make it even easier to file documents in my system. When I do, I'll post a summary to share. meanwhile, I hope you found this narrative helpful.

How do you integrate your paper flow into Lotus Notes? What innovative solutions have you come up with (or seen)?

Discussion/Comments (20):

Kathy Mack (): 5/24/2007 2:07:57 PM
It really does work!

Eric is correct, I don't like technology, as I find it often gets in the way of getting things done. But, his new system using the digital sender really does work. I can quickly scan papers to my accountant, and a permanent record of it is in our shared database. I love it! (and I don't say that about too many things that are associated with computers!). By the way, Eric, now that this problem is fixed, can we get that new can opener?


Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 5/24/2007 2:19:59 PM
Ouch!

I guess I'll have to take care of that one now.

I love you.


Mike Robinson (http://www.invcs.com): 5/24/2007 3:53:22 PM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Eric- this is very very cool. I was part of the "12 step process" to capture paper to electronic format. Starting "back in the day" with LN:DI, then when Lotus discontinued that, it was on to PDF. I gave up b/c of exactly what you described (and I'm very technical), to many steps and it was a pain (once it was in digital format it was awesome i could look anything up quickly and easily).

Anyway, this gives me hope to tinker with this process again- I like the fact that you can choose the destination right from the scanner vs. "place on scanner, create form, scan, then save)".

Great work (found your site from Ed's blog).


Steve Richards (http://steves.blogharbor.com/): 5/25/2007 1:11:00 AM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Great post, I too am on a campaign to reduce less paper. I myself hardly use any at all being lucky enough to have a 3 screen desktop and a separate Tablet Slate that I can grab and take with me anywhere. I also have a scanner on my desk to get paper that comes to me in digital form as quickly as possible. I don't use Notes though as I just love the UI of Paperport Pro and have ever since I first used it probably over 10 years ago!

My company is into unification of print/pdf/scan and copy in a big way and I am driving them in the direction of paper reduction as well. But for me that means desktop scannning and multiple screens.


Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 5/25/2007 7:38:48 AM
re: Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Steve, for distributed document management, I like to use Notes, because of replication. I'm sure you understand that. As for Paperport, it is also an excellent tool, although I refused to use their early versions until they stopped using the proprietary paperport file format. Now, as a PDF tool, I think it's great. That still leaves sync. Presently, I use GoodSync to handle sync of non-notes files. My ideal situation? Paperport front-end with Notes back-end.

Still, for end-users who simply want to file something, I can't think of a solution that would be easier than what I created for Kathy. From the end-user's perspective, it's like using a fax machine. No PC involved.


Mika Heinonen (http://siipi.com/mika): 5/25/2007 8:33:54 AM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Eric, how is your LotusScript agent launched which attachs the files from the scanner to the database, and how are the files available to the agent (shared network folder?)?

Do you run it on 5 minute schedule (or faster schedule from an OS-script based launcher), or do you get somekind of trigger signal from the scanner which causes the agent to launch, or lauches the agent immediately when the file has arrived?


Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 5/25/2007 9:48:20 AM
re: Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Mike, like you, I got started in document management many years ago. I started with LN:DI servers undxer OS/2. For the available tech, it was an awesome solution.

I'm MUCH happier with my documents as PDF+TEXT stored as attachments in Notes databases. And, now that I've automated the process of capture, it's much easier to use.


Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 5/25/2007 9:49:54 AM
re: Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Mika, I used to use custom agents, etc. but now I use Cobra Image Router from Cobra Technologies. It's an amazing product, with lots of promise. CIR handles all of the interface between the HP DS and the database.

Although I do not use Domino Doc, the CIR can talk to a DomDoc back-end repository, too. I hope this helps.

Eric


Mika Heinonen (http://siipi.com/mika): 5/25/2007 10:02:59 AM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Eric, thanks for the clarification. I'm just interested in the technology to get real-time transactions from non-notes systems to notes.

I think I need to continue my journey to CIR and see if I can get some information from there.


Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 5/25/2007 10:33:02 AM
Cobra Technologies

Mika, if you are considering purchasing Cobra Image Router, My contact at Cobra is Les Drane (sales) or Kevin O'Brien (Pres). Their web site is http://www.cobratech.com. I would be happy to talk to you about implementation experiences working with Cobra Technologies.

I hope this helps.


Paul Ryan (): 5/26/2007 3:08:19 PM
Paperport front end to Notes back end...

Hi Eric,

>> My ideal situation? Paperport front-end with Notes back-end. <<

Funny, this is what I use in my small offices. My office in Denver receives mailings and my office manager scans them in using a Xerox Documate 252. Then a scheduled local agent sucks whatever's present in the target directory into a custom Notes database. That database replicates to my office in Europe.

As it is, this has been working great to keep everyone on the same page. And it only took a day or so to code!


Michael Sampson (http://www.michaelsampson.net): 5/27/2007 11:21:40 AM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Manual trackback from { Link } ...

"Eric outlines an approach to the paperless office using an HP Digital Sender, Lotus Notes, Cobra Image Router 5.1 and a wife without a Mac. "First of all, my wife is not technically oriented and she derives zero pleasure from using her computer or trying to make a piece of equipment or software work. A computer simply a tool to her and using it is about as exciting to her as using her can opener." Well, duh, she has a Windows laptop ..."


Rolf (http://me? a website?): 6/3/2007 4:47:28 PM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Great post Eric. The ultimate adoption of complex technology underlying a simple process designed especially for non-geeky people!

Our business uses high speed scanning and document imaging to store performance management documentation for 7000 flying cabin crew so I have seen how it works at the other end of the scale.

Same principles though and it must make tax time at Casa de Mack so much easier :)


Michael Sampson (http://www.michaelsampson.net): 6/6/2007 2:48:06 PM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Manual trackback ... { Link } ... "Going Papernone/Paperless with PaperPort 11 Professional"


wschep (): 7/12/2007 7:59:02 AM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Can you tell me what I would be giving up if I did not use the cobra router. The cost of around 5,000 seems high for my small business.

I currently am using Lotus Notes, and could purchase the HP 9100C

Thanks


Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 7/15/2007 8:20:43 PM
re: Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

The important piece that Cobra provides is the ability to convert to searchable PDF and do the routing to deliver the pdf to a document, properly constructed. While you could do this manually, the main value of this solution is that it's a no-brainer. Drop paer in, select destination, press go.


Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 7/15/2007 8:22:26 PM
re: Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

Thanks, Rolf, glad you liked the post. I hope to post more of these, as time permits. Best regards, Eric.


saç ekimi (http://www.sacekimmerkezi.name.tr): 5/1/2008 5:40:35 AM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

thanks ralf good information.


Steven Kordisch (): 1/10/2009 12:16:23 PM
Paperless Filing System in Lotus Notes in 5 Easy Steps

I would greatly appreciate any help or some direction to address this issue in my office (General Practice Attorney - using Quckbooks Pro for accounting, running on a Vista OS desktop) ... We also use Lotus Notes (my IT expert brother set us up and supports the Server) for our e-mail, diary-calendar and professional contacts .... I would like to copy the Client/Job list in Quickbooks over to a Lotus Notes "Contact Client Group" without effecting the Quickbooks data adversely (my goal is to automate this process for each time a new client/job or new job for an existing client is created ... ? do I need Transfer Software ? Thanks


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