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RPA and Document Management – A Quick and Powerful Win

DocmgtOne of the use cases in which our Ratchet-X RPA platform has gotten the most traction is in the area of document management and image enabling core systems. Using RPA as a way to bridge the gap between the entities core systems track (e.g., accounts, vendors, products, etc.), and the documents and scanned images to which they relate can be a quick and powerful win that serves the needs of users across the enterprise.

When an organization implements a document management system (DMS), the plan is always ambitious. Get the software in house, design the document capture and filing schemes, and integrate the document repository with every existing system that could benefit from document management. But then reality sets in. Can the existing systems be integrated? If so, how does it get done? How much will it cost? How long will it take? Despite the most noble of intentions, in the end, most organizations barely integrate only the most mission critical core applications with the new DMS. That is unfortunate because the more applications that get integrated, the greater the productivity increases for more users and thus a better return on that investment.

So how are these integrations typically accomplished using RPA? Well, it depends upon what one means by, “DMS enablement”. We typically see the following four common use cases.

1)   Document Retrieval (we call it “JumpTo”). For example, a user navigates to a purchase order in the accounting system and then wants to retrieve, or “jump to”, the actual scanned image of the original purchase order in the DMS. Usually, all the information needed to issue the query and jumpto the image is already available on screen in the accounting system. So all this automation needs to do when invoked is extract the data from the open record in the accounting system screen and issue the query in the DMS.

The method by which one issues the query in the DMS will vary depending upon which DMS is being used. If the DMS has an API for retrieving documents, that is usually the best way to issue the query. However, you need to consider how the retrieve operation is supported. For example, does the API merely retrieve a set of matching documents thus leaving it to the developer to create a UI that displays the hits, or does the UI support a display mechanism as well? If it supports a display mechanism, does it support all the same clients the DMS supports (e.g. traditional Windows app, browser, mobile app)? If the DMS does not have an API, or the API is spotty, one may need to fall back on an automation of the DMS’ user interface to retrieve and display the documents. Employing either strategy, or a combination of the two (which is often the case), is a valid way to go. Remember, when it comes to RPA, you go with what you’ve got.

2)   Reverse JumpTo. If a user wants to jumpto a document from a core system, it stands to reason that a person would want to do the reverse as well. For example, if a user is looking at a scanned image of an invoice in the DMS and wants to know the company’s current balance with the vendor, that information is most likely to be found in the accounting system and not in the DMS. Using RPA, a reverse jumpto can be created that allows the user to switch to the same vendor context in the accounting system. This is almost always performed via an automation since most applications do not possess a UI remoting API. It is important that index fields in the DMS (often referred to as metadata), possess the information you need to navigate your way to the related entity in the core system.

3)   Scan and Index. The DMS enablement function that delivers the most bang for the buck is the Scan and Index function. This automation allows a user to scan and index a document directly from within the core system using data displayed in the open record as some, if not all, of the data needed to index the document. As is the case with document retrieval, some DMSs support scan and index as a single operation, some as separate operations, and some may only partially support them or not at all. Since this automation eliminates a lot of typing and potential data entry errors, it is important to understand the DMS you’re integrating and get it right.

4)   Quick Copy. Quick copy is similar to the index operation defined in Scan and Index. Quite often, documents are not fully indexed at the same time they are entered into the DMS. For example, documents may be batch or manually imported, blindly scanned or forwarded to the DMS from another system (e.g., email). In these cases, the document may not, or only partially, be indexed. In order to make the documents fully retrievable, the user may want to supplement the document with additional index values that already reside in the core system. In these cases, quick copy allows the user to navigate to the appropriate record in the core system, and with the document open in the DMS, push the supplemental index data into the document’s record. Quick copies also work for updates when index related data changes in the core system (e.g., an address or quote number changes).

Most DMSs possess a fairly rudimentary, UI-based integration capability that allows using organizations to contextually link an open record with its repository. However, in most cases, this integration is limited to configuring a hot-key that merely extracts data from the field within which the cursor resides and passes it to the search engine. Unfortunately, most users have more sophisticated requirements than this method can accommodate and often, integrating a core application via the DMS API is not an option. RPA offers users the best of both worlds by yielding the following abilities: a) DMS enable any application without the need to modify the application in any way, b) integrate with a DMS at the API and/or UI level, c) perform bi-directional links between documents and core systems, d) embed an unlimited amount of new functionality into workflows.

For more on this topic, feel free to view this brief video which demonstrates how RatchetSoft uses its Ratchet-X platform as a universal adapter for DMS enablement. 

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