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This page is intended to be used as a reference for professionals who are involved with formulating business plans, services development, and communicating the types of services that a production imaging operation offers to its clients. One of the most effective ways to go about production imaging services business planning is to identify and qualify the required resources that are associated with providing the services components that make up a business model definition. The information to formulate the service-specific resources in various service business models, and their relative importance in terms of dedication of funds, are categorized and contained in this article.

What are the scope of service models that involve imaging technologies?
The traditional scope of production document imaging services dealt almost solely with the data capture through image database compilation phase. Currently, many service operations have spent their resources on developing services which complement what they already do.

These complementary services are generally ones that will represent very high costs if their clients were to conduct them in-house. One such example is database repository services, specifically the data maintenance, systems design and reporting services. All of these services can represent a large cost center for a client who does not possess the required core competencies and resources, while at the same time representing an above average profit margin for the production operations organization.

What has changed in the production services industry that has key influences upon the type and way services are offered?

The most significant factor that has changed how various imaging services can be offered is the sustainable remote processing model, implemented through an ASP. Previously, only certain aspects of a production imaging job could be remotely processed like the data entry phase. This occurred mainly due to the fact that the production processing application and workflow software could not be used effectively in remote processing architectures.

The factors that played significant roles in preventing remote production processing were:

  1. sustainable transmissions and reception speeds at a price-level that allows mass adoption
  2. cross platform capabilities

The use of a platform independent OSs like Java™ (and the availability of a reliable high speed internet connection) allows remote processing ASPs to become a viable option for services that are not feasible to be performed locally.

How does being an in-house production operation differ from being a commercial service bureau, when it comes to planning to offer different service models?

The difference between providing production imaging services to an in-house client base as opposed to providing them commercially is variety. An in-house imaging production operation will have to manage change according to how the clients see the business process and workflow requirements evolving. However, commercial service bureaus have to be masters of asking questions and reaching agreement on their clients’ ever-changing requirements.

Resources planning and dedication is by logical extension much more complex to plan for in the long-term for a commercial imaging service bureau than in a dedicated in-house production model.

How does being able to distinguish between various service models help in making decisions for planning and managing projects?

One of the most effective skills for making decisions to proceed (or not to move ahead) with a project is to be able to calculate the significant resources involved with a given project that will use a certain services model type. The approach to identifying the exact nature of why specific resources are needed results from a deductive method of deriving the resource requirements from a systematic assessment of the client’s needs.

One idea that should keep your assessment of needs focused is making sure that you have a working knowledge of your client’s needs after they are fully understood. Once the client’s needs are clearly understood, you can intelligently discuss the project and assess whether the deliverables that your service model is offering will meet their expectations or not.

Another part of this approach is to create a heightened awareness of how services models are composed, from a resource requirements perspective. Specifically, this kind of awareness will include knowing which types of resource requirements will meet the clients expectations, both for in-house and outsourced services, even if your company can’t do the work. The common production business imaging industry model examples are described in the following section.

1. Data capture, image processing to workflow model
This model is by far the most common services structure offered in the industry. It usually includes some of the core services of production image capture, some image processing, and focuses on data entry operations for indexing of image databases. If recognition work is offered in these models, the relative complexity of what can be processed is not usually very high. If more complex work definitions are required in these models, then it is completely feasible for the organization to conduct an outsourced services needs assessment, investigate other organizations, and form agreements for any required special services, e.g., via an ASP arrangement.

2. Production data capture to specific recognition processing model
Organizations that use recognition technologies as their prime service deliverable tend to specialize in a specific type of optical pattern processing, such as forms recognition work. These business models focus on the quality control and assurance issues at the image capture phase, so that the production recognition processing accuracy potential is the highest.

Production recognition is complex work by nature, due to the large amount of variations in individual character and image specifications (font types, handwriting, tonal values and signal noise levels).

One of the primary reasons that a client will contract for service deliverables with an organization that uses this model is to reduce the per document or form processing cost.

Recognition services are done to extract the required values and parse them into a specific workflow like health care claims settlements and adjustments.

Another prime business focus in this service model is on data entry and verification operations. Even if specific document populations result in mostly accurate recognition output, there will inevitably be some correction and verification of the recognized values required. Most recently, service models that have not had the core competencies and resources to provide specialty recognition processing work can consider offering these services via an ASP.

3. Production data capture to full-text OCR and image databases
One of the more common models, this service type is concerned with high quality image capture techniques across a wide variety of source document materials and conditions. Typically, the document populations that are encountered in this service model range from relatively new bright paper with standard font types, (which clearly contrast against the background), to poorly imprinted fonts on deteriorating and discolored paper that are especially difficult to OCR. The applications for the deliverables of full-text OCR output usually center on research of a particular question as it is formulated - this is also referred to by some of the clients as ‘ad hoc.’

For example, a law firm which is planning to litigate a matter would order this type of work from a service operation using this model, to produce a full text OCR output for each document, its corresponding image, and a compiled image database, from which queries and reporting can be done. There are several skillsets required that differentiate the service deliverables in this imaging services business model from all other models. These differences include:

a. The skills required to predict the relative OCR output accuracy of a wide spectrum of document types, conditions, and font types.

b. The skills required to design a production processing workflow that allows the best possible correction of OCR errors, through either an automated or manually-based function. For example, dictionary and external database lookups, key word in context (KWIC) a.k.a, manual references.

c. Above average database design skills that extend to accurate communications of the scope of work (SOW) so that acceptance from the client can be assured.

Attaining acceptable accuracy rates for OCR across a variety of document types and conditions is very difficult, and therefore demands that these service models investigate and conduct feasibility testing of all available technologies and production workflow methods in order to achieve accurate output. Many of these service models have already begun to investigate and determine whether outsourcing this complex OCR processing is feasible through an ASP.

4. Production data capture to a database repository workflow
The skills involved with implementing this service model combine most of those discussed in the previous models, with the addition of repository planning and design skills. The repository itself is a separate project planning task for three reasons:

  • How the repository functions, i.e., security features and configurations, will need to be coordinated with the clients based upon their internal requirements. This information can be gathered using client-based needs assessments, which diagram their current workflow along with the planned workflow.

  • All design plans for the repository must integrate with how the image database is designed. For example, if the repository will contain images that are supplied on an on-going basis from the production services entity, then the issue of how any new image database deliverables will be designed must be clearly specified, so as not to compromise the original design or functionality of the repository.

  • The design of customized reports is both more feasible and in greater demand in a repository environment than in an image database, i.e., modules and other products are available that can extend the ability and flexibility of what can be done to design reports that most closely resemble the client’s workflow requirements.

5. Production data capture and production output
This service model encompasses most of the skills and resource requirement considerations that are discussed in the first business model, with the addition of the skills sets needed for accurate image output.

Capturing a document or drawing to an image file and using processing techniques to make sure that it meets the client’s interpretation expectations is a complex job all by itself. However, capturing and processing an image to the specifications required for meeting image print output interpretation requirements is a wholly different set of tasks.

The personnel in these service models must be skilled in loop calibration approaches, so that the specifications of production image capture and methods of processing enable the target specifications for the planned output device to produce acceptable image quality.

Production output service models have client-bases that depend upon the ability to produce a document population for archive auditing purposes primarily, and research work secondarily. The proof of these factors can be found in the idea of: if the client was using the captured images to conduct active research and enable a workflow, they would have probably contracted with the service entity to produce an image database.

Clients who are involved with legal and publishing applications are examples of users of production output services. These users have a requirement or desire to eliminate the need for storing hard copy documents, but must retain the ability to produce acceptable image output of them upon demand. This service model is not a common one, since it derives its revenues mainly from production output charges.

There are some very specific areas that can be planned for outsourcing, which usually are selected based upon two primary factors:

  1. The company or organization is unable to provide the services due to a lack in core competencies or budget constraints.
  2. The company or organization is fully capable of providing the services, but doing so would not be cost effective or profitable.

The outsourcing requirement categories of the models are:
a. remote processing services (ASPs), e.g., recognition work
b. integration and systems design services providers
c. some more complex projects may require a project planning and management consultant
d. database repository and reporting services providers
e. operations support services providers
f. training services providers

What will future production imaging service models look like?
There are two factors that will play a significant role in how service models are planned and managed. Those factors are:

  1. As time moves forward, more companies and government entities will have a greater requirement for image capture and electronic data capture. This can be measured by calculating how much new information they produce, how much information will need to be referenced from the past, and how much information will be required to be analyzed for decision making in an application’s workflow.

    The effect from these requirements will be that service operations that have existing or planned service models will have to dedicate their resources to supporting a larger mix of client types and requirements than they currently commit.

  2. The number of businesses and types of specialty services that are currently available via ASP models is increasing and will be more established in the future. This will mean that service operations will be able to make decisions on which ASP they want to dedicate resources to, based upon more established track records of a larger universe of services to choose from.

    Managing change is a critical skill in planning or running any production imaging services model. One approach that can be an effective way to manage change is to conduct a needs assessment of the specific resources and their distribution across your changing imaging services business model. In this way, your operation will be able to anticipate requirements before a client can become aware that they may be lacking.


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