Burning the paper trail on the road to digital documents

How the shape of information and the way we view it is changing.
13 January 2020

Minority Report’s gesture-based user interface. Source: Youtube

Anyone who has seen the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report will remember the gesture-based interface that Hollywood created to amplify what was technically possible when the picture itself was made in 2002.

Although that was ‘just’ Hollywood and some of the technology presented was a little fanciful, there was a point to be made in terms of ways we interact with information… and the movie did it with aplomb.

Gesture recognition is still in its ascendancy and sophisticated visual interfaces abstraction layers are becoming the norm for information that we would have previously had to rely on paper for.

Paper isn’t dead yet, but we are rapidly digitizing. Anyone who opens a bank account today is more likely to fill in their details on a tablet, sign using a digital pen and get their voice tracked by the bank’s audio recognition technology than they are to fill anything out on paper.

These trends create new efficiencies, but they also require us to develop new ways of understanding how we view information.

Research conducted last year at ARMA InfoCon 2019 suggested that two-thirds of organizations (60 percent) surveyed report that paper records slow down business processes, and a third (31 percent) say data is difficult to access from paper records.

Process intelligence

This is all part of the drive to get us to so-called digital transformation and connected business.

When we get there (or perhaps, when we get there in more solid terms), we will be able to channel all this digitally-smart data into the fast-growing technology segment of process intelligence, which provides us with a way of digitizing actual work tasks inside individual’s personal workflows.

As the content capture space grows, we’re seeing a new breed of digital document firms spring up.

Keen not to be seen as nothing more than Optical Character Recognition (OCR) specialists, this segment of the IT spectrum prefers to call itself the document management and business process analytics space. You might even hear it referred to as robotic digitization, so brace yourself.

This is all very ‘back-office’ and hidden away from the user themselves, but what happens next is rather more front-end and little more Tom Cruise.

People, processes…

We are now moving to a point where we digitize not just the documents you’re used to holding in your hands, but also company logistics records, delivery documents, computer log files, HR personnel documents, factory floor performance reports, machine downtime records and (if it’s public space user analytics we’re looking at) even how much time people are taking in the bathroom at the airport in ‘smart washrooms’.

“The technology Ripcord is delivering will help drive increased operational efficiencies, support our efforts to provide exceptional customer service, add innovative value and contribute to financial risk mitigation for our bottling partners,” said Suzana Keller, Chief Procurement Officer at Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Sales and Services (CCBSS).

Once we start opening bank accounts on tablets and ingesting every piece of archaic and historical information we have into our new document management systems, we need to learn how to read the information in a different way, in a different shape.

The new shape of information

CCBSS works with a company called Ripcord as a customer of its document management technology. The company’s branded Canopy content services platform is not quite Minority Report, but it’s latest user view options do point to the way the shape of information and the way we view it is changing.

New information view options include:

Geo-location map view: Allows users to search for information by geographical regions and discover content associated with specific assets, branches or locations. Map view could be useful in large scale industrial engineering use cases (such as oil & gas), or in use cases where content and employees are widely distributed across branches, such as banks or enterprises with multiple offices.

Taxonomy view: Allows users to define a custom hierarchy to view content, enabling multiple views of their data. Corporate taxonomy (the hierarchical classification of entities) removes the difficulty of managing content in a folder structure for enriched vantage points, such as viewing data by location, department, hire dates, etc.

Large format view: Allows zooming and panning of drawings, blueprints, or maps and is useful for engineering, utilities and energy sectors.

“We’re seeing an increasing need for content and storage vendors to evolve in order to keep pace with the demands of digital transformation. [Industry needs] to address paper-centric and digitally-native content and processes with its smart robotics digitization and smart content management and AI,” said Mike Leone, Senior Analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group.

Leone points to the use of hardware robots that use computer vision, sensors and robotic machinery to process records into digital images— and says that these machines will now work with software bots that use AI and machine learning to extract and classify metadata.

Your next company report may not come on paper, it may come as some searchable, visualized and abstracted version of the information channels which are actually traversing your business below the surface. Or, when AI really gets it right, your report won’t even come at all.

Hollywood style visual information interfaces are still a little bit Sci-Fi and so some of the view and shape options can sustain us until they do arrive. We will get there though, this is not mission impossible.