Banks are integrating the different types of images they capture into single, centrally-accessible file folder systems. Why should bank employees have to log into separate systems to pull up a copy of a check, for example, and the car loan it was applied to? Designing systems so that key identifying information, such as a Social Security number or last name, provides access to a customer's complete records, speeds up service and empowers bank employees.
An integrated file folder system is not difficult to pull off when its ambitions are modest and the imaging components are newly purchased from a single hardware or software vendor. For example, most new check imaging software packages display check images alongside the relevant signature card images. In the old days, the check imaging system and the signature card imaging system remained separate and discrete.
Software now routinely establishes empty file folders when new customer accounts are added to the bank's system. The empty file folder can be filled as soon as the first check or loan document is Scanned into the system. The scanned document is automatically tagged, and includes the document type, and customer indentifiers (in the case of a check, the tag uses the customer ID printed on the MICR line on the bottom of that check; in the case of a loan document it uses the bar code preprinted at the top of that dock meet). Retrieving tagged documents is just as easy. Employees simply type the account number or Social Security number and specify the document types required, and up pop the images.
But achieving an integrated file foldering system can prove difficult. In general, the bigger the bank, the less rosy the scenario. Big banks are usually plagued by old, incompatible, legacy check imaging systems, MICR-driven check processing equipment and perhaps several incompatible departmental document imaging systems. Combining images from such a hodgepodge can be daunting. Moreover, many larger bank's legacy check imaging and signature card systems maintain data in proprietary formats that don't mix well with standard document imaging formats.
Still, there is often a compelling business reason for providing single-point access to one or more of these legacy systems. Two years ago, a document imaging reseller might have been able to sell a loan capture system to a large bank secure in the knowledge that his total ignorance of check processing would not prove a hurdle. Today, resellers are routinely required to bridge the gap between the two or, at least, "spec" out how it could be done in the future.
In many cases, the best imaging solutions hide behind the non-imaging applications the customer already uses. Providing access to images through screens familiar to users can add significant value to existing applications and minimize the learning curve as images are introduced into the banking environment.
For example, if the research department already uses Microsoft Word and Excel why not hide the new imaging system behind the familiar Microsoft menus? This allows a researcher to take a form letter about a bounced check created in Word, pop in the image of that check, and fax it out to an important customer via the built-in fax capability of the Microsoft Office Suite.
Alternately, the imaging system can hide behind the general ledger system used by a corporate accounting department. Now an accountant can pull up a check image the bank has sent his department on CD simply by pointing to a line in the general ledger. In either case, the check imaging system has been transformed from just another viewing program to one that adds real value. Similar opportunities exist for resellers to image-enable applications to provide better access to loan documents, signature cards and statement pages.
There is no easy way to determine which interface best addresses a bank's needs. To succeed, the VAR must sit down with the users and reach a consensus about what sort of information they want to access today and in the future, and how. Whether it is by creating a centralized file foldering repository, or by making it appear as if a unified file folder system exists through software is, more and more, going to be necessary.