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The Rise of Mobile Data Capture and the Cloud in Document Management

1 Apr, 2012 By: Dean Tang, CEO, ABBYY, ABBYY imageSource

Mobile Data Capture in the CloudHistorically, document management has been a business process dominated by scanners and computers. For the past couple of decades, this worked perfectly. The office was where data was generated, and where employees worked from, making a closed ecosystem sufficient. However, the way businesses operate has changed dramatically over the last few years. Recent developments in the technology of smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks and laptops, have revolutionized the way businesses communicate, and the expectations and services employees require. As the document management industry dives deeper into this age of gizmos and gadgets, it is important for mobile data capture and the cloud to be viewed as natural extensions to the information processing infrastructure.

Before diving in, let me provide insight into what I consider “mobile data capture.” Essentially, this is recognition technologies running on a mobile device working in conjunction with a remote server. An example of this would be the mobile device user leveraging a smartphone or tablet camera to acquire an image of a document, and optimizing the image for text extraction. Once this simple snapshot is completed, the user can then upload the image to a remote server where more CPU intensive automatic text extraction features can retrieve the fields and field values, driving relevant information into backend systems.

While this may sound complicated it is actually quite simple. The end result is the user capturing an image of a document with their smartphone, and automatically initiating a business process back at the office. Below we will explore how technology is evolving to make this possible and where the opportunity lies moving forward.

Enterprise Mobility Management: Making Mobile Business Possible

As mobile devices have pushed further into the enterprise environment and workflow, IT administrators have turned to enterprise mobility management technologies to support a wide variety of device types and operating systems. This makes the delivery of mobile services manageable and allows the organization to maintain security.

So how do the proliferation of mobile devices and the emergence of enterprise mobility management technology create new opportunities in the document management industry? In short, they provide the platform for the delivery of mobile data capture technology through applications to enterprise users on any device and operating system.

Mobile Devices: A Growing and Evolving Business Tool

Mobile DevicesToday’s smartphones are a far cry from the mobile phones of yester-year. They come jam-packed with 3G or 4G connectivity, an excess of applications and large, high-resolution, highly responsive touch displays. While these features have changed the way people interact with smartphones, the feature creating significant opportunities are the advanced cameras being built in. A study by Lyra Research shows there are close to 1.5 billion camera phones in the world, and Morgan Stanley Research presented a study that showed smartphones sales will become greater than PC sales during the calendar year.

With an increasing number of professionals needing access to business information away from their desks, multiple services and technologies are being re-engineered for mobile business platforms. The cameras being designed into smartphones and tablets today come with extremely high pixel rates and auto-focus, making them the new capture device. With the right applications in place, and integration into backend systems, the mobile device camera allows users to easily digitize and convert data from the world around them into useful information from anywhere, anytime and in any language.

Emergence of the Mobile App:

The evolution and growth of mobile devices has given way to applications that actually enable the processing of data. The number of mobile applications has risen steeply over the past four years. By the end of 2014, Gartner reports that over 185 billion applications will have been downloaded from mobile application stores. This growth in mobile applications will help fuel the progress of mobile data capture.

As with many technologies, including smartphones and tablets, enterprise adoption is fueled by employees experiencing the technology first as a consumer, and then demanding it in the workplace. This is certainly the case for mobile data capture which saw consumers first experience the technology through mobile check deposit features of some banking apps. This process showed consumers firsthand the efficiency that mobile data capture technology delivers and got them used to a new way of interacting with a backend system, laying the groundwork for the technology to make its way into the enterprise.

While most of the applications across platforms, including Apple, Android, Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry, are geared for consumer use, the number of business applications is increasing. Many of these new business applications take advantage of the enhanced built-in cameras and data capture technologies to arm the mobile worker to be more self-sufficient.

Leveraging the Cloud to Enable New Services:

As mobile data capture applications are integrated into more devices and with the cloud, the market for fully integrated mobile capture solutions is bound to grow exponentially. In 2010 Harvey Spencer Associates (HSA) reported that the worldwide document capture market will grow from $2 billion in 2009 to $3 billion in 2013. Both HSA and Forrester Research predict that the data capture market growth will be driven by mobility, easy-to-use interfaces, and integration with familiar applications. A research report issued by Juniper Research in 2010 predicted that by 2014, businesses and individual consumers will collectively spend nearly $9.5 billion worldwide on cloud-based mobile applications. In addition, a recent survey by Cisco found that 52 percent of organizations already have or plan to adopt cloud computing.

So, why is mobility driving the need for the Cloud (or elastic resources)? One word: Traffic. It’s estimated that global mobile traffic will be 75 exabytes by 2015… that’s equivalent to 19 billion DVDs. Volumes such as these, which are bound to peak and ebb radically, require fully elastic and rapidly scalable CPU and storage power only cloud infrastructures can handle.

This trend has created a green field market for mobile apps solution providers who offer access to this kind of processing power. For the enterprise, they also offer very compelling side benefits to mobile app creation, which is a cloud-based smartphone framework that allows developers to create cross-platform mobile apps using traditional web technologies -- with no hardware or software to install. Now enterprises have access to robust mobile development frameworks with several deep advantages, including:

  • Tools to develop, test and deploy mobile applications up to 5 times faster than traditional methods
  • It’s cloud-based, so there’s no capital expense up front
  • Works on any platform
  • More secure, as data resides on a server rather than locally on a device

Based on these trends, it’s inevitable the capture market will take the plunge into the cloud, and next generation document conversion platforms for flexible, efficient virtual processing will become available. The cloud will be used as a tool to get closer to customers, gain data faster, and save on administrative costs. This not only increases the efficiency of mobile workers, but spurs a greater flow of information back into the organization, allowing decisions to be made faster, and the business to execute at a higher level. Mobile capture solutions and the cloud can also be combined to enable new marketing tools allowing organizations to better communicate with end users, or as a workgroup solution where individuals can start the data capture process from a smartphone.

The Future of Document Management

Document ManagementWith the now established triad on Mobility-Social Media-Cloud, I believe enterprises will become increasingly social, facilitating the exchanging of opinions and ideas to capitalize on the efficiency gains mobility provides. One way this may manifest itself is by companies developing their own “app stores” to allow employees to easily download mobile apps that provide access to different types of content across the company. Another way is through the use of popular cloud-service mobile apps. In the end it doesn’t really matter, because whichever way enterprise organizations eventually move, the document management ecosystem will need to change in parallel to provide the document management services required in a mobile environment.

Mobile data capture, or the ability to automate a business process with a snapshot, will be a significant part of that innovation and will need to be an increasingly larger focus of the services provided. The key will be improving integration with cloud services and backend systems, and finding new ways to implement the technology on mobile devices. The great thing is that the opportunity is there, and the underlying technologies have converged to make this no longer a question of if it is possible, but a question of what innovative new services can be dreamt up, moving our industry beyond the paper document.

About the Author: Dean Tang, CEO, ABBYY

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