My company, American Family Life (AFLAC) in Japan, recently redesigned the document imaging and management system it uses to process new account applications throughout Japan. I’m writing to discuss the issues that prompted these changes and the roles which Kofax Capture and VirtualReScan (VRS) from Kofax played in the benefits we and our customers have enjoyed from the new system.
Let me first briefly introduce our company. AFLAC Japan was established in 1974, and our sole business is providing personal insurance policies. Today, we hold over 15 million active policies.
During our early years, we offered only cancer insurance, but we have since expanded our coverage to nursing home care insurance and medical insurance. Last year we began to offer life insurance, and last summer we introduced injury and casualty insurance.
In our New Policy Application line of business, we have concentrated our IT resources on back-office operations. Our front-end operations, including document capture and data entry operations, were neglected and needed improvement. We adopted Kofax Capture to increase throughput in this area of operations.
Let me briefly describe our original process for getting new applications into the system. Like many insurance companies, AFLAC uses independent agencies to sell insurance policies. These agencies take completed application forms from customers, check them for completeness, and send them to our branch offices. At the branch office, the forms are checked again for completeness. Each branch office also registers pertinent information about the application for their sales records. These applications are then sent via interoffice mail to our Contract Division.
At the Contract Division, the applications are prepared for data entry. They are sorted according to originating branch office, grouped in batches of 100 and sent to the dispatch department. Dispatch scans the documents, and then delivers the batches to an external service bureau, a process which typically takes two-to-three days. It then takes another two days to complete data input and return the data to the Contract Division. Thus, it took up to five days to make new account forms accessible to line of business (LOB) personnel for processing. Clearly this workflow needed improvement.
We soon discovered that not only does the current workflow involve numerous data transfers back and forth, but two of the transfers also involve courier deliveries. It was clear that any improvement would require less document handling and fewer physical transfers of these documents. Document capture became our focal point of attack.
In designing the new process, we concluded that the application forms should be scanned at our branch offices. This would reduce the clerical tasks at our branch offices to simply checking the application forms for completeness and scanning them. Time-consuming document processing for physical shipment would no longer be required. The images would be automatically transferred to a newly established Input Center where document images and character recognition could be verified. The images would then be transmitted to the service bureau for additional data entry using Key from Image (KFI). The images and data from the Input Center and additional data from the service bureau would converge at the Contract Division, now available for access by LOB.
So to summarise, the basic operational changes are:
We received solution proposals from three companies. Company A proposed OCR-capable scanners and development of a custom capture application. Company B proposed a forms processing package with customization. Company C proposed Kofax Capture with customization. Since we had an aggressive schedule to production readiness, and we wanted to minimize the risks inherent in new software development, we chose to go with existing, customizable products and dropped Company A.
Of the two packaged proposals, we chose Kofax Intelligent Capture and Exchange, the foundation for Kofax’s strategy to help organizations streamline business processes, because we required ease of use in batch administration and distributed capture via the Internet. We did look at and reject other existing products because they either lacked sufficient installed base for large volume processing or they were more of a toolkit solution.
Kofax Capture, the world’s leading automated information capture platform, offers modules for scanning, quality control, recognition, validation, verification and release. Our sales branch offices now do the scanning, image quality control and recognition. Our Input Center does the validation, verification, and release. Kofax Capture offered the workflow and batch flexibility to re-route errors discovered at the Input Center to quality control and repeat the recognition stage for reprocessing. We also introduced steps to transmit data at the branch offices and receive data at the Input Center. The solution also included Kofax VirtualReScan (VRS), the de facto standard for capture productivity and quality throughout a document’s lifecycle.
There were a couple of other important considerations in the re-engineering project:
The time elapsed from document origination at the branch offices to accessibility on the system has been reduced from five days to two to three days. As an added benefit, we are now able to process and approve most applications on the day they are available to the Contract Division something we were not able to accomplish until now.
The second major benefit is the reduction of work at each branch office. Branch personnel have been freed from having to enter registration data for sales reporting. Kofax Capture can automatically capture user statistics and provide this data almost in real time.
Third, scanned document images are available at each branch office on the day they are scanned, and available to all within the company at the same time the Contract Division receives them.
Finally, thanks to Kofax VirtualReScan with its image-enhancement capabilities, the scanned images are clean and clear at 200 DPI.
On the way to achieving these improvements, we also have encountered difficulties. Since Kofax Capture offers many levels of customisation, customisation requests from our end-users were significant in both number and detail. If we had agreed to everything the end user asked, Kofax Capture would literally have become another product. Understanding what the end-user wanted and determining what was possible and practical gave us a lot of pain. Making the end-users understand that over-customization would diminish the inherent benefits of the product as well as making upgrade paths difficult was the hardest thing to do.
Our 69 branch offices are equipped with Hitachi HT-4133 scanners, PCs with Windows NT 4.0, Ascent Capture, and Kofax VRS to automatically enhance document image readability and recognition. Documents from the branch offices are received at our Fuchu Headquarters via Internet. Windows NT 4.0 Servers are installed here running Ascent Capture Internet Server on an IIS platform. The outsourced data entry is with Kofax Capture-equipped PCs. A 1.5 Mbps WAN is used between our headquarters and the Input Center in Chofu.