After scanning virtually every document in their agency and converting them into Adobe Acrobat PDF files, producers in the Thousand Islands Agency, Clayton, N.Y., believe they have tamed the paper tiger.
When an agent wants to find a file, he can do so without having to leave his desk, says Edward Higgins, president of the agency. That sums up what Higgins believes is the key advantage of the automated document system his agency adopted only two years ago.
“Now, not only can I read any document, but I can also e-mail and fax it without leaving my chair,” says Higgins. “And since all my records are digital, I can connect to my office remotely if Im visiting a customers business and get any document I need.”
The technology requires an investment not only in scanning and imaging hardware and software but also in an intranet, to allow document storage, archiving and retrieval and to hasten workflow.
Vendors include Instar Corporation, Kennewick, Wash., which offers document management as part of its agency management system; Docucorp International, Dallas; Acrosoft, Columbia, S.C.; and LaserFiche Inc., Long Beach, Calif.
Although vendors are reluctant to quote prices, Higgins says he has found that high-end document-management systems range in price from $25,000 to $100,000, plus maintenance.
Lower down on the cost scale is the Online Policy Warehouse from Anacomp Inc., San Diego, which offers a Web-based policy-retrieval system.
Although its primary users are p-c agencies, it is suitable to any agency offering widely variable policies, especially involving frequent changes of coverage, says Richard Keele, executive vice president of global marketing for Anacomp.
Because Anacomp is completely Web-based, users dont need to purchase hardware or license software or hire people to run the system, says Keele.
His company provides an electronic connection to the agency, so at the time a policy is issued to the client, it is recorded automatically in Anacomps facility.
“If you were a broker or agent, you could log on to our site, and you can see all the policies you were responsible for,” he explains.
Charges are based on the number of pages ingested by Anacomps system but amount to just “a fraction of a penny a page,” says Keele. “We dont charge to look at the documents or print them from your desktop.”
Toward the low end of the cost scale is a scanner/software package called Paper Port, available from ScanSoft Inc., Peabody, Mass.
Higgins of the Thousand Island Agency says Paper Port enabled his agency to go completely paperless two years ago.
“For us, it was relatively easy because we had been transactionally filing all documents in our computer system for 12 years on a daily basis,” he says.
With the ability to convert any document to a PDF file, “anyone I send it to can read it,” Higgins says.
Recently, he was visiting a client when he realized that he had forgotten some reports he needed to discuss. So he had someone on his staff e-mail them over to him, and his client meeting continued without a hitch.
“Theres a tremendous value in having digital records,” Higgins says. “Nothings ever lost.”
With every Thousand Island agent equipped with a scanner and most of its documents already digitized, it took the agency less than a week to go completely paperless, says Higgins.
Most agencies, however, can expect the conversion process to take six to 12 months, he says.
Higgins has equipped each agent in his office with a $2,000 scanner. The Paper Port software costs about $90 per agent.
Documents are placed in files on the agencys intranet, so that all users can call them up as needed, Higgins says.
Although he has so far found Paper Port to be an adequate solution to his agencys document-management requirements, Higgins agrees that more expensive systems carry a number of advantages.
“They offer multiple sets of data controls, so if you change agency management or are acquired by another agency, you can easily integrate with the other agencys management system,” he says. “Compared to other systems, Paper Port is clearly a Volkswagen vs. a Cadillac. But it works for us.”