Tuning Abbyy FlexiCapture Layouts and Document Definitions

So you have spent many hours analyzing and creating the layouts and definitions for the documents you need to be processed through Abbyy.  Now you should be almost ready for production, except you need to tune.  Many samples of the documents in question need to be run through and the results checked over very carefully to find and fix all the little issues that will be present.

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When handwriting is your only option…. Peter Lang

When researching Enterprise Content Management capture projects, the question of handwriting recognition comes up again and again — and many people aren’t sure what to expect.  More commonly, their expectations are unrealistic. They think there is no hope at all, ever. On the other end of the spectrum, some think that tiny fevered cursive scribblings from a rushed meeting can be scanned (or even faxed) and read with accuracy. In helping people think about their forms and the viability of capturing handwriting, I have a few simple guidelines to consider which seem to apply in a majority of cases.

  • Are handwritten forms really the only option?  If the form is available online, can the data be made “fillable” and then submitted directly to your database tables?  Can you let the user fill the form online and print, thus producing machine print and eliminating handwriting?  How about taking the data that a user entered and bar coding it (if the form must be printed rather than be submitted)?  Also helpful and sometimes overlooked:  prefilling form  data from your database through a merge process with a bar code index for retrieval of that same data.
  • Does your Capture software support ICR?  Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) is what you need to read handwriting.  Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is much more common and is designed to read machine print.  Please don’t try to make it read handwriting – you won’t like the results!
  • Make sure the handwriting is constrained. Annoying? Perhaps. But making the person filling the form write in boxes sets you up for the most successful ICR results.  The catch phrase here could be “Curse the cursive”.  When a character is joined to another character it is faster to write.  However,  the ICR software really struggles to figure out where one character starts and another stops.  And here’s where recognition tanks.   With the real world example below, we can generally expect 100% recognition.

  • Ask for all caps handwriting. You can often tell your ICR engine to look for upper case characters only. This really

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Vetting ABBYY ‘Keen Eye’ FlexiCapture at ImageSource

First off, ABBYY means “keen eye”, an apt name for a product that dynamically and automatically captures and processes widely disparate documents.  Powerful document recognition separates and classifies docs, and state-of-the art optical character recognition rips the data from the images.  I like the motto that pops up on screen – “take the data, leave the paper”.  I love doing just that, sending paper briskly off  to start its next recycled life.  It’s the greenest thing to do, especially when compared to  filling endless cabinets and long-term off-site storage facilities.

When you want to recommend, sell, support, and solve major customer problems with ECM software at ImageSource, due diligence mandates a thorough feature review and testing.  I’ll describe some of the steps I was involved with in this process for ABBYY FlexiCapture – but mine is but a single slice of the vet team pie.  Development teams and other engineering teams performed specific examinations to answer questions about integration, APIs, and more narrow capabilities to solve unique problems faced by eager customers.  Also, ImageSource staff with a variety of titles took a week-long training course with intensive labs.  Unfortunately I missed the class but was given the opportunity to spin up for a pre-sales demo last year, which was a lot of fun.

So here’s a peek at our process:

 Laptop Install

First things first!  I like to be able to run new software on my laptop whenever possible.  This frees me from all bandwidth and location constraints.  I can easily focus on the vet effort on a plane, down by the river, wherever and whenever.  ABBYY FlexiCapture has a convenient ‘Standalone Installation’ which gives you access to all the key components on one box.

 Obtain Sample Images from Client

In this case we gathered dozens of hardcopy invoices from a large international corporation.  The images were not pretty and included originals, copies, printed faxes, you name it.

 Ascertain Server Needs

After reviewing the ABBYY documentation we set the requirements for our labs – memory per server, disk space, software required, scan station requirements, scanner requirements, and required operating systems.

 Spin Up VMs

Thanks to Mike Peterson we had three servers up in no time.

Convening the Team , Locking Down the ‘War Room’

Gene Eckhart, Jeff Doyle and I  met in our Olympia office for a week.  Gene secured the war room where we periodically met with developers, project managers, engineers, and principals.  Most of the time it was the three of us banging away. Continue reading

Kofax 9.x – They’ve finally done it… Almost

I have been working with the Kofax Capture product for over ten years now. To prove that, let me tell you the configuration on one of my first installs. I remember setting up a Bell and Howell 3338 scanner (you know, the one that required a cherry picker to get out of the box and on to the desk) with the Kofax KF board and Kofax Capture version 2.x. Ah yes, I look back fondly on the old days of deploying a scanner with the Kofax card and software. I know it has been out for a while now, but I recently started working with version 9 of Kofax Capture and I am pleased to say that they have finally addressed some of the Kofax gotchas that have been plaguing us for years.

For starters, they made client deployment 100% easier by creating the MSI package. I can’t tell you how many conversation I have had with client admins that go like this:

Me: No we don’t have a SMS or other type deployment package you can use, but you can make your own.

Client Admin: (Furrows brow) Huh?

I will be much happier when those conversations are a little less embarrassing. Now the workstations can be deployed using Microsoft SMS, Group Policy, IBM Tivoli, Symantec Altiris, HP Openview, or whatever deployment suite you use. Kofax has only tested SMS, but Continue reading

ILINX Capture Remote Management

In the years that we have been doing ILINX Capture implementations a common question usually comes up from the IT Administrators; “Do we have to log on to the server to access the administration and management features?”  The answer is: “No, the ILINX Capture Server Manager can be utilized by any remote computer with the proper access.”

The reason why this comes up is because there is a lot of functionality in the ILINX Capture Server Manager.  Not only from the technical administration perspective, but also from the business management side.  For example, you have the ability to monitor the system status, review audit logs, configure security, monitor batches/documents and queues, and much more.  All of this functionality can be individually enabled or disabled for specific users and groups depending on their needs.

The following steps show you how to install the Server Manager for remote access to the software’s administration features;

1.  Run the Software Install and choose “ILINX Server Manager” from the install package…

2.  Ensure that the workstation has port access to the ILINX Capture database open to Database.  For example, if you are using SQL Server for your database the default port is 1433.

3.  Provide the user/group with the proper administration access.

a.  For a Line of Business Manager, it is common to just allow them access to monitor and manage the batches/documents in their queues

b.  For Tech Support, it is common to allow access to the Audit logs and System Monitoring features

This remote administration and management functionality has proven to be a valuable tool for this software over the years.  For more advanced remote admin/management tasks in ILINX Capture, feel free to leave a question in the comments and I will respond.  If enough similar questions are asked, I will drop another post on the more advanced tasks.

Ryan Keller
ImageSource, Inc.

Nexus 2010

I recently attended the Technology conference put on by my company. Nexus®, as it is dubbed, is where we try to bring in all the local and national minds in our ECM space together. On the vendor side we had both hardware and software manufacturers represented. On the standards side we had credits offered for PMI, ARMA, AHIMA, and IAPP just by attending. There was pre-conference training on  Oracle I/PM11g, a risk management course, and an AIIM ECMp course. For the user community we had attendees from Fortune 50 companies  down to small government agencies and everything in between. Sounds great right? It was.

As with any conference, you have to make it to the break out session that relate to you, and make connections with people that you can relate to. The latter was easy of course, we are all living and breathing the ECM world. Even if your content is different, the pain points are nearly always the same. It’s great to connect with others and find out their resolutions to similar issues, their approach to common problems, and to hear their success stories. Besides giving a presentation on our product ILINX® Integrate (something I have blogged about in the past), I also attended sessions on advanced document capture, ILINX Content Store, Oracle I/PM, and sessions on project management.

The breakout sessions had real value for me. Continue reading

ILINX® Capture Administration

I had the opportunity this week to attend our new ILINX Capture Administration class which Ruth Sheehan is currently finalizing here at ImageSource. It was a great experience; Ruth’s teaching style is very interactive and she really engages with her audience. It is a testament to both Ruth and ILINX Capture that such an in-depth course is successfully completed over the span of a few days.

The course is roughly divided between lecture where core concepts are explained and labs where students have the opportunity to immediately get practical hands-on experience.  The course load is definitely tilted toward lab-work and covers a full spectrum of configuration and management topics.

We started with installation and configuration of ILINX Capture itself.  This phase covered everything from required system specifications for both the server and workstations to making sense of the myriad configuration options present in the system.   The admin utility provides an easy to use and intuitive way of accessing all of the serverside functionality.  One of the coolest things I learned of in this phase was the concept of a Server Group.  A server group is an abstraction that represents one or more actual ILINX Capture servers.  This allows us to set policy (ie, what batches should be processed by these servers, etc) on this abstracted group level and have the members of the group receive policy changes without further admin time needed.  These also make it extremely easy to scale up the system as resource needs increase since new servers can simply be added to the server group.

After ILINX Capture is up and running the course transitions to the core batch profile and document type functionality.  The pace of the material is slow enough to provide a strong foundation yet at the same time respects the student’s personal capabilities and does not try to repeatedly explain the same concepts.  I enjoyed how each new lab built upon and reinforced skills introduced in the previous lab.  Starting from what surely must be the ‘Hello, World’ of batch profiles the course presents increasingly complicated situations.  I particularly enjoyed the lab where I set up a batch profile and document type which automatically recognized and scanned barcodes from multi-page documents and then made decisions by querying values from a database using the barcode number as an index value.  More than any other lab this really showed me what a powerful tool ILINX Capture is in a production environment where volume is high.

Overall, I feel that the course provides the background needed to really jump into administrating ILINX Capture.  And what the course does not directly teach you it provides all the tools one needs in order to create their own solutions for their own environment.  I’ve asked Ruth if she could keep me up to date with the course as it evolves further and I’m really excited to see where it’s going to head.  It’s off to a fantastic start already.

Les Harris
Support Engineer
ImageSource Inc.

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