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Solutions in practice

The Home Depot streamlines practices with InputAccel
The Home Depot had a problem. Founded in 1978 in Atlanta, The Home Depot is North America's largest home improvement retailer, with 584 warehouse-style home centers in 41 states and 32 stores in Canada. The company employs 125,000 people, and net sales for fiscal 1997 were $24.2 billion. Each Home Depot store stocks 40,000 to 50,000 different products for building, home improvement, and lawn and garden. Home Depot plans to expand to 1,100 stores by 2001. Home Depot knew it was imperative to plan for this future, including how to control the onslaught of documents that growth brings.

Adam Klein, manager of information services, says, "We needed an imaging system solution that afforded the ability to easily capture that paper in a digital medium."

InputAccel was chosen as the document capture piece of the complete document imaging system.

Home Depot chose to use its merchandise accounting department as a pilot project. This group receives 150,000 to 200,000 sheets of paper per day: invoices, freight bills and packing slips. All of this information must be kept on file, both for legal reasons and in case accounting discrepancies occur.

Before imaging, Home Depot stored all of the information on microfilm, using 10 to 15 dedicated cameras. This microfilm technique was time-consuming and left as much as a two- to three-week backlog just to get the information to film. Once stored, data retrieval took as much as seven days.

"In the past, operators had to talk to vendors over and over again. For example, there might be a situation where we ordered 10 hammers, received eight, and were billed for 12," explains Klein. Because the information was not readily available, workers could not immediately resolve this problem. It had to be set aside until all backup material had been retrieved, a 10-day process if the original documents were stuck in the backlog channel.

Klein states, "We suspected an imaging system would control the paper and give us a competitive edge in working with our vendors. We were not able to respond to vendor requests quickly enough." Home Depot realized it was crucial to business to access this information more quickly.

The criteria
Home Depot chose InputAccel for its abilities to:

  • employ high-volume document capture
  • write custom Process Control Files (PCF) to specify how documents flow through a system
  • support multiple scanner types.
They needed a robust, production level document capture system. Klein confirms, "Although there are 150,000 to 200,000 sheets of paper per day that are scanned, these are two-sided documents. So, in reality, the InputAccel system is processing up to 400,000 pages per day. There was no another system out there that could handle that kind of volume."

Home Depot came to appreciate InputAccel's flexibility and the ability of Input Software's Professional Services Group to exploit that flexibility. They were processing 130 to 180 batches per day, with 10 to 20 bundles (group of documents) per batch. After evaluation, they decided to create a PCF to export at the batch level instead of at the bundle level. "By receiving training and using the services of Input Software's Professional Services Group, we have learned that it is relatively easy to change and create new PCFs to meet our needs," states Klein.

The final critical factor in deciding to purchase InputAccel was the fact that it supports more than 200 scanner types. Not knowing which scanners it would implement, Home Depot valued the software's ability to support multiple scanner types and manufacturers.

The system
Five Kodak 923 duplex scanners scan the documents-packing slips, invoices and freight bills-which can be three different sizes of paper. Most of these pages are scanned in landscape mode to allow the scanner to run at rated speed. The Image Rotate Utility automatically rotates the images to portrait format.

InputAccel collects information so Home Depot can analyze the productivity of the scanning system. For example, if Scanner 1 processed 50,000 pages and Scanner 2 processed 20,000, it could be an indication that someone needs additional training on the scanner side. Home Depot customized this feature so that it can identify when errors occur because of an illegal barcode. This allows corrections to be done before an operator is forced to deal with the issues.

With the complete document imaging system in place, Home Depot gets data in 10 to 15 seconds that used to take a week. InputAccel is the critical piece to this system, as it is the link that allows the information to be captured and indexed in an electronic format.

By using InputAccel, Home Depot significantly reduced labor costs.

"The integrity of the system is a given, so we can really see a difference in the department now," says Klein.

By creating a more efficient work process, Home Depot has allowed its employees to focus on a key business objective-to grow the business.

"I think the biggest challenge today is to figure out the next best place to go with the technology," Klein adds. "We are currently analyzing and prioritizing other areas that need imaging. Other departments know the benefit of having information scanned and available for retrieval."

Additional departments considering imaging include human resources, legal and expense reporting. Klein is developing metrics to help decide where to implement imaging next.

Because InputAccel provides a complete enterprisewide capture solution, Home Depot must prioritize which departments are critical in the implementation process. While volume is an important factor, it is not the only one. "There might be a department out there with a million documents to scan but only two people looking at them. But, there might be a department that has 10,000 documents to be scanned and 10,000 people looking at them. These are the issues we are looking at to determine the best path for Home Depot," explains Klein.

Home Depot has made a commitment to continue with its imaging project. Klein says, "The InputAccel scanning function will be tied to anywhere that we will be bringing imaging. There is always paper that needs to be scanned." n