AI for Handing Paper Mail Overload – Two Use-Cases


SOURCE: EMERJ.COM
MAY 30, 2022

For better or worse, paper is often the lowest common denominator in capturing and storing this information in the enterprise.

The inefficiencies of processing and distributing this mail to team members can challenge enterprise compliance, privacy, and information security requirements. COVID has strained enterprises further to drive towards digitization – but a vast array of important information is trapped on physical paper.

According to an Iron Mountain/IDG Workplace Transformation Study, 86% of organizationssay it is “highly important” to achieve a paper-light environment. The benefits are clear. Digital documents can:

  • Save time and keep employees more engaged when information is more easily located
  • Foster increased sharing and collaboration among employees and teams
  • Facilitate the exchange of data and information with remote employees
  • Unlock insights hidden in paper documents
  • Cost less to store, maintain, and locate than paper documents

So why do so many organizations struggle to move to paper-light environments even as 94% of survey respondents have considered moving their records offsite? Why do 90% of companies keep their paper records onsite, but less than half regularly access them?

One of the main contributors to an organization’s paper documents is the large volumes of paper-based mail that arrive every month. In the case of external information from suppliers, vendors, and customers, it can be nearly impossible to force digitized standards – and enterprises are left to handle the messy work of digitization in their own mailroom.

What is a Digital Mailroom

A digital mailroom aims to translate incoming paper documents into digital documents – easily accessible, findable, and enriched with relevant information. The initial heavy lifting involved in creating such a mailroom is human forethought, namely determining:

  • What are the major categories of documents we receive in a given week or month? Do we have an existing ontology for these documents, and is it good enough to serve our future purposes, or do we have to revise it?
  • What are the critical pieces of information in each of these documents, and how might we train AI to identify this information? For example:
    • Invoices: Payer entity or person, bank account information, address information, product or service purchased, etc.
    • Legal notices: Sender entity of person, department or person addressed, etc.
  • What kind of information would be helpful to enrich these documents? What would help us find the correct documents and see useful patterns in our data over time? For example:
    • Ontologies: Documents fall into categories and sub-categories, and
    • Scores: Legal notices come in varying levels of risk. Invoices come with different levels of urgency. All kinds of documents might be appended with a “red, yellow, green” or “1 – 5 star” scoring process to help humans prioritize, process, or search them.
    • Labels: Documents may need more free-form labels to be searched over time. This might involve labels for specific users, departments, specific terms, and topics (for example, invoices for particular parts, legal agreements with specific clauses, etc.) etc.

After human forethought and through a robust training process over time, AI is capable of automatically extracting relevant information and appending relevant labels, scores, ontology groups, and more. This can provide immediate transparency in the inbound documents and enterprise receives and potentially even a predictive capability to understand the patterns of document flows within an organization, shining a light on a substantial, opaque portion of an enterprise’s data flows. We’ve explored this topic in greater depth in our more extensive article about document search and discovery.

Hypothetically, with a digital mailroom, enterprise leaders can:

  • Cut down on the deluge of paper-based mail entering your offices so your employees can focus on their core activities
  • Allow your employees to access much more of their mail whenever and wherever they need to
  • Better protect and monitor the mail that arrives in your offices through robust access controls and security rules down to the metadata level

The case studies below are provided by Iron Mountain – and claims here don’t represent claims by Emerj. That said, the use cases themselves are useful examples of specific mailroom workflows that AI can positively influence and should serve to help readers spot their own potential AI opportunity areas:

1. Case Study – State Unemployment Agency

Challenge

State unemployment agencies faced unprecedented change and challenges in 2020. Amidst lockdowns, social distancing, and rapidly increasing COVID-19 case counts, macroeconomic downturns forced employers to cut their workforces, leaving millions out of work. Unemployment claims in this state unemployment agency rose from 1,000 a day pre-pandemic to 27,000 daily claims, with exception claims rocketing to 1,500 a day. The agency’s team of employees was quickly overwhelmed by the incoming claims. While navigating their own remote-access-only work environment, they strived to meet the increased demand for unemployment benefits and support their state’s displaced workers.

The state unemployment agency needed a solution to help them better support the citizens of their state. They looked into how digitization could help them coordinate their processing of standard and exception unemployment claims. They turned to Iron Mountain.

Solution

To address the rapidly rising demand for the state’s unemployment benefit support, Iron Mountain quickly moved in with its Digital Mailroom Service. The state unemployment agency instructed the postal services to redirect the agency’s mail to Iron Mountain, where its team of experts leveraged optical character recognition (OCR) technology to scan their documents and index them, making them fully searchable for the agency’s overworked, remote employees.

After reviewing each scanned unemployment claim for accuracy, completeness, and compliance with the agency’s requirements, Iron Mountain ingested the digitized documents into its secure cloud storage repository, Iron Mountain InSight®. The team then applied a metadata field for the claimant’s Social Security numbers so that the agency could quickly identify exception claims.

Iron Mountain claims that it then made the claims, including exception claims, available to the agency’s remote employees so that they could continue with their work even as the pandemic raged on. Iron Mountain claims to have also worked with the state unemployment agency to determine document retention and destruction requirements to keep storage costs low for the state agency. “Not everything needs to be saved,” says Iron Mountain Project Manager Alexander Lomakin. “Some documents need to be saved for a set period of time, but not indefinitely. After they’ve been digitized, the physical copy can be destroyed for other documents. This helps clear up space and save paper.”

Results

Purported capabilities gained by the unemployment agency:

  • Search and access their paper mail from a central, secure location
  • Satisfy the agency’s compliance and privacy requirements
  • Save time and resources searching for and processing unemployment claim documentation
  • Address the new challenges encountered by work-from-home employees

With Digital Mailroom, Iron Mountain claims to have provided the state unemployment agency with a solution that could support its remote workforce in meeting its on-time claims processing requirements. By digitizing exception claims and enabling employees to process them digitally, Iron Mountain moved agency staff to a more efficient process that, in turn, better supported the citizens of the state as many of them navigated the unemployment claim process for the first time.

2. Case Study – Commercial Real Estate Firm

Challenge

On March 23, 2020, the UK entered lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. The shelter-in-place order challenged business models across the country. For one UK-based multinational commercial real estate firm, the lockdowns meant they could no longer access their paper-based mail and the hundreds of thousands of pounds that arrived with the payments its customers sent. The firm struggled to find a solution to maintain critical compliance requirements related to its mail.

The 50,000-employee commercial real estate firm was forced to act. Three senior employees began processing the company’s mail across its eleven locations. The company then came to Iron Mountain and asked for solutions to process check payments within five business days. They asked about a solution that they could scale globally.

Solution

Even though big-name competitors pushed hard with their solutions, Iron Mountain won the bid due to the company’s deep expertise in global, long-term digital transformation efforts. Iron Mountain’s team worked with the firm’s employees and proposed the Iron Mountain Digital Mailroom Service, workshopping with the client team to ensure clarity around key components and terms of the solution. Soon after, the commercial real estate firm implemented the Iron Mountain solution and began redirecting their mail to Iron Mountain secure facilities where it could be scanned and indexed before distribution. Together, the team worked on permissions within the system so that the right individuals could access the proper documents at the right time.

Results

Iron Mountain claims that its Digital Mailroom solution now digitizes the commercial real estate firm’s paper-based mail. The mail is routed to the appropriate individuals through access to their solution. Iron Mountain also claims that the solution yielded 7,000 images across 834 documents, averaging 8.4 pages per document per day. The solution has gained widespread acceptance at the client’s operations, and they are now in discussions to scale the solution across a greater extent of their enterprise.

Purported benefits:

  • Simple, fast search capabilities for digitized mail
  • Retrieval of digitized mail from one central, secure location
  • Savings of time and resources in finding and processing paper-based mail
  • Industry-leading information security and privacy controls from Iron Mountain