Interview with Orla Cafferty of Dublin-based Datascan Document Services on the strategic journey from document management services and document capture services to high-value BPO and compliance services.
Without digitization there is no digital transformation. Yet, in reality there is still a lot of digitization to do and paper is far from gone. How do service bureaus and BPO companies with document-intensive operations (document process outsourcing) evolve in this landscape? How do they support their customers, differentiate themselves and succeed?
How are regulations affecting them? What about cost pressure, technologies such as cloud and RPA (robotic process automation)? Shifts in end customer demands? These are just some of many questions DPOs, scan service bureaus and BPOs address in many different ways, depending on the local market, the types of processes, the served vertical industries, the strategy of the individual company and so forth. In other words: food for a series of interviews.
We start with Orla Cafferty, Director and Owner of Datascan Document Services, a Dublin-based digital document management services provider, founded in 1993. Orla is also a Certified Data Protection Practitioner and an ambassador of the GDPR Awareness Coalition, a great collaborative Irish initiative we’ve mentioned previously that aimed to rise GDPR awareness and help data controllers and data processors with the EU’s personal data protection regulation.
A focused strategy: investing in healthcare transformation services
Orla, let’s start by going back in time. In 2015 we first got in touch when Datascan announced it would invest €200,000 to establish a dedicated scanning bureau with a focus on the healthcare market (mainly medical records scanning). Can you tell us how Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) digital transformation strategy has evolved and how Datascan has evolved along with that healthcare transformation since then?
Orla Cafferty: The HSE’s digital transformation strategy seeks to improve the way the health service serves the needs of its users by making the interactions electronic and user friendly in so far as possible.
Part of this strategy is the development of the Electronic Health Record which of course is of deep interest to Datascan’s medical records scanning department. However, it is still the case in Ireland that there is no one single solution for electronic patient records for GP practices, Primary Care Centres and for private hospital consultants operating in either public or private acute hospitals.
There are a variety of operators in this patient management package space, and Datascan ensures that we can work with all of them, either through archiving legacy patient files or through the provision of correspondence processing for medical clinics – a digital mailroom for surgeries so to speak. This service is provided via a cloud interface, delivering processed correspondence matched and coded direct to the correct record in the patient management package.
Regulatory compliance and GDPR in the healthcare sector
The decision to invest more in healthcare went hand in hand with a local market evolution. Back in 2015 you also already referred to data protection and regulatory compliance which was about to evolve with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. How did the EU GDPR impact your offering for healthcare and possibly other industries?
Orla Cafferty: Overall, we found the raising of awareness relating to the introduction of GDPR to be a very positive influence on our sales effort in the healthcare sector.
Potential customers, be they hospital consultants or GPs, have recently been coming to us asking how they can comply with the new data protection regulations. This is a huge change for us.
Previously, our customer cohort would have had a general understanding of data protection but we would have had to engage in a consultative process to bring them to a good understanding of how Datascan can help them – now we can jump right in to how we can help them achieve compliance with the new rules.
Considering the impact of the GDPR on our offering for healthcare data processing; perhaps we have changed some terminology for our interactions with customers. We are an ISO27001 certified company, so we would have had comprehensive processes for the handling of customer data and this has helped us in our GDPR project as we have tried in so far as possible to align both processes.
On a very practical level, the GDPR has meant that we have implemented a separate data processing agreement in addition to our usual confidentiality agreements when processing personal data for our customers.
We would have had most of the required provisions covered in our earlier agreements with customers but there is now an expectation with customers to have a DPA (editor’s note: Data Processing Agreement), so we are happy to comply!
Advice for companies struggling with GDPR compliance
GDPR is here but we all know that many companies are still struggling, moving on their compliance journey and will need to do so for probably several years. What’s your advice to them?
Orla Cafferty: I have heard of many small companies going on a deleting and shredding spree in preparation for the GDPR which seems to be a fairly knee-jerk reaction.
My advice to organizations that are yet to start their compliance, or are struggling with it, would be to take some time out to critically assess what personal data you capture and why you capture it. There are very many simple templates available online for this purpose that could potentially be populated in a couple of hours. Filling in one of these data audit templates can then form your project plan for GDPR compliance.
It doesn’t need to be too comprehensive to start with, but when it is properly mapped, you and your team can take each category of data (sensitive, medical, financial, employee etc.) and drill down into why you have the data, how you are securing it, keeping it up to date and deleting it at end of life.
If you have colleagues in different departments of your organization it is important that they conduct the same exercise for their departments, giving them ownership and accountability for the data they are processing – even if the only category they process is the employee data of their team.
Moving up the value chain: the road from document scanning bureau to BPO services
In 2015 you emphasized the importance of moving from document capture and scanning services to value added services as customer expectations evolved from straightforward document scanning to more sophisticated data extraction and accounts payable type services. Looking at your website today you have moved from a document scanning bureau to a document process outsourcer with quite some BPO capabilities, even in procure-to-pay processing. That seems like a smart and forward-thinking strategy. Is it the way to go for service bureaus and how did that journey to move up in the customer value chain happen?
Orla Cafferty: It was always important for Datascan to move up the value chain with our customers and this is always a work in process. While setting up the document scanning bureau, we quickly realized that it would be imperative to get to the point that customers were coming to us with regular processing work.
Staying as an order based business, where we were starting from scratch with the sales orders every month was always going to be a struggle. In our newspaper returns side of the business Datascan has over 25 years’ experience in working with one of Ireland’s largest print media companies and we can see the advantages of having such a long-term contract.
The ability to plan both financially and for the workforce is key to growing a business, and we feel that pursuing this strategy of “sticky” services will allow us to do more for our customers and hopefully attract those who can give us the elusive 10x business.
One of the recurring challenges of service bureaus and BPOs with document outsourcing and digitization services is cost pressure: more competition, end customers focusing on cost savings and automation. Datascan describes itself as the SPECIALIST digital document management services: is specialization, along with value added services, the solution to endless cost reduction discussions?
Orla Cafferty: Cost pressure is omnipresent in this industry, with lots of customers shocked at the initial quotation we submit to complete a project for them. However, when we really break down the work that will go in to completing a project such as digitizing a whole GP practice’ patient records they do see the value in what we can do for them.
Replacing a file room with a completely up to date patient management system brings so many benefits, that it is up to our sales team at Datascan to get that value across to them in our proposition.
Having said that, we do recognize that a bill of several thousands of Euro can seem dauntingly unaffordable for a small business owner or a GP, to counter this we have developed a range of easy pay options for our customers by teaming up with one of the national banks who are willing to finance such projects.
Specialization as you suggest is also key; becoming the natural choice for digitizing in a given sector reduces the need to have endless back and forward negotiations on price. We have also become adept at recognizing when it just isn’t feasible to go for complete digitization and to take a scan on demand approach as a more budget conscious alternative.
Outsourcing sometimes simply is better
BPO has become this huge umbrella term for a broad range of services that are very different per type of customer, industry, geography and types of goals and projects. The core reasons for outsourcing business processes essentially have remained the same: companies must outsource some processes and tasks because there is a rationale for doing so. Where would you position yourself today and tomorrow in that service bureau and BPO landscape? What’s your take on BPO evolutions and how do you see this evolve?
Orla Cafferty: I am still surprised at the projects we are asked to do for our customers, and where they fit into their business model. Even large corporate organizations, that on the face of it appear to have their paperless processes in place come to us to plug a gap in their supply chain or to add expertise into one element.
A recent example is of a large enterprise level supply chain provider who had supplied their own transport crew with handheld devices for delivery tracking. Now however, due to the uplift in the Irish economy they are using contractor drivers to cater for the increased workload. It is simply not possible for them cost-wise, to supply all of these contractors with handheld devices, so we have been tasked with scanning their driver manifests and indexing the critical data ready for import into their ERP system, so that to all intents and purposes the data looks and acts the same at that captured on their PDAs.
Sometimes also, the arguments for outsourcing such as cost, efficiency etc., are overridden by the fact that in certain cases, outsourcing is simply better. This is particularly true in medical records scanning, where the technology used in a bureau situation is far ahead of a scan station set up in a surgery. Results in every aspect from image quality to file size are superior from a bureau perspective. Also, scanning in-house at a surgery is always seen as an administration chore to be ticked off whereas in a bureau situation, scanning is the main priority so therefore it gets the attention it deserves.
From our own perspective, Datascan is being asked all the time by current customers to help them with other aspects of their operations. This mirrors BPO evolutions as a whole I think; working with customers on a partnership basis to see what you can tackle as a team. At Datascan, we are continuing our strategy of working with key partners in certain areas like Crown Worldwide, Filestream, Woodsoft and HRLocker and hopefully into the future we can be seen as a capable BPO partner for some great enterprises.
Opting for cloud as the delivery model for data
You mainly serve smaller and medium businesses on top of the verticals in which you specialize. In one of your blog posts on the reasons to outsource scanning I read that Irish firms have been leading the way in cloud computing in recent years and that also smaller business start storing data in the cloud. How is cloud impacting your business and that of your customers?
Orla Cafferty: Cloud is becoming more and more, the method of delivery for data in our bureau. No longer are customers interested in having data transferred via media, USBs etc., whether encrypted or not.
One of the advantages of cloud delivery for us is that the outsourcing of Scanning and Indexing can be as seamless as having the data processed in-house. A very busy service for us is the real-time upload of scanned invoices and so on directly into the customer’s own cloud repository. Oftentimes, staff within the organization need not be aware that the scanning site is not on premises.
This service works very well for organizations which perhaps have offices in multiple locations but have a HQ in Dublin. Collaboration is enabled in this situation and having up to date information is so simple to achieve, this is definitely a growing service area for us.
Value: the importance of numbers-driven strategies
Previously we touched upon cost pressure and cost savings. While adding value is perhaps a better way to go and in line with what perhaps the most interesting types of companies seek, it is a reality. How you deal with it in the sense of optimizing cost structure, upgrading your infrastructure and/or saving on the typical more expensive areas of capture in the pre-scan and post-scan area?
Orla Cafferty: We are very much a numbers-driven organization, we measure outputs and inputs on an ongoing daily and weekly basis. This is especially important as we are a bureau serving various sectors and don’t really have control of the paper coming in to us.
Presentation of paper for digitizing whether good or bad has a direct impact on the margin that is achievable for the project. In an ideal market it would be possible to increase the price dramatically to process very messy records, but alas there is a ceiling price for every project.
Prior to commencing work on a project, we spend a good deal of time with the customer developing and agreeing a process specification. Taking the time to develop this specification with the customer captures all the agreed parts of the project and manages the customer expectations of the final result.
Then if anything changes during the project, the customer will realize that there will be price implications for moving outside the specification. Again, in the post-scan areas such as indexing, we drill down into the customers’ real requirements, if capturing one piece of information will achieve the desired result, then why capture 2,3 or even more fields needlessly.
Datascan is very busy at the moment thankfully; this is due in part to the introduction of the GDPR and increased awareness of our services. We have extended our working week to deal with this, so our bureau is working 6 days per week and 15 hours per day. Scanning kit is very expensive and it is important therefore to maximize the utilization of each machine – in the past we would have jumped at investing in more equipment but now we only do this when we are certain that we have maximized our current infrastructure.
The role of ecosystems and focus in future-proofing the service bureau and BPO
What would you advise to other document service bureaus, document service outsourcers and even smaller BPOs to future-proof and differentiate themselves?
Orla Cafferty: My advice to other small operators seeking to future-proof themselves would be to ally yourself with organizations that can help you to achieve your goals.
Identify a sector and see what software they are using, you will find that there are only a few packages operating in a sector, such as Salesforce, SAP, JDE etc. Then develop and maintain a relationship with the resellers of these packages, they are always being asked by their customers for document services to plug a gap or to look after legacy documentation to update their ERP system.
Also, perhaps this is truer in Ireland due to the small size of the business community, it is imperative that you and your sales team network and develop relationships across the industry. We try to differentiate Datascan by doing more on social media than is the norm for our industry which would be viewed as a conservative one (editor’s note: you can follow the company on Twitter here).
We have taken a decision that we should be seen as the friendly face of document services and our online presence is full of tips and guidance rather than jargon and legalistic terminology. I think so far this is working for us, and I am happy with our results to date.
Orla Cafferty and Datascan – up close and personal
To conclude, below are a few beginnings of sentences in bold. Could you complete them?
- In her spare time Orla Cafferty is an avid fan of the Gaelic games, hurling and football and the summer season is spent attending and following games on TV with husband John. She is also a keen foodie and loves traveling to new places tasting local delights; most recent was a trip to Lisbon to sample the seafood.
- For Datascan, digital archiving is still an important and growing part of our business. The GDPR has proved to be an opportunity to get our business case across to new customers by tapping into the messages they will have been listening to in the media. Not having to start from the beginning and explain the need for digital archiving has been very helpful to our sales effort.
- The GDPR Awareness Coalition was a very useful, timed initiative started by Garry Connolly and a group of professionals from across industries. These “ambassadors” were either working in data protection or had significant insight into how GDPR would affect their sector. Each ambassador developed a simple slide, giving tips on how a particular industry should address the GDPR, these were very useful and clear and were a refreshing change from the overly legalistic advice being propagated at seminars locally.
- Getting buy-in from all staff member, and building the document digitization into the day to day processes of the organization is critically important but digitization doesn’t have to happen in a “Big bang” fashion. Sometimes it can be helpful to conduct a pilot of paperless processes with one department in an organization and take the time to learn from the mistakes. It is then possible to publicize the gains and use them to make the business case to the rest of the organization before final roll-out.
- The day-to-day focus of Datascan is on growing our document services bureau through focusing on one sector at a time and working on developing key partnerships in that sector. We are a small enterprise, and must compete with the big records management companies, I feel that our advantage is that we can work with whatever CRM/ERP/HR system that a customer is using – instead of being tied to working with software brands that we are selling.
- Medical records scanning requires massive attention to detail and huge levels of customer trust. I always try to emphasize to my team how big a decision it is for a doctor or clinic to hand over their live records for us to scan. We never underestimate the fear that they or their staff members can experience during this process, and we do our best to assuage these fears as much as possible. We also try as much as possible to manage the expectations of our medical customers; if their paper records are in poor shape, then the digitized records cannot be gold standard.
- HRLocker is a valued partner for Datascan Document Services; working together we can provide the complete solution for automating HR processes and digitizing legacy HR records. We are delighted to work with HRLocker, they have similar company values to us and are similarly customer focused.
- If you automate a crap process, beware of the law of unintended consequences! Be prepared at all times to ask if you really need to continue doing something before you automate it.
- The top 5 reasons to go paperless: Cost Reduction, Time Saving, Enables Collaboration, Secures information, Sanity!
- Holding information, you should ask yourself firstly, do you need to hold this information? Do you know for how long you need to hold it? Ascertain who should be able to access it, when it should be deleted and if it contains personal data or sensitive personal data then you need to ensure that you have mapped where it is held and for what reason.
- In 10 years from now, I would like Datascan Document Services to have developed its service offering and to be challenging the big BPO organizations for market share!
- Female business leaders are always an inspiration for me, I love to read about them and listen to their stories. I think it is vitally important that women support each other in business. I am a long-standing member of the Going for Growth women business owners’ community, their programs for business women in Ireland provide women with the tools to grow their businesses and a readymade support network. goingforgrowth.com.
- Trinity College Dublin holds very happy memories for me; I studied Philosophy for my undergrad and loved it. The study of logic has undoubtedly helped me to keep a cool head whilst addressing problems that have come up over the years in my career.
Thanks for your wisdom, logic and time, Orla!
All images are property of their respective mentioned owners. There is no commercial relationship between i-SCOOP and Datascan. This subject matter expert interview is part of a series on future-proofing document scanning and management bureaus as automation increases and customer demands evolve, leading to various strategic choices, depending on region, type of company, vision and so forth in the spectrum of service bureaus, DPOs and BPOs. It lets various actors in the market explain how they evolve and envisage growth and/or new services and value generation.