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Sunday, January 8, 2012

EOSS Post Room Assistant

We thought we would take this opportunity to provide a bit more detail about what the EOSS Post Room Assistant is and what it can do for you.

Below is a diagram that shows the component parts of the EOSS Post Room Assistant, followed by a description of how it works.

For those of you that don't know, the EOSS platform is a business platform built by EOSSOnline Limited from a whole bunch of highly integrated Open Source products that we deliver over the Internet, some of which you can see in the image above. There are no license fees so all you pay is a low monthly subscription fee for the hosting and your choice of SLA to suite your business needs.

The EOSS Suite is intended to be a "zero client install". This means that we do not, at this moment, provide any components that need to be installed on any of your machines for EOSS to operate. All functionality is usually delivered through the EOSS Portal.
However, in the case of the EOSS Post Room Assistant we wanted a way for your scanner to pass documents through to the EOSS Suite in an un-intrusive way, we didn't, for example, what you to have to load documents either one by one or in bulk through a web interface. This is not to say that you can't if you want too as this is one of the standard methods supported for getting documents into the EOSS Suite.
In the case of the EOSS Post Room Assistant we extended the EOSS directory interface so that we can use Dropbox as an online shared directory. If your not already using Dropbox, now might be a good time to take a look. In later releases we'll extend this to other online storage mechanisms such as and some of the more popular cloud storage solutions available.

I must stress that this is not absolutely necessary as many scanners can be configured to send documents as email attachments, and in this case you will only need to configure an email address that we will provide you when you sign up for the service and "hey presto" your done. This does mean that you can also send any document you like to the EOSS Suite as an email attachment, even if you don't have a scanner.

For those of you with scanners that can only scan documents to directories, or this is your preferred method in the case that you can setup your scanner for either option, then you will currently need to use Dropbox. Just create a directory to scan too and then share this directory with us. EOSS will then extract your scanned documents from this directory for processing. This also means that you could just bulk copy documents directly to this location and bypass the scanning part altogether if you wanted to.

OK, so lets get on with how it works
1. Scan your document.
2a. Your document is saved to your Dropbox directory - Most scanners will save these in either PDF or TIFF format that may be in "image only" or searchable text versions, EOSS Post Room Assistant handles any of these, and more.
2b. Your document is scanned as above but is then sent directly to the email address we provided you as an email attachment. Again, the formats may be the same as above in 2a.
3 and 4 are just to show that you can just copy files to the Dropbox shared directory or just directly email documents as attachments to the EOSS Post Room Assistant.
5. The EOSS Suite receives the documents and begins processing them. This is the clever bit... The EOSS Suite determines the "classification" of each document and it's intended parties i.e. what they are and where they need to go. The EOSS Suite incorporates an OCR server that turns images into text, if possible. This means that if your scanner only creates embedded image PDF's or TIFF's we'll work it out. Documents that don't require OCR just pass straight through to the next step.
The next step is founded in NLP or "Natural Language Processing". There are other terms associated with NLP but as the EOSS Suite uses the Apache OpenNLP project then this is the term we will use. We use the Maximum Entropy framework to determine "document classification". This means that the EOSS Suite can work out if the document is an Invoice, Receipt, Complaint, CV, Contract, private letter to the CEO etc etc etc.
I won't go into the details here but it means that the EOSS Suite can "learn" new document classifications, defined by you, over time. This takes us to the final step, step 6.
6. When you first start using the EOSS Post Room Assistant it has very little knowledge about your organisation and no knowledge about the "document classifications" you want to assign in your organisation. We load the initial classification model with some broad classifications but these will not cover your requirements and indeed, you may even wish to change our initial offerings.
To do this may seem immensely complicated but is in-fact really really simple, from a users perspective that is.
If a document cannot be automatically classified it will appear in your list of documents to be classified when you access your EOSS Portal. You can easily preview all documents in this list and manually select the classification from a list of all currently know classifications, or even add a new classification if the one you want does not exist. Once a classification has been assigned to that document it is used in the document categorisation corpus training process for future reference, similar documents will now be auto categorised. This is how NLP works.

This process ensures that your EOSS Post Room Assistant is constantly aware of the types of documents your organisations deals with even when those documents have wildly differing structures from different vendors, partners or customers.

The EOSS Portal is also where you configure rules such as "where does this type of document go?". Thus you can make sure that any financial category of document gets to the Finance department Inbox and Contracts get to your legal team.

Just one more point before we finish. As the EOSS Suite has an integrated Content Management System (Alfresco). ALL of your documents, no matter how they are sent, are retained for future reference. They are fully searchable and can be accessed from anywhere in the World through your EOSS Portal. We'll discuss this as well as the EOSS Security model at a later date.

We look forward to seeing you at our next post.

The EOSSOnline Team

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