by James Benham from SmartComplianceInc.com
(I recently wrote this article for the Securities and Insurance Licensing Association (SILA) quarterly newsletter.)
Many people tend to view license management simply as a database that can be isolated from other types of imaging programs or in-house applications. Most licensing organizations that I’ve seen have one of five situations in their department:
- A fully paper based system
- Excel sheets with paper copies of the licenses and support documentation
- Excel sheets with digital copies (on a shared drive or in a separate imaging system)
- A homegrown license management application
- A formal standalone license management application that is not enterprise integrated
However, the vast majority of these groups do not have a fully integrated solution that weaves together their data management system for licensing and compliance with full document and image management capabilities and with the ability to integrate with electronic license filing and in-house enterprise applications. Regardless of what specific solution you choose, there are a few feature points that are critical to a robust system for managing a paperless licensing department.
1) Replicating the paper process - Electronic Inbox
People still think in terms of how they did things inside of a paper-based system. One of the fundamental aspects of that is the concept of an inbox that sits on their desk. The inbox is usually arranged by the date in which items came into the inbox. This entire process can be replicated online, allowing the user to upload documents directly to the electronic inbox, or connecting to a scanner/copier in their office to directly upload paper documents to the inbox for filing. Once in the inbox, unlike a generic imaging solution, the transactional data for the license is captured immediately upon filing and immediately places that license, and its data, into the licensing/renewal database, along with referenes to what pages in the document represent different parts of the license.
2) Combining transaction data with document data and OCR information
A license has a lot of supporting documentation that needs to be tracked for a variety of reasons, including proof of payment, etc. For this reason, an ideal system would capture images of all supporting documentation, attach it to the license file and, at the same time, run the document through an OCR (optical character recognition) program to pull all text from all documents so that a full text search can be run on the remainder of the document. This can provide an immense amount of flexibility in aiding the user to find exactly the piece of documentation they need to find by being able to search through the transactional data along with the OCR image data at the same time.
3) Integrating with 3rd party applications through open interfaces
One of the key tenents of a good system is its ability to integrate with other applications (I call this “Playing well together on the school yard”). This means that the application should have an open interface (frequently by way of a web service) that allows applications like a claim management system to tap into the licensing and imaging database directly so that the information can be used in the claim assignment process (so that a claim would never be assigned to someone who was not licensed to adjust that claim). Not only should the application be able to receive requests from other applications, but it should be able to automatically move data to other applications’ web services for things like electronic filing, email notifications and more. There are countless other examples of how an integrated approach can pay off, but in the end they all are implemented with the goal of preventing, instead of reporting after-the-fact, non-licensed activity in the company.
There are many other things that differentiate good sytems from great systems, but the underlying principle is a global perspective on the company’s needs, not just one department’s. Analyzing the total compliance risk in an organization will lead to finding many potential solutions to problems that might have been lurking for years, but until you have the data pulled together, an analysis cannot even be started. The key is turning that data into information, and using that information to build knowledge and make better licensing decisions.