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Talking digital

1 November 03

The potential of digital dictation and the growing capabilities of this technology

by Ken Nolan

Digital dictation has become widespread in recent years as the technology has started to deliver real benefits to users.

The principle is the same as traditional tape-based dictation, with one key difference – no tapes. This absence adds many, many benefits to the system.

Benefits of a tape-free system

Physically, there is no need for the author to deliver the tape to the secretary; there are no tapes to wear out or break; and it is simple to skip through recordings in an instant. This aspect in itself can justify the investment and is readily understood.

But beyond the physical lie greater benefits.

Authors can record their dictations directly into a PC while at their desk, over the telephone into a dictation server (particularly useful for managers on the move), or into a handheld digital voice recorder. Whatever the method of input the recording ends up as a file stored on a computer. From here the possibilities are almost endless.

Delivery of recordings becomes simple and instant. The system automatically sends the recording once the author is happy with it – there is no need to use email and it doesn’t clutter up the sent box. Authors can review their dictations at any time and recall any they wish to edit, so long as they have not already been transcribed.

Jobs can be automatically routed for speech recognition, review or transcription based on certain rules such as expected turnaround, department work type, transcriptionist group, or author/transcriptionist access level. This is achieved simply by attaching an appropriate identifying tag on starting a dictation, by which the system recognises the correct destination. When required the system administrator can easily modify these rules to ensure work priorities are met.

Some digital dictation systems can be linked to a speech recognition system to increase efficiency further. Jobs that are suited to speech recognition – those of which the complete text is contained within the dictation – are routed through the software and converted to a “first draft” text. This is sent to secretary along with the original voice recording. As the voice file is played the digital dictation software automatically highlights each word, making proofreading, formatting and correction of the text simple and efficient. Once correction is complete the text can be sent to another application, document or document management system.

Finally, administration of digital dictation is significantly easier than with tape-based systems. The system administrator can view all open jobs with their date of creation, author, client and secretary. Alarms notify the administrators when certain predetermined thresholds have been reached such as work overdue or becoming overdue. Alarms can be created for job types, author-reviewers, departments and so on.

Built-in reporting in the better systems provides the means to measure performance and overall productivity. Productivity reporting in any aspect of business has become extremely important and WinScribe, for example, has comprehensive reporting with over 70 standard reports, integrated billing, telephone line utilisation and detailed audit trails.

Gaining market recognition

Figures show that digital dictation is the fastest-growing technology in the legal markets. Almost half the top 200 law firms in the UK are now using the software, according to the “The Insider 200”, with firms reaping the rewards of going digital.

The latest systems offer significantly enhanced support for remote or home workers, allowing authors to dictate away from the office and submit via their usual Internet connection – no need for expensive VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). 32-bit encryption has been introduced to provide maximum security and dial-in dictation from touchtone telephone or even mobiles is also available.

Glasgow-based Bishops Solicitors has experienced significant improvements within the firm since installing WinScribe, including greater efficiency and improved management of resources. Work can now be prioritised by lawyers in accordance with the status of the document and forwarded to a pool of secretarial staff via Internet, telephone or digital dictation machine.

The system also enables effective tracking of secretarial workload and productivity, leading to an improvement in document turnaround times and better workflow management of documents. In addition to the benefits within the office, the system has allowed the prioritisation and dictation of work off-site with completed files returned from anywhere in the world.

Mairi Girvan, Bishops’ IT Manager, says: “The system has led to a number of key benefits but most importantly it enables greater flexibility, freeing up more time for staff to do other important tasks and allowing greater management of documentation which is crucial in a busy firm such as Bishops. It has also helped the secretarial team monitor and identify their workload, which creates a more efficient system and provides our clients with an enhanced service.”

Commercial law firm Shepherd+ Wedderburn is also reaping new rewards from increased efficiency and better management of resources after investing in the technology.

Lawyers who are required to work from remote stations or move frequently between the firm’s Edinburgh, Glasgow and London offices can dictate by phone or via the Internet and work can be picked up by secretaries at diverse locations. Further flexibility is provided through the ability for fast and efficient editing of files and review of past projects. Secretaries, meanwhile, benefit from previously unavailable sound clarity.

The system is also particularly resilient, so dictation will not be lost if a user’s PC contact with the network is lost. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption technology makes data unreadable to any person or group trying to intercept a transmission. The end result is quicker delivery to the client – and greater client satisfaction.

“The response has been excellent – lawyers are taking to it like ducks to water and there is some healthy competition over who should have priority use. Lawyers get faster and more accurate service and secretaries are more able to manage their time efficiently,” according to the firm.