The term “paperless office” has been tossed about for decades, but while numerous advancements have occurred in scanning hardware and software, mobile devices, and digital technologies, today’s businesses continue to be challenged by the reality of making the transition from paper to digital. As a result, many companies find themselves mired down in paper-based workflows despite the fact that the tools for automating their processes might be at their fingertips.
Even if they have attempted to implement a digital workflow, many businesses continue to struggle with completely eliminating paper; for example, documents are often printed for signing and then re-scanned or keyed back into the system, negating any positive time, cost or environmental effects yielded by a digital system. In order to enact true process automation, firms must take a good look at the problems and pain points traceable to a paper-based system and find ways to eliminate them without creating new ones — whether they be from employees unaccustomed to managing digital information or a system that is not equipped to handle the data.
Because of these potential issues, it is critical to plan properly for the paper-to-digital conversion rather than rushing in. To rush is to risk not only document integrity and data loss, but employee buy-in as well. A familiar complaint from employees when implementing automated processes is that they want to do things the “old” way. Employee education is critical to ensure a smooth transition, as well as offering a better understanding of why things need to be done a certain way.
Scanning is fairly pervasive in today’s office environment, but the ad-hoc nature of most scanning is counterproductive to true process automation. Often the resulting documents are simply digital images that cannot be manipulated, rather than true digital documents obtained through solutions such as optical character recognition (OCR) software that can be utilized as part of a digital workflow. It is important that those entering information understand the difference.
Also affecting the transition to digital, and the subsequent document flow, is that information in a digital environment now comes from more than just scanners. Processes were easier to manage when information had limited potential points of origin, but in the digital world, information can originate not only from hard copy, but on a desktop computer, downloaded from the Internet or a cloud location, on an employee’s personal mobile device, or on a connected MFP. A solid system of process automation must take all of this into account and enable access to the resulting information at any point as well.
Access to information is a critically important component of process automation. A common flaw in paper-based processes is the difficulty of finding documents when needed, such as for an audit. It is important to ensure that an automated digital process does not replicate the same problems. The influx of digital information can be overwhelming, and it is common for multiple copies of scanned documents to be created and deposited in numerous locations, whether on the network or the employee’s own hard drive. While the method for digitizing documents is an important part of process automation, so too is the flow of those documents through the system to their final repository to ensure easy, actionable access to data.
Process automation can represent a real challenge for organizations, particularly those striving to get a better grasp of their current processes. Companies and employees that understand the importance of automating and optimizing document workflow will be more likely to embrace the process, thereby driving adoption of process automation, increased efficiencies and reduced costs.