As we approach World Paper Free Day 2016, now more than ever, why, how and where companies should remove paper from their business has become quite clear. Digital transformation of processes has become a requirement to survive in today’s technology driven, mobile-enabled work environments. Manual, paper-based processes are error-prone, inefficient and labor intensive.
Paper becomes an obstacle to success for organizations striving to increase productivity and the speed at which information is accessed by employees, clients and partners. The dominance of cloud solutions, an increase in born-digital documents and advancements in technology have made going paperless easier and more affordable than in past years.
However, despite all of these reasons, a paperless initiative can become overwhelming. I have found that starting with the “less paper” and keeping it out of your offices can make a profound difference for the success of a paperless initiative.
I’ve got four suggestions that not only reduce paper but are also sound business practices.
Digitally transform the process
Improved process productivity, the need to quickly find and share documents and the demand for anytime, anywhere access to documents top the list of reasons every company is trying to drive paper out of their processes. Going paperless has become part of digital transformation strategies as businesses seek to lower costs and reduce employee involvement in transactional, repeatable tasks.
Paper documents must be converted to digital as they enter a process so they can be handled by digital workflows designed to take advantage of the increase in born-digital documents. Companies of all sizes are implementing solutions with tools and features that eliminate the need for paper at every stage of a document’s life cycle.
Here are a few requirements for a solution that will eliminate paper, and automate processes:
- Easily ingest paper and digital documents at their entry point and by scanning, secure FTP, email, fax, upload and integration with other systems. At this stage, information needed from documents should be extracted using capture solutions and machine learning.
- Workflow to automate processes, such as document distribution, routing, approval, tracking, and filing. Workflow should include routing data extracted from documents to business applications.
- Access at any time on any device and sharing through links to documents, along with digital file rooms, can eliminate the need to print or copy documents. If downloading or printing is required to share a document internally or with external parties, then you have an outdated solution. Security, controlling access to specific documents and controlling document actions such as printing and downloading are also musts.
- E-forms and digital signatures to reduce or eliminate the need to create some paper documents. Your solution should enable the use of external or internal digital forms. Digital signatures are required to avoid having to print documents for a signature.
- Proactive notification of missing and expired documents. Knowing what you don’t have is just as important as knowing what you do have.
- Ensure compliance with audit history tracking and automation of retention schedules.
Get paper out of your offices
Almost every company grew up working with paper and creating paper records, but large onsite file rooms and row after row of file cabinets are starting to disappear from modern offices. The cost of office space and the need to use office space for activities that support a business are the main drivers. I’ve seen a number of our clients either move to new offices or remodel their current space, and file storage is not a part of the new digs. Files and documents that are not frequently accessed are moved to offsite records storage which is more cost-effective and secure.
Most medium-to-large businesses partner with offsite records management companies to store and manage their paper documents that must be retained for regulatory and corporate governance reasons. If you’ve got a really good records management provider they’ll provide analytics and tools to help get rid of the paper and keep it from coming back to the office.
Almost every records management company has some online portal to request records, but that’s not good enough. Look for dashboards that show what departments are sending the most records offsite, when records are due for destruction and which departments are requesting the most records be returned. These are the things you need to know if you are serious about reducing paper and keeping it out of your business.
Digitally access paper documents
If you need to access documents stored offsite or older inactive documents, do it digitally. This is frequently called scan-on-demand, or capture, and most records management companies offer this service, but be sure it’s done right. What you don’t want is documents scanned and emailed to you. There are security issues with this approach, not to mention filling up network storage space.
Whether a document is scanned by your records management provider, a document imaging company or your own staff, the document should be stored in a technology designed for document management, preferably with the features mentioned earlier. Digital access should be faster and more cost effective than physical access and the paper shouldn’t need to be digitized the next time you need it. Look for practical features when a scan-on-demand process is put in place:
- There should be a notification when a document has been scanned and is available.
- You should be able to utilize existing equipment like network copiers or multi-functional devices.
- Routing or uploading to your document management solution should be simple.
Every company must have a retention program and should follow it. One of the easiest ways to reduce paper in your organization is to follow your retention schedule. If it’s time to get rid of it, then get rid of it. Your information governance program should help you shift to paperless. If digital documents are acceptable for regulatory agencies and auditors, then consider making the switch from paper to digital and disposing of the paper documents as quickly as possible.
While a completely paperless business may not be achievable or realistic, eliminating paper from business processes must be an ongoing exercise. However, there is no reason not to follow these four tips because you’ll reduce paper, save money, improve processes and have a more efficient business.
is Sr. Solutions Specialist at Access Information Management.