Although talk of the paperless office has existed for decades, the motives behind it have evolved over the years. What began as a way to simply eliminate paper has transitioned into the combined goals of increasing efficiency, simplifying workflow, improving service, and building profitability. As a result, more decision-makers are focusing on document automation. Originally an exercise in clutter reduction and environmentalism, going paperless has become part of the C-level strategy, with the goal of automating key workflows and deriving more value from technology.
Everyday Benefits, Every Department
Data capture and document management methods have traditionally been used in the automation of high-volume, paper-intensive business activities like claims processing or medical records, but, for the most part, these automation efforts have been limited to process-specific applications. Today, however, enterprise content management (ECM) tools and techniques can bring the benefits of document automation to nearly all of the business activities that every organization must manage.
For example, in many organizations the Accounts Payable process remains burdened with paper, such as purchase orders, proof of delivery receipts, and invoices. The result is an often costly and error-prone process whose costs and methods can both be streamlined by workflow tools.
Paper is also a large part of the Human Resources daily processes where employees can spend more time with administrative tasks than they do working in activities that bring value to the organization. Digitization and automation of the recruiting, on-boarding, benefits administration, and other routine processes can vastly improve these paper-filled workflows.
Banks, insurance companies, and mortgage brokers with multiple locations generate paper documents that support a variety of daily business activities such as loan and refinancing applications, and policy documents and claim forms. Using sophisticated multifunction printers (MFPs) at the point of origin can not only reduce mail and courier expenses, but also automatically launch the workflow processes needed to complete the transactions.
Many organizations seeking to gain efficiencies by improving workflow are investing heavily in digital document automation and ECM. Worldwide, Forrester estimates ECM to be a market worth $9 billion in 2015. What’s more, nearly 90 percent of current ECM decision-makers plan to expand their rollouts over the 2015-2016 time frame1. As with any investment, the benefits of adopting any evolving technology must outweigh the costs. How can you make the most of your efforts and ensure a strong return on investment?
You can begin to capture these kinds of efficiencies and savings using a combination of hardware and software which may already exist within your organization. Many of the MFPs already in your offices may have been designed for high-volume scanning, and simply teaching your teams to use this functionality can speed and streamline your processes. Adding workflow automation software can create even greater efficiencies by directing scanned documents to specific folders or mailboxes. With the right software, documents scanned on your MFP can even launch workflows and other automated processes.
ROI can also be improved during audits, because organizations with digital workflows and automated archiving and indexing are less likely to be out of compliance. The paper-based processes that have become unmanageable for internal workers are no longer sufficient to meet the needs of increasingly strict compliance demands. Next-generation document capture and automation tools can help ensure appropriate document access. They can provide a complete audit trail with search capabilities that make it easy to comply with demands for compliance, privacy and information discovery.
Without a clear roadmap to guide your direction, document automation can seem overwhelming and complex. Start with the basics and then expand to more advanced techniques to make the transition a simple one.
The first step is to define and map your workflows so you understand where the bottlenecks are and what is needed to clear them. You may find that scanning paper documents and storing them in digital form is all that is needed to relieve the burden of paper in the business process.
With the initial import of documents into the workflow, technologies like OCR can then be used to read data from document images and allow you to leverage that information. Without this feature the documents remain static, and not much more useful than paper. Using templates, information that would otherwise need to be keyed in manually can automatically be detected from specific zones and then inserted in other documents. The use of barcodes can bring further automation to the workflow.
Once you have adopted basic document capture and information management, you can move forward by initiating the entire process electronically. Rather than receiving paper documents and scanning them into the system, suppliers, partners and customers can submit documents electronically and eliminate paper-processing altogether. This can help save time, money and lead to fewer errors. The vision is to have all documents captured, digitized and stored with the least amount of manual labor.
This slow but steady utilization of existing hardware and adoption of new processes and software is the best strategy for most businesses. By starting with known processes and hardware and gradually expanding into new products and processes, you will help capitalize on immediate savings and efficiencies while avoiding the pitfalls of an undertaking that may otherwise be complex and overwhelming.
Finding the Right Solution.
With so many document and data capture solutions available, how do you know which one is right for your business? Look for solutions that automate paper-based and manual tasks and provide the workflow you need to make the most of moving from paper to digital documents. Seek providers and partners that provide the right mix of experience, vision, and advanced capabilities that leverage the full value of digital document tools and technology. Research industry specific solutions, of which there are many for almost every vertical market. Find out what your competition uses — it may be something to test or one to avoid, but it can be used as a benchmark at the very least. Do your research, engage your employees and utilize the many existing resources both within and outside your organization, and the paperless office will become a reality.