Three Strategies for Paperless Workflows

As one of your digital transformation initiatives — particularly in an effort to meet business priorities in these challenging times — you may want to significantly reduce paper usage. Your goals might include mitigating risk, streamlining business processes, enhancing cost containment initiatives and better preparing for the future. But where do you start? There are three strategies you can consider:

  • Digitize processes for incoming documents such as claims, applications, contracts, customer inquiries, client and employee communications and others
  • Leverage analytics and improved reporting to better understand volumes and costs related to manually processing paper documents
  • Consider engaging a managed services provider to help execute these strategies

Let’s examine each of these strategies in some detail.

Strategy 1: Digitize the mailroom to improve efficiency

Every day, companies are flooded with thousands of physical documents and emails, which are processed in separate workflows. This approach comprises a wide assortment of claims, applications, contracts, customer inquiries, client and employee communications, and other documents. These can pour in, soaking up hours of valuable administrative time that could be better spent on higher-value tasks.

Clearly, funneling both paper-based and email communications into the same workflow makes sense. But moving too quickly toward the paperless office can backfire, which is why for many companies the best strategy is to begin with the low-hanging fruit — digitizing the mailroom.

Why focus on the mailroom? Paper-based mailroom processes are particularly inefficient, as multiple employees have to sort, classify, repackage, track, and ship mail. It’s not simply that such practices are labor-intensive. They also cost businesses indirectly in several ways:

  • Reduced productivity, with employees spending hours on nonessential mail
  • Security and compliance issues due to delays, lack of visibility, and poor tracking
  • Slow response times to clients and prospects, damaging brands and reputations
  • Misdirected mail that causes delays and a loss of customer confidence

Digital intake centers are hybrid mailroom and scanning operations that convert physical mail into digital information as soon as it’s received. This enables the information to be delivered more efficiently to the right employee or routed to the correct business workflow. This system can also help track and audit mail, which in turn can enable the organization to respond to customers and clients in a timelier fashion. The full benefits of digitizing your mailroom potentially include:

  • Reduced costs associated with mail sorting and distribution
  • Enhanced operational efficiency with quick delivery to the intended recipient or business process
  • Stronger document security and privacy
  • Reduced risks and greater compliance
  • Better customer service through faster response times
  • Improved visibility and control

For these reasons and more, it may make sense to consider digitizing your mailroom as part of your overall digital transformation, and as a key step toward implementing a paperless office.

Strategy 2: Leverage analytics to uncover continuous improvement opportunities

When people used to talk about the advantages of paperless workflows, they focused on efficiency—it simply seemed cleaner and simpler to get rid of hard copies. That remains true. But now, in the digital age of big data, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), the primary advantage of moving toward a paperless office is that it can give you faster access to a lot of highly valuable data.

Take something as simple as returned mail, which in our experience can cost businesses a significant amount of money every year. It is now possible to scan QR codes and barcodes on the outside of envelopes to find out what’s inside, who the envelope was addressed to, and which department needs to receive it. The department can then update its mailing lists with the goal of improving marketing and customer service.

Likewise, when invoices are received, they don’t have to sit in your mailroom waiting to be processed. Instead, they can be quickly digitized and automatically placed in your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, helping to ensure prompt payment.

Among the technological advances that are helping businesses today are optical character recognition (OCR) and intelligent capture recognition (ICR), both of which can be integrated with artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled software. OCR can convert images into editable text and ICR “reads” handwriting, so you can digitize more types of documents than ever before. AI-enabled software can then classify documents, pushing them into the right channel for analysis, storage, or other uses.

An additional example of how you can put this to use is when a customer writes in with a formal complaint. At a digital intake center, the letter can be automatically digitized, classified and routed to the appropriate department. An employee can read the document and respond promptly, potentially saving the relationship and meeting your regulatory obligations. Because the letter is digitized, it can be analyzed along with other letters to identify potential areas of concern for the company.

Strategy 3: Partner with an expert to jump start your digital transformation

Years ago you might have struggled to find a partner with solid experience in helping numerous businesses move toward a paperless office. But now, many businesses can work with an experienced, highly qualified partner who functions as a trusted advisor in launching and completing digital transformation projects. The challenge is finding the right partner for your organization.

Some managed services companies may emphasize technology as the solution to various business challenges. However, in our experience technology is only one important element of a successful digital transformation. Also critical is being able to tap a service provider’s years of experience. As you look for a partner that can meet your requirements, consider the following:

  • Can they deliver a level of customization, integrating tightly with your culture and technology, if needed, when implementing a solution?
  • Do they have expertise in quality management methodologies and tools for monitoring outsourced document processes in order to eliminate waste and continuously improve performance?
  • Are they knowledgeable about regulations in your industry and fully understand and appreciate what those compliance issues mean for your digitization initiatives?
  • Do they offer a full range of services to meet your needs, which might span assessing, analyzing and designing your business processes as well as managing and continuously improving them?

When you find a managed services provider that offers the right combination of people, process, technology, and data analytics, you’ll be able to start leveraging the advantages of a paperless office. And you’ll have confidence that they are thinking about your business from your perspective. The key point is that with the right support, you can move toward a paperless office with a smart, gradual approach, reaping enormous benefits every step of the way.

is a certified enterprise content management practitioner (ecmp) and director of corporate communications for Canon Business Process Services, a leader in managed services and technology.