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Bob Gourley

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Still Dreaming of the Paperless Office?

By John Mancini, President, AIIM

The concept of a paperless office is some way off, but I can’t think of any company out there that wouldn’t like to reduce its paper consumption, whilst communicating faster and more efficiently with its customers.

Yet according to AIIM’s latest study, ‘Paper-Free Progress: measuring outcomes’, many companies still have desks piled high with paper. Only 17% of respondents said they work in what can be described as a paper-free office. A staggering 40% still use paper for filing “important stuff”, and 56% are wedded to signatures on paper for contracts and order forms. This is despite around half of organisations (49%) saying they are decreasing paper consumption.

However, slowly, but surely, companies are coming round to the idea of digitizing much of their content and realizing that doing so can make information flow much more efficiently. The number of companies actively looking at every process for paper elimination has grown from 9% in 2014 to 16% in 2015.

Those that have made the move to paper-free have seen the benefits quickly. A resounding 84% of business executives surveyed achieved payback from their paper-free projects within 18 months, with 26% doing so in less than six months.

The biggest benefits from going paper-free were cited as being able to give a faster response to customers, better compliance and increased productivity. In addition, 80% of respondents agree that paper content and processes are a huge impediment to remote access and teleworking.

Going paper-free means putting an on-going strategy in place, which also encompasses technology, to ensure the project does not stall. This is where the IT department can step up to the plate as it understands the solutions available and can prioritize departments to move forward first, such as those driven by regulatory change, for example. By moving through departments in a chain reaction, an efficient digital transformation program can be put in place.

The Paper Wall
There is a psychological hurdle to get over in going paper free. That is people themselves. They inherently don’t like change. This was given as a key reason (49%) as to why paper still has such a strong position in business today. However, it may be down to a simple lack of leadership from the top. An equal number said an absence of management initiatives or mandates was the biggest reason. A significant figure of 39% felt there was a complete lack of understanding when it came to paper-free options.

Mobile Capture Arrives
Setting out to capture data as early on in the process as possible is important – and many processes start in the field or on the road.

For example, companies are realising how they can now take advantage of mobile devices for remote access to process content, images and direct input via e-forms. The result is faster data input, better data accuracy and a shorter end-to-end cycle time.

Mobile capture, however, still has some way to go to achieve mass adoption. Only 12% of organizations AIIM surveyed said they are putting mobile options as a key element of any process update, although 25% understand the need to do so. Surprisingly 24% said they had little interest in mobile.

The biggest hurdle reported from those using mobile capture applications was lack of signal or poor connection bandwidth. Of course, design of the app can be vital here, often needing to maintain security of device-cached images prior to a delayed update to the process.

Catching the Cloud
The interest in cloud is just as prevalent in capture as in other areas of technology. There are a number of different ways that cloud can be used in capture processes.

Today’s available bandwidths don’t really present restriction on either storage or application locations. Connecting scanners direct to cloud repositories is being used for distributed operations, while opting for SaaS capture products can be more cost effective than in-house investments.

Despite the advantages of cloud, it still hasn’t taken off just yet when it comes to capture. Only 11% of respondents to the survey said they are using cloud products for capture, including 4% with distributed capture-to-cloud. 17% said they were looking at adopting cloud, whilst 21% said they are unlikely to chase the cloud. But 49% have yet to make a decision so it is still open season for cloud.

Putting your paper-free strategy in place
If you are still at the planning stage or have actually started to put paper-free processes in place, here are some key recommendations that will make the path to going paper-free that bit smoother:

  • Evaluate your business requirements – chart how paper flows into the business and where it causes bottlenecks or restricts access and processes.
  • Look at where a process can go paper-free quickly and efficiently to highlight return on investment. If documents are printed for signature, for example, put an e-signature solution in place.
  • If you do not have any paper-free processes at present, pick one to trial. But make sure you don’t to get cornered into a single point solution.
  • Look at auditing existing processes that use scanning and electronic workflows. Make sure they are making full potential of OCR, data capture and integration capabilities with core enterprise systems.
  • Instigate workflow from within ECM/SharePoint systems or use an add-on BPM platforms, for example.
  • Pay particular attention to processes that scan-to-archive post process with a view to changing to an up-front scan-to-process approach.
  • Rationalize your capture systems in preparation for servicing multiple processes, with distributed access across multiple-sites and branches, or through the cloud.
  • Take the widest view of how mobile capture can help – e-forms, photos, image recognition, records capture, signatures, etc.

We have to be realistic. Going paper free isn’t going to happen today, or even tomorrow. But there are steps that companies can take now to start the digital transformation process. Believe me your competition will be thinking about it even if they haven’t taken the plunge, so don’t get behind the curve.

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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com