When it comes to reducing paper in business processes, it’s no longer a question of “if paper needs to be reduced”; it’s a question of “when and where to start?” A quote from AIIM Research, “Business-at-the-speed-of-paper will be unacceptable in just a few years’ time,” pretty much sums up how organizations feel about paper-based processes. Increasing efficiency, lowering costs and improving response time to customers, employees and regulators are only a few of the top reasons paper has to be removed from business processes. The good news is the stars are aligning and there are less barriers to companies driving paper out of processes and keeping it out. Why?
Technology – Solutions are more affordable, more secure, easier to implement, and thanks to the cloud, less of a drain on company infrastructures. Applications with a responsive design are becoming more common because of BYOD (bring-your-own-device), and the increase of mobile devices in the workplace.
Workforce – The largest segment of our workforce, millennials, embrace and expect paperless processes. Meanwhile, Generation X, the second largest segment, is jumping on the paperless bandwagon. Human resources departments in progressive companies are integrating technologies and successfully implementing paperless processes while giving employees self-service access to documents and forms they need to complete. This efficient paperless access is expected along with the freedom to access and update information whenever and wherever you want. Another workforce change making paperless processes a requirement is the growth of the remote worker. Paper just doesn’t work in an environment where people are spending less time in a traditional office
Born-Digital – More and more business documents are born-digital. Invoices, contracts and employee documents are increasingly born-digital. Organizations must adopt digital processes to ensure these documents are never printed.
Regulations – The ESIGN Act along with other federal regulations have removed the regulatory challenges to going paperless. Auditors and litigators are both embracing the use of electronic documents versus paper.
Why are organizations still struggling to drive paper out of business processes?
We’ve got the technology, shifting from paper supports the emerging workforce, there are more born-digital documents created every day and laws support paperless. So why are organizations still struggling to drive paper out of business processes? The answer is often not looking at the complete lifecycle of a paper process to identify the digital touch points and technology needed, and also not designing processes that acknowledge paper may not go away immediately. No two companies operate the same and departmental needs vary, but if your technology can do these six things you can eliminate most or all paper from business processes:
Ingest – Documents can come in a variety of paths; email, FTP, scanning, MFP and Fax. Your technology must easily ingest a document no matter where or how it originated, paper or digital. It should handle all the common file formats: PDF, TIFF, JPEG, PNG and all the MS Office documents.
Automate – Document classification, metadata extraction, routing for approval, filing and notifications should all be automated. As these functions are automated, costs go down while efficiency and accuracy increase. If you have the right solution then creating digital workflows should be simple.
Connect – A large organization is going to have many technologies that might create or hold important documents. HR alone can have five to seven systems. Mix in paper and you have a bunch of silos that leave organizations asking WTF (Where’s the File?). Systems must be integrated or have connection points to a central digital repository that’s designed to manage document oriented processes. Integration will also avoid printing documents to scan them into another system(s).
Share – There must be tools to securely share documents without printing, scanning or email attachments. Auditors, litigators and employees need access to documents for different reasons. Your technology must be able to provide secure temporary access. Secure email links with two-factor authentication and secure data rooms will be needed for short-term access. No additional copies made or documents printed. In addition to temporary and secure access, your technology must control what people can do with documents; you need the ability to restrict features such as printing, sharing or downloading.
Work – Your technology must fit the needs of a mobile, remote, digital workforce. You’ve have to be able to access and complete documents on any device at any time. Access to electronic forms can dramatically reduce paper, but must include the ability to sign electronically or you’ll end up printing born-digital documents. You must be able to grant controlled access to documents so employees can quickly retrieve the documents how and when they need them to get their job done.
Comply – Compliance is going to be important in any organization and your technology can play an important role. Your solution should track and provide notification of missing or expired documents, a proactive versus reactive approach. Your technology should manage retention of documents and support legal hold. Compliance also means your solution is secure and has an audit history on user activity and document access.
If your technology can do these six things then a paperless processes can be a reality. As far as where to start, look for pain points or where your organization can achieve a measurable benefit. Human resources is common because the entire organization benefits when processes such has new hire onboarding becomes paperless. HR departments can spend less time trying to manage paper employee files and more time improving culture and employee engagement. Accounts payable is another common adopter; early pay discounts and lowering costs to process invoices are achievable goals when payable processes are no longer bogged down by paper.