We’ve been trying to eliminate paper in business processes for a long time. Endless numbers of blog posts have been written, presentations delivered, and projects kicked-off and completed. And yet, with 2020 a mere 3 months away, the paperless office is still (mostly) a unicorn. It is a noble pursuit. A bit of a Quixotic pursuit, but it is not a hopeless one! I’ve listed some of the starting points for a project below.
The Three Paths to Digitization
The first consideration an organization needs to make for a digitization effort is where they will place their time and effort first. Options include:
- Digitizing historical documents
- Digitizing new paper documents that are entering the organization
- Eliminating the need for paper in a process
Digitizing Historical Documents Can Reduce Storage Costs
Let’s briefly examine each of these. Digitizing Historical Documents Some organizations decide that their primary focus should be to scan and index their existing historical files. There are several reasons why this might be the right choice. First, the storage of physical documents can be expensive and the cost for retrieving boxes from offsite storage is often very expensive. These are hard dollar costs that can help provide an ROI for the investment that a company needs to make in software and hardware to set up a digitization capability. The downside to this kind of project is that you do not impact current operational processes. There is no impact on the time or cost of completing an existing process. And the business may want to see those results sooner rather than later.
Digitzing New Paper Documents can Improve Operations
That leads us to Digitizing New Paper Documents that Are Entering the Organization. A majority of the cost and value around paper documents is the onboarding and servicing of client accounts. If this process can be improved there are benefits such as client retention, quicker time to value, improved profitability, etc. For these reasons this process is often considered the most appealing. Be cautious, introducing digitization into a current paper process must overcome significant hurdles
- Technological – the software needs to be trained on your document sets and you need to have an understanding of the recognition rates you can achieve
- Process – if documents are currently turned in at branch locations today do you want those paper documents to be shipped to a central facility where they can be scanned and managed by trained professionals or do you want to create a distributed capture network with each branch doing the scanning? There are challenges to each approach.
- Design – an enormous amount of the errors in scanning paper have to do with how the forms were designed. If the forms are created by your organization and then returned by clients (we call that an “on us form”) then you can impact the design. But that takes time, money, and coordination. If the forms are created by other organizations or are government forms you often have less control on their design and may or may not be able to digitize them effectively.
Completely Eliminating the Need for Paper Can Improve the Customer Experience
Finally Eliminate the Need for Paper in a Process. Some organizations are choosing to begin their digitzation efforts by introducing digital first options into their process and forgoing paper all together. There are customer journey tools that can assist with this. In this case a process that would have normally begun on paper now begins on a web page or in a mobile app. The data is then passed through your organization without the content object. And a formal piece of content memorializing the transaction can be produced as a part of the back-end process for regulatory or records purposes.
Do not pursue a big bang approach and attempt to digitize everything all at once. The best practice is to address a core set of documents (ideally high volume and low complexity documents) to get your staff used to using the technology and effectively managing the scanning process.
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