Despite the ongoing trend toward digitization, the truth is that many key business processes continue to be buried in paper. Even in the biggest and most technically advanced organizations, paper still continues to crop up. This not only includes ad hoc and process-specific workflow for things like new account openings or customer onboarding, but also large-scale and enterprise activities like accounts payable, billing, or human resources.

Paper remains an enormous burden for most organizations. According to Corcentric, the vast majority of firms (80.8 percent) still use paper checks to pay their suppliers. Over 70% of invoices arrive via postal mail and over 40% are still delivered via fax machine. Clearly, there is a mismatch between our expectations of the paperless office and the reality of real-world workflow.

The future of digital transformation is today

In a post-pandemic business environment, organizations that continue to operate at the speed of paper will become non-competitive. Relying on paper-based processes is no longer adequate or tenable as work-from-home and remote teams become prevalent and the new norm of business is one that is much more virtual, versatile, and agile.

Digital transformation is now essential in order to survive today and compete in the future. According to research from AIIM International just prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, 75% of the information management professionals surveyed felt that digital transformation was “important” or “very important” to their organization in order to survive. Now, that number is likely to be closer to 100%.
Organizations are rethinking their workflow and business models. The question is: are you ready?

Fight or flight?

It’s time to stop fighting the endless war on paper. Scanning paper documents to create a digital image instead begins the process of eliminating the inefficiencies of paper-based workflow and starts to bridge the gap between physical and digital information. But in these competitive times organizations need to look further — beyond a simple scan-and-store approach — in order to take full advantage of trends in digital transformation.

Organizations that are most successful in leveraging digital transformation are those that work to integrate data, documents, and process workflow with systems that are geared to recognize and classify inbound information, run queries against that data, and fuel advanced business process automation. This approach is much more sweeping than simply saving a scanned image file.

Central intelligence

Putting intelligence into information management is not just about eliminating paper, it’s also about using digitization to drive business process performance. In order to do this it is important to capture and digitize information as soon as it enters the organization. If you don’t capture the right data, at the right time, you’ll be missing great opportunity to leverage it later to improve organizational performance. They key is extracting data and injecting it into a business process without a lot of manual intervention and with a degree of intelligence that makes a difference.

OCR remains a powerful weapon

One common way to automate the data capture process is through the use of optical character recognition, or OCR. Since the technology was first developed more than 30 years ago you may feel that OCR is over the hill. But in fact, the technology remains a powerful weapon for process improvement as a way to capture and digitize information that would otherwise be locked on paper.
Important data contained on each document – like customer name, account number, or date – is automatically gleaned and retained so that the newly created digital version can be more easily found and archived in enterprise content management systems and record archive repositories. In recent years, advanced applications have emerged that provide even broader capabilities. As a result, wider and more profitable opportunities exist for companies to bridge the gap between paper and digital media, especially in traditionally paper-intensive fields such as healthcare, financial services or government.

Victory on different fronts

Organizations of all sizes and from all industries can benefit. Healthcare providers and insurers use OCR to digitize and manage the workflow of patient records. Banks use OCR and document capture to originate and automate mortgage and auto loans. Government agencies digitize a variety of crucial forms and documentation that would otherwise create mountains of paper. And across the board, things like litigation and discovery, regulatory compliance, and information governance are pressing and vital concerns that are driving the adoption of advanced capture solutions that enable electronic workflow.

What to look for

With all the many solutions and approaches available, how do you know which one is right for you? Here are six important characteristics to look for in a potential solution.

  1. Easy integration with existing copiers and scanners is a must. Most systems work with all major brands and most also have solutions already built in.
  2. Full text searching allows users to locate a document by logical queries of words contained within the document.
  3. Audit trail capability is essential to know who is working on a document, when they started editing and what they did, and to prove an appropriate chain of custody.
  4. Remote document access allows you to work from anywhere with a laptop and internet access.
  5. Document versioning is essential to keep track of different versions of the same document and allows access to any previous version without losing current version information.
  6. Document retention should be part of a system that will automatically archive older documents in order to save digital storage space and to ensure proper records management protocols.

Digitization considerations

Enabling a digital workflow is more complex than simply buying a scanner and some software. You need to determine a number of things to establish a process and procedures that can be easily followed by everyone. Before you move forward there are a number of implications to consider.

Storage. Where are you going to store the digital files? Will they reside on a network, on a single computer, or out in “the cloud?” Be sure you have a solid plan for storage, and account for scalability and growth.

Organization. How are you going to organize your digital files: by client, by type of document, or by some other method? There is no right or wrong answer as long as you and your staff are consistent.

Naming. How will you name your electronic files? Be sure to ensure consistency in the file naming structure. When you are starting out, it is easier to create a naming process and then enforce it as you go.

Where to start. If you are a new business it is easy to start scanning your files from day one. However, if you’ve been in business for some time it might make more sense to do a day-forward approach; scanning everything from this point forward.

Moving forward

Digital transformation is essential in order to compete in the new normal of business today. Be sure to map your strategy before moving forward, and look for partners and providers with the right mix of expertise, vision and capability that will allow you to make the most of your efforts to end the war on paper.

is a guest contributor and the author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and a respected authority on document management and process improvement. He is the managing director of Craine Communications Group.