Paperless 101

Going paperless has notable benefits for businesses and nonprofits. According to Accenture, 59% of managers report missing deadlines because they’re unable to find documents. This loss of productivity extends deep into teams and across departments when documents are misplaced, lost, or only available to a single person at any given time. 

Not convinced this is a problem? In a whitepaper on document management, the International Data Corporation found that a company with 1,000 employees wastes $2.5 million to $3.5 million a year chasing documents. While you may not have such a large workforce, one of our clients with a team of 18 realizes savings of close to $2 million annually using document imaging, document management, and workflow automation services.

The paperless office has other advantages, including the ability to:

• Build a secure and trusted repository of accessible documents.
• Track and get approval on work as it traverses departments.
• Drastically reduce the steep costs associated with off-site storage and retrieval.

• Address both internal and external auditor’s requests in a timely manner.
• Prevent fire, flood, or theft from putting your company out of business.

Document Scanning
Document Management
Workflow Automation

Also known as document imaging, document scanning is the process of converting a paper document to a digital image format. Document scanning is ideal for long-term and archival storage. It is important to keep in mind that information contained within a document stored this way (such as any text) is unsearchable. You can think of document scanning as an electronic filing cabinet with the same limitations as a physical paper filing system, but without the offsite storage and retrieval costs.

Benefits of Document Scanning

  • Reduces the cost of off-site paper document storage and per-page retrieval costs.
  • Frees up a significant amount of office space.
  • Reduces the risk that a flood, fire, or theft will cause your business to fail, provided the media are duplicated and stored off site.

Employing document scanning to transitioning to a digital archive or file store requires some pre-planning to ensure success. Taking the steps below will help you accomplish your goals:

1. Identify which document types need to be retained for regulatory compliance or occasional reference. These documents are good candidates for cold storage (CD/DVD) or long-term redundant cloud storage.

2. Identify which records need to be referenced frequently. These documents are good candidates for server or cloud drive storage.

3. Create a structure and file naming convention that is meaningful and allows people to find documents they need.

4. Identify which roles should have access and program file stores accordingly.

5. Create a subject matter expert role for scanning documents, monitoring the
process, and verifying that documents are being stored correctly.

6. Identify the right software to be used for managing storage on CD/DVD.

7. Establish an archiving calendar that informs teams when certain documents
have aged and need to be moved to archive storage. Have the person responsible for the on-going success verify that archiving is taking place.

Document management is the process of capturing and tracking a document the moment your business encounters it, eliminating many of the difficulties associated with managing paper copies. Notably, it’s not just a solution for paper—document management applies to any type of media that can be stored and indexed (made searchable). In addition to handling traditional file formats, a good document management system will also allow you to store electronic artifacts, including audio, video, and creative file formats.

A well-designed document management system reduces the time to find and retrieve documents by capturing information about each document, such as its contents or other metadata. Metadata are additional notes and information about a document that aid in the retrieval, reporting and improve business operations that rely on the document. For example the name of the individual who captured the document, or the name of the driver who delivered the goods associated with a Bill of Lading. Document management systems also capture and index the medium of the document (email, Word, spreadsheet, PDF, or any other application output) to assist in broader search and reporting. 

Document management solutions accelerate search and retrieval of information and streamline version control for documents. Most importantly, they centralize file storage and allow you to specify custom permission levels to address the issues of document misplacement, overwriting, deletion, and alteration.

Benefits of Document Management

  • Comes with many of the advantages of document scanning, and more.
  • Increases productivity.
  • Reduces errors and rework.
  • Improves compliance with audit trails.
  • Drastically reduce paperwork. Moves data from point of capture to critical business systems.
  • Provides the ability to rapidly retrieve a single specific document.

The steps below will help you plan for a successful document management project:

1. Start small and pick one job function to pilot your document management project.

2. Appoint a subject matter expert to oversee the document management project.

3. Determine which documents and media are critical to daily business operations.

4. Consider what data should be searchable and what additional information you
might capture (input) along with it to help with retrieval and reporting.

5. Identify the document reporting best practices that will drive the success of
your project.

6. Identify which people, roles, or teams will need access to which documents.

7. Identify other software systems that will need access to the documents.

Workflow automation takes document management to a new level of productivity by standardizing the steps in the process, allowing you to apply custom rules and logic to your document process flow. This ensures that certain actions are taken or conditions are met before a document can proceed to the next step.

For example, suppose you’re struggling to match invoices for purchases with goods received. With workflow automation and document management, the shipping department captures the bill of lading from the carrier after the goods have been unloaded from the truck. This document is scanned, indexed, and tagged with any additional information. The system then formally identifies the document as a bill of lading. If all the rules are met, accounting (and perhaps manufacturing) are notified of the document’s creation and granted access to it. Accounting can verify that the invoice matches what was received, and manufacturing can plan the production cycle for the materials or inventory arriving on the floor.

Benefits of Workflow Automation

  • Comes with many of the advantages of document scanning, document management and more.
  • Reduces errors and risk.
  • Increases productivity
  • Identifies where issues are impeding productivity.
  • Allows organizations to track where in the workflow any given piece of work is at any given time.
  • Allows a team to measure how long it takes to process documents and perform work functions.

The best way to succeed with a workflow automation project is to start small, especially if you’ve never automated a process before. This allows you to easily address any issues that arise and measure results. You can take advantage of workflow automation by mapping a specific process so you can reduce its redundancies and inefficiencies. Example scenarios where workflow automation is appropriate include those that involve:

  • Automating repeatable and predictable business processes
  • Automating decisions / routing paths based on attributes to streamline processing
  • Reducing delays by getting work efficiently to the correct participants, setting
    deadlines, and providing reminders for or fast-tracking overdue work

Follow these steps to initiate a successful workflow automation project:

1. Designate a process owner the person with the authority to change the workflow and/or define scenarios and outcomes.

2. Determine the primary objective of your automation project as well as the respective owner requirements, including what they want and need from automation.

3. Gather information about how the workflow will affect individuals or different departments (and how similar projects have affected teams in the past).

4. Diagram the workflow, starting with a typical use case and staying as minimal as possible for a scenario that will work for 80% of the volume.

5. Measure the current process by including relevant metrics to establish a baseline

  • How long does it take for a document to reach the end of the workflow?
  • How many documents are processed in a day, week, or month?
  • How many documents are lost per week?
  • How many documents are incomplete and need to be sent back up the process
    chain?

6. Test your automation through all possible sequences to ensure the workflow is
meeting expectations.

7. Go live with the workflow—but keep a close eye on it for any issues.

8. After some time has passed, measure your automated workflow process. From
there, you can compare your metrics to your established baseline and make any
necessary adjustments.

More Examples of Workflow Applications

Still unsure of where to apply automated workflows? Below are several examples of different departments that can benefit from automating their tasks:

Accounting

Benefits from automated invoices that span the process from generation to client payment.

Manufacturing

Benefits from automated order processing, credit approvals, and fulfillment.

Engineering & Marketing

Benefits from automated follow-ups and renewal reminders so they can focus on more lucrative tasks.

Human Resources

Benefits from the automated hiring and onboarding of new employees, posting job listings, and responding to candidates with templates.

Additionally, automation provides valuable insights into your processes and workflows, including information that may not have been clear before starting this project. With measurable data about your workflows as well as benchmarks to compare them to, your organization will benefit from a deeper understanding of how your departments function and what you can do to improve them going forward.

Still Have Questions?

Depending on the scope of your project, you may need to consult a professional and trusted document management and workflow solutions partner. Ask potential partners for a demo of their solution, and keep an eye out for any red flags (such as lack of customer service or contact options).

Be sure to ask providers these important questions:

  • Is your support phone based?
  • Is your support based in the United States? This is mainly important if you are government funded.
  • Do the people on the support team use and configure the solution in real life?
  • Do you offer phone support or just email support? Is there any upcharge for phone support? How is that priced?
  • What is your service-level agreement (SLA) if I have a problem? How long will I typically wait to hear from someone?
  • What kinds of protections are in place to protect personally identifiable information found in my documents?
  • How many users does your product support?
  • Can I speak with four or five of your clients with the same number of users I plan to have on my system?

If you need any assistance getting up and running with workflow automation or document management solutions, feel free to reach out to us at (540) 347-2552, and we’ll be happy to help.