For the last 20 – 25 years or so, the industry has declared that ‘paper is dead’. Well, we kept believing it would actually happen in favor of digital documents, but alas, that ship has still not sailed out of the harbor.
Although progress has been made across the industry to reduce paper significantly, I think we can all agree that paper is not dead. With that said, paper digitalization has become a requirement to survive in today’s technology-driven, mobile-enabled, and remote work environments. And it goes without saying that manual, paper-based processes are error-prone, inefficient, and labor-intensive.
Why Going from Paper to Digital Remains the Goal
In today’s remote and hybrid work environment, paper is an obstacle to success for organizations striving to increase productivity and the speed at which information is accessed by employees, clients, and partners. The increase in digital-born documents, all-digital businesses like Google, and advancements in technology have made it more affordable to go paperless than in past years. However, despite all of these reasons, moving from paper to electronic records can become overwhelming. We have found that starting with the “less paper” approach and keeping it out of your offices can make a profound difference in the success of a paperless initiative.
# 1 – Digitally transform the process by moving from paper to electronic records
There are many benefits of moving from paper to electronic records. Improved process productivity, the need to quickly find and share documents, and the demand for any time, anywhere access to documents, remain at the top of the list of reasons why almost every company is trying to move from paper to digital. Moving from paper to electronic records continues to be part of digital transformation strategies as businesses seek to lower costs and reduce employee involvement in transactional, repeatable tasks.
Convert paper documents to digital documents as they enter a process so they can be handled by digital workflows designed to take advantage of the increase in digital-born documents. Companies of all sizes are implementing solutions with tools and features that eliminate the need for paper at every stage of a document’s lifecycle.
Here are a few requirements for a solution that will eliminate paper, and automate processes:
- Easily ingest paper and digital documents at their entry point and by scanning, emailing, and integrating with other systems. At this stage, the information needed from documents should be extracted using document management and digital conversion technology solutions, and AI/machine learning.
- Automate paper digitalization processes, such as document distribution, routing, approval, tracking, and filing. Smart workflows should include routing data extracted from documents to business applications. Access anytime on any device and sharing through links to documents along with digital file rooms can eliminate the need to print or copy documents. If downloading or printing is required to share a document internally or with external parties, then you have an outdated solution. Security, controlling access to specific documents, and controlling document actions such as printing and downloading are also musts.
- E-Forms and digital signatures can reduce or eliminate the need to create some paper documents. Your solution of choice should enable the use of external or internal digital documents. Digital signatures are required to avoid having to print documents for a signature.
- Proactive notification of missing and expired documents. Knowing what you don’t have is just as important as knowing what you do have.
- Ensure compliance with audit history tracking and automation of retention schedules.
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# 2 – Go paperless in your offices
Almost every company grew up working with paper and creating paper records, but large onsite file rooms and row after row of file cabinets are starting to disappear from modern offices. The cost of office space and the need to use office space for activities that support a business are the main drivers. We’ve seen a number of companies that have converted paper files to digital documents either move to new offices, consolidate floors of existing offices or remodel their space for higher value use when they move paper file storage out. Files and documents that are not frequently accessed are moved to offsite records storage which is almost always more cost-effective and secure.
Most medium to large businesses partners with offsite records management companies to store and manage their paper documents that must be retained for regulatory and corporate governance reasons. If you have a strong records management provider, they’ll provide analytics and tools to help you go paperless and keep it from coming back to the office.
Almost every records management company has an online portal to request records, but that’s not sufficient. Look for dashboards that show what departments are sending the most records offsite when records are due for destruction, and which departments are requesting the most records be returned. These are the things you need to know if you are serious about reducing paper and keeping it out of your business.
# 3 – Digitally access paper documents
If you need to access documents stored offsite or older inactive documents, do it digitally. This is frequently called scan-on-demand, or digital delivery, and most records management companies offer paper-to-digital conversion services. But do they know how to digitize paper documents the right way? What you don’t want is documents scanned and emailed to you. There are security issues with this approach, not to mention filling up network storage space.
The best way to go from paper to digital documents
Whether a document is scanned by your records management provider, a document imaging company, or your own staff, the document should be stored within a technology designed for document management, preferably with the features mentioned earlier. Digital access should be faster and more cost-effective than physical access and the paper shouldn’t need to be digitized the next time you need it. Look for practical features when a scan-on-demand process is put in place:
- There should be a notification when a document has been scanned and is available.
- You should be able to utilize existing equipment like network copiers or multi-functional devices.
- Routing or uploading to your document management solution should be simple.
# 4 – Simplify information governance by moving from paper to digital
Every company must have a retention program and should follow it. One of the easiest ways to go paperless in your organization is to follow your retention schedule. If it’s time to get rid of documents, then get rid of them. Your information governance program should help you shift to a paperless model. If digital documents are acceptable for regulatory agencies and auditors, then consider converting paper documents to electronic files and disposing of paper documents as quickly as possible.
While a completely paperless business may not be achievable or realistic, eliminating paper from business processes must be an ongoing exercise. Follow these tips to reduce paper, save money, improve processes, and have a more efficient business.
For additional guidance on the subject, download our eBook, Accelerating Digitization to Meet Today’s Remote Work Requirements