In March of 2020, the traditional concept of the modern office was disrupted in the most literal sense possible. After years of sluggish transition to replace manual, paper process with available, work-from-anywhere, digital information processes, it became an immediate necessity. The pandemic caused a sudden paradigm shift in the way that knowledge workers functioned. Overnight, most office workers had to leave their established way of working and adapt to working from home. The shift served as an immediate test of technical preparedness to support a remote workforce and their ability to access the critical information needed to perform their jobs.
The transition has been slow because most offices continue to maintain the past. The offices that we have abandoned were designed around paper-based business processes. Even the prototypical desk includes massive file drawers to store and organize paper. The office is an extension of this concept, filled with file-cabinets and file rooms, not to mention offsite storage contracts to then box and continue storing the paper when the office is too full of paper. A distributed, remote workforce that needs access to the same critical information is pushing urgently to break the paper dependence. The cost of transitioning from paper to digital processes can be justified through the opportunity to recoup the real estate and associated costs required to maintain paper. By changing to operate directly via a digital process, instead of defaulting to paper and then converting to digital, businesses are finding that they can be much more efficient, collaborative and productive.
More significantly, the unintended result is that we realized that the gradual digital transformation of business had matured to the point where it was possible to work from home, and be productive, maybe more productive.
I posture that we have entered a new age of records and information governance. A new paradigm and the long-sought transformation of the industry has occurred (or is actively in process for some companies). No doubt, this new age of Digital Records and Information Process (DRIP) is now upon us. There are two letters conspicuously absent. The M for Management has been dropped. Why? Because it is no longer the burden of the function. It has been automated into the process. And the G for Governance that we have worked so hard to elevate within the function? It is also now inherent – a natural attribute of records and Information.
Before everyone prepares their Tweet in disagreement, let us look at where we are now. The concept of the office, which modern records management was built to serve, has gone away. Whether it returns is incidental. It disappeared, literally overnight, in mid-March 2020. The result was exposure of the outdated manual, paper processes that have remained entrenched in the model of records and information management for decades, as well as information governance.
As you transform your records program from a manual process based on the handling of physical, hard copy documents, you have the opportunity to convert to DRIP. DRIP create an increasingly automated, digital process. Once records are in a digital format, certain constraints are removed, such as proximity and distribution. As the pandemic demonstrated, if your records are digital (and securely stored in a digital/cloud repository) you can access them from anywhere, including your home office. Beyond that, you can now start to integrate systems and processes.
Most line-of-business systems are designed around a particular function, not records management. The storage and access of documents, particularly in a governed manner, is incidental at best. Process integration allows you to offload this function to a more specialized and purpose-built system.
There are four distinct ways to achieve digital transformation:
The following provides further explanation on these tactics:
The way to increase the momentum from paper to digital, or to complete the task of going fully digital, is to stop paper from entering the workstream. If you capture and convert any incoming paper at the point of entry, you can immediately get it into a digital format so knowledge workers can maintain a consistently digital process. In too many instances, paper is allowed to co-exist, forcing a hybrid approach and maintenance of file cabinet habits.
Going digital also creates an opportunity to automate the classification process. This reduces the time-intensive task of indexing, while also creating consistency. Manual indexing is notorious for human error and inconsistency since each user must use their discretion to classify and organize information, often with no fixed standards. Leveraging machine learning and AI systems for this job does require proper training, which is also time and resource intensive, but once this is accomplished, the benefits are consistent and continual. This is another example where a purpose-built system can provide this capability.
As you transition to a digital process, there should be minimal need for offsite hard copy storage. Once you reduce it significantly, you can start dealing with the legacy inventory and associated cost to maintain it. If you have a retention period in effect, this will allow you to start shrinking this inventory on both ends, by no longer adding new inventory and by eliminating existing inventory. The digital process resolves the first part of the equation. The second part requires a few steps to implement a defensible retention program.
Simply put, when everyone grabbed their laptop and abandoned their office, some of the records and information followed them home and some did not. The long possible ability to access information from anywhere, in a digital format, via a well governed native cloud application, was either in place, or it was incomplete. Regardless, digitization became the obvious solution and what was also obvious was anything that stood in its way – thy name is paper. Like an ill-behaved child, we have coddled and made excuses for paper for too long. It’s time, my friends, to let it go.
To learn more about digitization and optimizing for remote work environments, read the
Gartner Report – Workforce Resilience in the Eye of the Pandemic: Overcoming the Current Remote Work Situation While Planning for the Future