Winning the paper war
19th Feb 2014 | 16:00
Paper: the lifeblood of an organisation
Paper is still the lifeblood of any organisation. While numerous initiatives support the paper-free office with institutions like the NHS having been set a target to go paperless by 2018, let's not forget the paper document will continue to remain an integral part of the business process regardless.
Folders with customer communication, invoices, memos and applications litter business desks and filing cabinets, but naturally, with so much information at hand, it can easily get lost in the ether or not processed properly. Office life, as such, can suddenly become incredibly difficult.
For example when an important client is on the phone but their documents folder has gone missing. Or, when a sales person needs to carry bulky envelopes with correspondence and contracts to each customer visit.
Put simply, if you don't manage your paper and digital documents properly, you could be at risk of losing customers and revenue. And this can happen to anyone, regardless of the industry or size of the business.
There have been numerous stories of banks being fined for making errors on paperwork and mislaying information for instance, so how do you make sure documents are controlled and managed effectively?
In one place but available to all
With so much pressure to reduce costs, optimise business processes and increase performance, it's important not to forget the obvious things when focusing on the lessons learnt and the very solutions at our disposal.
The humble paper document is one of these. It is hardly likely to get the pulse of the boards racing with excitement but the efficiencies it can bring just might.
To control documents and their flow within a company many organisations deploy advanced solutions such as Document Management Systems, Enterprise Content Management Systems or Digital Archives. A significant advantage of such systems is that information is centralised and relevant documents are stored in one place.
This has the business critical advantage that centrally stored digital documents can't get lost or be destroyed as typically a backup is created on a regular basis. Several people can also check the same document, as a digital document does not need to be physically copied.
And even when travelling, any sales person can download and check the customer documentation via a secure connection to the company.
As a result, there is no need for bulky office cabinets cluttering up the office room, with the extra space this affords being a welcome byproduct of managing documents more efficiently.
Moving paper documents into digital format
But while market intelligence reports demonstrate that almost three quarters of businesses (70 per cent) state that paper reduction is part of the improvement process, almost half of the respondents find time spent on re-keying data, searching for paper copies and filing is still the biggest issue caused by paper-based processes in their company.
Storage volume and outsource paper store cost were named as the second biggest issue by over 40 per cent of respondents. Organisations need to pay close attention to the business processes that are causing such bottlenecks in the workflow system.
Getting rid of the aging filing cabinet is one such route to managing documents more efficiently. And digitising paper documents in centralised electronic systems offers an alternative to this. Documents created on a PC can be simply stored directly in the enterprise systems.
While scanning paper has been common practice for decades, nowadays saving simple scans in central electronic repositories is not enough as it has one important limitation: scanned document images contain only little additional information, and their text cannot be electronically screened and searched for keywords.
As digitised paper documents can be accidentally stored in a wrong digital library, it is crucial that they can be detected by inserting key words into a computer's search programme. Using so called 'key word search', all documents related to a certain topic can be displayed by a click of the mouse, and lengthy files can quickly be searched for information.
How to search paper documents by keywords?
But it doesn't end there. Optical character technology (OCR) is also making life easier for businesses.
By deploying OCR software any document image can be turned into an electronic document containing searchable and reusable text. This text can be electronically searched by key words and even extracted from the document and re-used.
Advanced algorithms of such software pre-process the document images accordingly, detecting images, text areas and turning the 'photo of a text' into a 'true text' with 99.8 per cent accuracy. Some systems even allow adding meta-data, which is then transferred to the digital libraries together with the resulting documents.
These systems can be desktop-based software or even advanced document recognition and PDF conversion servers that run automatically in the company's IT background and process a high volume of documents.
According to the pre-defined workflows, such systems can turn millions of scanned pages for example into searchable PDF or PDF/A formats and make the need for physical paper storage obsolete.
This helps with compliance guidelines, as well as extending the longevity of archived documents that are saved in such formats so they continue to be accessible in the long term.
The winner takes it all
So, in the paper war game who are the winners? Naturally, businesses with a lot of documentation such as the pharmaceutical industry, as well as insurance companies, banks, businesses within the automotive industry as well as larger legal institutions and libraries.
They can significantly profit by deploying document conversion servers and moving printed documentation into centralised electronic storage areas.
Many systems are quickly deployed, providing return on investment since the very moment of the purchase. Usage of electronic documents that can be anytime accessed, forwarded or distributed allows the companies to increase customer response times and improve customer service.
As well as the indisputable fact such as saving time and increasing efficiency, companies no longer need to spend time looking for misplaced documents. The efficiencies of the past will now be all but eradicated, with the humble paper document still remaining king.