Return on Investment with Electronic Document Management
Digital transformation of the document management process can provide ROI opportunities in a number of areas.
The term “digital transformation” encompasses a broad spectrum of innovative changes occurring within businesses today, changes that fundamentally change the way in which a business operates and delivers value to its customers through the integration of digital technology. Of course, the digitisation journey looks different for every company, with early adopters committing to changes, not only to technology but also to business processes, before others to gain a competitive advantage.
Digital transformation has been underway in the “mailroom” of business for decades, with the (now archaically slow) pneumatic tube system introduced to replace horse and cart post distribution in the City of London in 1853, and the first emails being sent in 1969. With these innovations, new efficiency gains were achieved in old ways of working, and entirely new models of work have emerged.
Although Electronic Document Management is not a new concept, with the digitized sending, archiving and retrieval of key business documents replacing filing cabinets and warehouses full of paper, many businesses still rely on these paper records for their statutory compliance. However, this established technology has not been left untouched by the acceleration of innovation and drive of digital transformation in business. Let’s look at three key areas where innovation in EDM is driving increasing (or new) ROI opportunities:
The emergence of “The Cloud” has driven innovation across all industries and activities it has touched, affording businesses of all sizes access to cheap, widely available, and scalable computing power. Cloud technology eliminates many of the burdens of infrastructure (cost, skills, maintenance, etc.) and replaces it with easy to consume services, typically charged by consumption.
EDM has benefited from this with scalable data storage (including “glacial” storage for long-range archiving) and access to Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning technologies.
The second focus for Cloud is its universality: cloud services are available anywhere there is an internet connection. Global service providers such as AWS, Azure and Google all offer access to this scalable computing power around the world, opening the benefits of innovation to businesses of all sizes.
For EDM this means ease (or availability) of remote working, distributed workforces, the removal of barriers to access such as VPNs, and the availability of enterprise technology (AI/ML) to the SMB market.
Digitising the physical
Many businesses using a form of EDM today are still using paper for a significant part of their document management processes, typically using labels and barcodes, and then printing and manually annotating documents before they are scanned in again, before finally storing the physical paperwork, usually off-site. This burden of paper (printing, management and disposal) should no longer be necessary. A hybrid process does not provide true digitisation of the physical, whereas an EDM which allows for automated indexing, digital “notes”, and which caters for digital document approvals, would replace the need for paper.
EDMs should provide ROI through the replacement of physical costs (material and time-inefficient processes), which can be summarised as follows:
- Remove paperwork: Businesses no longer have to sort and index, subsequently store, and then retrieve paper-based documents. The cost of retrieval can be disproportionate (research has shown it can cost up to £15 and take 24 hours to retrieve a document from off-site storage).
- Remove physical posting: By cutting out the handling of physical documents, an EDM removes the need for materials (paper, envelopes), printing costs, mailing costs (currently 47p for franked 2nd Class post), and the human labour in sorting, stuffing and sending.
Automating manual processes
Digital transformation is about more than just digitising the physical, it is about new ways of working, deriving efficiencies through automation and process simplification. Below are some clear examples of replacements for “the old way” with something more efficient and appropriate for the world today.
The manual scanning of paper documents is being replaced with the digital transference of documents, eliminating repetitive human intervention in the processes of depositing, but also all future points of retrieval of documents, and allowing for time to be recycled into more value-added activities.
- Automated emailing: Sending to nominated contacts, programmatically identified by document category and contact department. This eliminates the manual process which has replaced manual postage, typically a process of downloading the file and manually emailing it. This is shown to take between 30 seconds and 5 minutes per document. Self-evidently, if physical post is still being used there are further cost savings here too!
- Automated indexing: The systematised process of extracting key identifiers to allow for effective sorting and retrieval replaces traditional index cards in a filing cabinet and replaces manual data entry fields in a non-automated EDM.
- Digital indexes: Having a consistent set of fields with which to search for documents (having been automatically indexed) can significantly improve the speed and accuracy of retrieval. By cutting out the manual intervention (as above) a greater number of documents can be archived more accurately and more efficiently. This also assists with cost reduction around retrieval (as the process is simpler), perhaps most pertinently at the point of audit.
Automating manual processes also has the corollary of improving the workplace experience, leading to a happier, more stable workforce, reducing employee churn and the associated costs of recruitment and retraining.
We’ll wrap-up with an example of how these changes support transformation: The Audit…
The financial year has closed and auditors (multiple) are in the office(s?) sifting through mountains of paperwork, logging into various (often disparate) systems, charging by the hour while they wait for a bankers-box, in which they expect (or hope) to find a single historical document. The finance team is diverted from daily tasks to assist in searching for documents (or possibly entertaining the auditors) while everyone waits. The bankers-box arrives (taking 24 hours), the document is found (using an index card), the checklist is “ticked” and the paperwork returns to the box and is returned to storage until required in future.
This has taken multiple individuals (some of whom are chargeable external resources) a number of hours to identify, retrieve, view, and re-archive a single document!
Replace the bankers-box here with a fully indexed, digital system, with an “auditor” account. This software is available anywhere (the auditor needn’t even be on site!). The document can be searched for by date, reference, customer/supplier name, etc. It is available instantly. The auditors are satisfied, and business continues as usual with no costs or delays.
To summarise, digital transformation of the document management process can provide ROI opportunities in a number of areas:
- Reduced infrastructure costs, when using cloud technology vs. traditional on-premise EDM;
- Efficiency gains around day-to-day activities through automation;
- External cost savings around key-period activities (e.g., Audit);
- Where replacing physical paper, significant savings in time, materials, storage, and services;
- Increased accuracy of documentation through automated data capture;
- Improved employee productivity and reduced employee churn.
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