Despite the growing number of technologies that facilitate easy, secure document capture using centralized, disparate and even mobile devices, the move towards the paperless office and processes is tediously slow. According to new research from AIIM, only 5% of the processes that could feasibly cut paper out of the workflow in paper-intensive organizations have been put in place.
Enterprises Lack Capture Strategies
The findings were published in a new Industry Watch paper entitled "Winning the Paper Wars -- capture the content and mobilize the process troops," based on responses from 455 AIIM community members over the course of May and June of this year.
It shows that while many organizations are now in the habit of systematically scanning their own files and documents and converting them into electronic formats that can be added to enterprise workflows, they are still struggling to manage documents that enter the enterprise from the outside.
According to AIIM, these documents create major headaches for most enterprises -- even more so than records management -- by bogging down enterprise processes and restricting customer response times and access to customer requests.
Even with the speed and agility that mobile capture brings, enterprises appear reluctant to move to paper-free processes. One of the telling figures that the report offers on this is that while 74% of respondents have processes that would be more effective without paper, only 24% have a specific strategy for creating a paperless workplace.
Paper-Free Business Initiatives and Drivers
While we have seen in many technology areas -- especially in customer experience management --increasing the response times to customers is one of principal driving forces behind the adoption of new technologies, this doesn’t appear to have impacted on the deployement of capture technologies.
While 74% of survey respondents said that they are responsible for developing paperless strategies, or with building environmentally friendly work places, only 24% were able to say that they had specific strategies in mind.
AIIM interprets this as an encouraging sign that enterprises are beginning to place paper reduction high on their business agendas, but the fact that there is still such a high rate of paper usage despite the obvious advantages of cutting it out indicates that something other than lack of planning is holding the transition process back.
AIIM suggests that additional regulatory requirements coupled with a lack of direct management involvement in the process may be where the problem lies.
Drivers and Enterprise Issues
There are a number of practical issues around the use of paper in processes. Paper-based processes are difficult to manage, close to impossible to access remotely, and prone not just to delays but also to human handling errors.
The research also identified a number of other issues that should be added to the mix including difficulties around version control, lack of disaster recovery and the increasing costs associated with paper.
However, despite considerable work and development of technologies in the area, signatures or e-signatures, appear to be the principal obstacles. Enterprises, the research shows, fear that electronic signatures may not be legally acceptable and it is this that is one of the main factors holding the process back.
However, this should not really be an issue given the sophistication of many of the e-signature technologies available now. On top of this, AIIM points out that the legalities around e-signatures have been standardized in most jurisdictions for 10 years already, and in some for as long as 20 years.
Needless to say, when the figures were broken down by department across enterprises, the legal departments were the principal objectors to e-signatures, although even there AIIM says there has been considerable progress.
The figures show that while 26% of those surveyed in legal departments were against their use, 37% favored them. Elsewhere, while financial managers and administrators are also against using e-signatures, C-level executives were four times more likely to be in favor of paper-free processes.
From this, AIIM concludes that for paperless offices and processes to become a reality, C-level executives need to become proactive in promoting them. Without that C-level push, AIIM says, the paperless office will not happen. However, there are a number of other issues that need to be and can be dealt with now. These include:
1. Capture Maturity
While many enterprises are now using electronic capture at some point or other in business processes, it is not as widespread as it could be. While the ideal situation is one where documents are scanned and directed into appropriate processes immediately, the reality is somewhat different.
While AIIM found that 70% of enterprises are scanning some part of the processes, only 13% are using capture to extract data from the document and send it into enterprises processes. A further 15% extract some data from documents for routing or indexing, while 18% scan documents but manually route them. Even in organizations with the most sophisticated OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology, the level of full data capture only rises to 16 percent.
2. Digital Mailroom
Despite the obvious benefits of a digital mailroom where all enterprise-related mail is managed and routed, only 10% of organizations in the survey say they have one. Currently, the level of uptake of this kind of processing is twice as frequent in Europe as it is in the US, regardless of enterprise size.
While the advantage of such an approach includes better compliance management and reduction in customer response times from days to a matter of hours, many enterprsies have not even considered it, the survey shows.
3. Paper-Free Processes
Even with the availability of relatively cheap and inexpensive scanning technologies that enable simple scan-based processes like expense claims, 23% of organizations still have no paper-free processes. This is not unique to small businesses where 25% have no paper-free, but also effects large organizations with more than 5000 employees where 13% are lacking even basic capture.
Distributed and Mobile Capture
One other area that enterprises need to look at it is where document capture is taking place. For much of the past 10 years there has been an ongoing debate as to whether enterprises should capture information centrally, or, using MFPs, capture information locally at distributed locations.
The development of technologies is moving this debate towards what is probably a logical solution. Centralized capture systems have become more capable of ingesting more types of information quicker, while issues around bandwidth and connecting to a geographically disparate network of scanners have largely been resolved.
However, in recent years the rise of new kinds of computing have changed the landscape again as users look for ways to work using home devices, mobile phones and tablets. Currently, nearly one quarter of all enterprises surveyed said they had mobile workers capturing information remotely.
When it comes to the devices used, around 15% are currently using smart devices, but a further 22% would like to do so. Beyond that, 16% are backing off over concerns about information security.
As a result, at the moment the debate around mobile capture is largely around security and whether individual enterprises are happy for their workers to access enterprise networks through mobile devices.
The survey showed that 47% are considering encryption on their devices to secure their processes from unauthorized devices. Given that 14% of smartphones and tablet users are connecting to enterprise networks with no security-approved app, it is hardly surprising that security is an issue.
Once enterprises deal with their security issues, AIIM says the use of mobile capture applications is set to take off. Mobile capture in its wider sense includes the creation of all kinds of content and placing that in enterprise processes remotely, along with e-signature applications that are being used as part of process approvals.
Finally, the benefits of mobile capture are obvious if the entire range of capture possibilities is explored. Customer response times are dramatically reduced when a capture strategy is implemented across the enterprise covering standardized capture, digital mailrooms or mobile capture.
However, for an effective paper-free strategy to evolve in an enterprise, it needs the backing of the C-level management, who should be questioning every single paper process to see if and where efficiencies can be made. Like all other areas around information management, what it requires more than anything else is in-depth planning.