As the economy continues to rebound from the “Great Recession,” companies are taking a hard look at where still-scarce IT dollars should be spent. Gartner predicted a 5.1 percent increase in IT spending worldwide this year; however, the transformational nature of the recession has many senior IT leaders looking to meet the demands of anxious C-level execs with smaller staffs, shorter timelines and tight budgets. Managers need to make the most of what they have and IT dollars -- though on the rise -- will be stretched thin.

Stretching Those IT Dollars

There are pain points evident in nearly every industry that support the need to evaluate how IT dollars are allocated and identify where smarter investments can be made to improve productivity in the immediate timeframe, and save more on costs long-term. Here’s a quick snapshot of a few select industries -- healthcare, government and small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs):

  • As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), healthcare providers are pushed to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) and move to digital solutions for managing patient records. Providers are in need of a cost-effective way to move forward, and many struggle with integrating both hard copy and digitally-based documents once they have a new system in place.
  • Government agencies are facing slashed budgets, but are still charged with meeting regulations that call for increased transparency, as made evident in the 2009 U.S. Open Government Directive. How can they effectively communicate legislative provisions and solicit public review without increasing costs?
  • Law firms, accounting groups and other small-to-midsize businesses accumulate considerable amounts of paper which, in many cases, need to be saved and archived for a specified amount of time for government auditing purposes. Managing these volumes of paper is expensive and often cumbersome for these organizations.

A Copernicus Group IRB Case Study

Copernicus Group IRB (CGIRB) is an independent institutional review board designated by the FDA to review and monitor biomedical research involving human subjects. In other words, CGIRB has the authority to approve, require approval modifications or disapprove entire pieces of critical pharmaceutical research.

In order to do this effectively, the group gathers information from multiple participating research centers (universities, medical centers, doctor’s offices, etc.) and uses a formal group process to review the research protocols and study-related information. That said, CGIRB handles a large number of paper-intensive processes and requires a great deal of internal and external collaboration and strict controls to do their work.

To solve their paper dilemma, CGIRB resolved to stop printing incoming faxes and email attachments. To accomplish this, they would need not only to take processes paperless but also to be compliant with FDA CFR Part 11 regulations. Up until then, incoming documents needed to be printed out because the portal did not comply with these FDA-certified processes for electronic document handling.

Between incoming documents and internal processes, CGIRB was generating 22 feet of paper per week that needed to be managed, circulated, filed and ultimately disposed. CGIRB implemented a sophisticated document management system to start the transition to paperless. The solution, compliant with CFR-11, allowed them to handle incoming documents completely electronically from start to finish.

Later, they scanned nearly five million pages of legacy documents to create an electronic archive and free up physical storage space -- the scanned documents have been processed with OCR and are full-text searchable to make it easy to locate files whenever needed. This change gave employees a significant portion of their time back, allowing them to be more productive about their work.

Finally, to ease some of the process management, CGIRB implemented a full-function Web portal to make it easier for their clients to submit and access their research documentation faster and easier. Further, the portal allowed CGIRB’s staff to process and monitor materials more effectively when reviewing a case.

With these solutions, CBIRB was able to stop generating 22 linear feet of paper a week. By becoming more efficient in its review and approval process, CGIRB has gained competitive advantages and improved its service to pharmaceutical clients -- thus enabling these customers to get pharmaceuticals in to the market faster.

Strategically Invest in Document Management Technology

A strategic investment in document management technology is often overlooked when a company doesn’t quite get the dramatic impact it can have on daily work -- but in reality, managing documents digitally can take portals and other initiatives a step further than they’ve ever been. As evidenced by CGIRB’s project, businesses can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs related to employee time and productivity, paper and printing and energy expenditures.

CGIRB calculated that they were saving more than $100,000 annually in office supplies and shipping alone, and anticipate saving at least $2 million over the life of the project. Perhaps most importantly, freeing employees from mountains of paperwork simply gets them back to what they do best -- their core business. For example:

  • Process automation: By automating traditionally paper-based processes, business can cut labor costs and speed up the turnaround time for invoices, claims and contracts (after all, time is money).
  • Reduction in supplies: An enterprise content management (ECM) solution will reduce an organization’s need for printing, faxing and copying -- and any CFO can tell you that paper, toner and office machine maintenance costs can be expensive.
  • Freeing space: Moving to a digital solution frees up office space and filing cabinets. Don’t underestimate that value -- it allows companies to cut rental costs or re-allocate office space to more effective uses. Companies that use offsite storage spaces may be able to eliminate their need for this altogether.
  • Saving on postage and mail: With an ECM solution, government agencies can publish documents on a public or internal website and email recipients a link to solicit their feedback, eliminating the need to spend on mail or courier costs.
  • Decreased legal risk: Implementing compliance features in an ECM solution allows for compliant practices for managing documents, helping avoid the risk of expensive lawsuits, fines and penalties.
  • Reduce audit preparation time: Cut down on the time needed to prepare for audits by managing documents online and capturing an “audit trail” for documents that must be tracked as a legal requirement.

By identifying the hidden savings in these processes, employees can focus more on their work at hand, make decisions faster and improve customer service and relationships.