office worker drowning in paper
Process automation and digital transformation initiatives are reducing the paper in the workplace. PHOTO: PaweĊ‚ Kadysz

Every year American office workers print enough paper to reach halfway to the moon. But things are changing.

Total number of pages printed hit an all-time high in 2007. As of last year, according to InfoTrends data provided to the Wall Street Journal, organizations are producing 10 percent fewer pages than they did at that peak less than a decade ago.

As World Paper Free Day approaches November 4, there is a particularly compelling reason to take a new look at the technologies enabling enterprises to become “Paper-Free Heroes.”

Digital Transformation Is Reducing Paper

Credit process automation and digital transformation initiatives — designed to achieve operational efficiency and improve the customer experience — for reducing the paper in the workplace. InfoTrends reports that two-thirds of companies surveyed have taken steps to remove, simplify or automate document-related business processes.

AIIM — The Association of Information and Image Management — affirms this trend. For more than 30 years, AIIM has advocated the reduction of paper in business to save office space and improve records retrieval as well as to improve productivity, accessibility and compliance.

In its own study, AIIM found 49 percent of organizations are decreasing paper output and 55 percent say that paper flowing through its processes is decreasing.

Multichannel Capture

Capturing documents and data at the point-of-origination is usually the start to eliminating paper flooding an organization.

Aside from environmental concerns, the biggest driver of scanning and data capture is improved searchability and shareability. To accomplish this, organizations use optical character recognition (OCR) with the ability to capture unstructured data such as handwriting.

Mobile capture is the primary innovation driving the transition of capture from traditional back scenarios to point-of-origination customer engagements.

More and more companies are focused on utilizing mobile apps to initiate and support services, such as taking a photo of a driver’s license and submitting it through a bank’s mobile app to open a new account. AIIM found 39 percent of survey respondents are in the planning stages for mobile projects.

Revamping the Mailroom

The widest application of multichannel capture is the digital mailroom. In this scenario, multichannel capture automatically extracts and validates information from incoming business mail (in paper and electronic formats) and distributes it to business process workflows.

AIIM reports 40 percent of organizations use a hybrid of centralized and distributed mailroom scenarios. The benefits include faster turnaround to customers, improved mail productivity and improved data capture quality for downstream processes. However, moving information into downstream processes is no small feat.

Enterprise Content Management

Enterprise content management (ECM) software helps enterprises direct and control the entire lifecycle of documents, video and other forms of content once they are captured electronically – whether they reside on premises or in the cloud. ECM helps organizations with direct and effortless connection to the precise information knowledge workers need at the moment they need it.

This empowers the employee to work smarter and provide omnichannel interactions that customers expect. Once captured, details of a document are automatically indexed into the software and routed to the organization’s mainframe system to complete an order or transaction, or to initiate another process or communication.

In 40 percent of companies surveyed by AIIM, line of business managers and departmental managers are responsible for a “radical process review,” which is typically initiated with the manager reviewing the workflow process and incorporating an ECM solution to automate and optimize a paper-free process.

With improved management of content and communications, organizations achieve a more agile business environment and increased control to centrally trace information for compliance purposes.

E-Signature Technology

Customer signatures are a nearly universal element of a business engagement and are often the reason people need to print documents even when received electronically.

However, a “wet” signature, physically written in ink, is becoming less necessary as electronic signatures become more accepted. E-signature use is growing among several industries striving to go paper free to optimize processes and the customer experience, such as those in mortgage loans, insurance policies and banking services.

Forrester Research expects more than 700 million transactions to be finalized using e-signature by 2017. Users simply sign a document with a click of the mouse or tap of the finger.

According to AIIM, 79 percent of organizations agree that all businesses should have an e-signature mechanism. With e-signatures, not only is paper usage reduced, but signature processes are shortened by as much 90 percent with signature cycles completed in minutes rather than hours or days. By the time an organization integrates e-signature technology into its processes, it is already well into its digital transformation, reaping the benefits of reduced paper, and utilizing capture and ECM. The organization must now look for other areas to maximize efficiencies.

Customer Communications Management

Another high-value technology in the digital transformation journey is customer communications management (CCM) software. CCM is the automation of customer communications and it empowers organizations to communicate when, where and how customers prefer.

Most significant with CCM is the shift of responsibility from the IT department to the line of business manager. CCM enables business managers to create relevant, accurate and highly personalized content that is ideal for any outbound communications such as contracts, proposals, insurance and mortgage documents.

CCM may still incorporate paper, such as communicating via monthly account statements or invoices, but as customers transition their preference to electronic correspondence and become accustomed to opt-in mobile messages, CCM becomes an enabler for digital communications. According to Gartner, an estimated 70 percent of customer communications will be digital, contextualized and consumed on demand via multiple channels, including the web, mobile devices and media, by 2017.

Smart Process Automation Platforms and Smart Workflows

While most organizations have taken a few steps toward digital, they have miles to go in modernizing their most critical business processes.

The backbone systems that still run most enterprises weren’t designed for the speed, collaboration, adaptability and self-service capabilities required to satisfy today’s customer. Adding ad hoc mobile and online channels that aren’t connected with back-end processes only adds distributed silos and process inefficiencies that frustrate employees and customers.

This is the primary reason progressive organizations are turning to smart process application (SPA) platforms.

SPA platforms offer multichannel capture and output, process management, workflow, collaboration and actionable insight into processes on a single unified platform. SPAs can integrate with existing systems and sit comfortably alongside existing technology investments.

By bringing together disparate technologies into a modern, unified platform, companies can fully digitize information-intensive, customer-facing business processes such as accounts payable, mortgage origination, new client onboarding and claims.

Fast Results from Process, Workflow

Organizations see results quickly. According to AIIM, 84 percent of organizations that invested in process optimization and workflow received payback in less than 18 months.

Going paperless is just the beginning. By digitizing all critical, outward-facing business processes, an organization can improve process visibility, achieve operational excellence, increase customer engagement and gain business agility. And keep stacks of paper from reaching the moon.

(To learn more about “Paper-Free Heroes” and the technologies they are using, join AIIM November 4 at a virtual event for tips and tricks on how you can become paper free and more productive.)