13 Paper-Based Processes Worth Automating for Your Business
For a moment, think back to what it was like to conduct business back during the 1980s.
At the time, most businesses were still run almost exclusively using paper-based processes. That included not only interoffice paper mail but memos and even work done with the telex machine. Organizations were bogged down with so much paper - not to mention the bureaucracy required to manage it all that came with it.
In those days, people didn't really think about how cumbersome this all was because there wasn't a viable alternative. This was all simply "the way things were done," for better or worse.
Thankfully, we've come a long way since then. Still, many companies continue to develop their processes first using paper, only later planning to automate them. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn't. However, the end result is clear - many companies have multiple paper-based processes that are pulling them back to a 1980s level of productivity when what should really be happening is automation should be propelling them forward.
Overwhelmed By Paper Clutter
One of the major issues with those paper-based processes comes by way of the sheer quantity of paper that you're talking about. The physicality of it all can quickly become overwhelming - to say nothing of the other challenges it represents.
Paper can easily become disorganized once you begin to examine how it is stored and indexed. Companies often try to organize using filing cabinets and, when a fast "solution" is needed, using just cardboard boxes. Think about the last time you try to refer to all those paper documents. Clearly, we collectively need to declutter by transitioning all of our paper processes into the modern digital world that we're now living in.
Paper-Based System Disadvantages
All told, there are a number of distinct disadvantages to paper-based systems. These include but are certainly not limited to ones like:
- The sheer amount of physical space needed to keep paper documents on-hand at all times.
- The fact that people spend more time during the day trying to find a document than they do actually acting on it.
- It's nearly impossible to find a specific piece of content inside of a document without an incredible amount of effort.
- Approval workflows also become needlessly difficult to implement, and it's hard to know where each element is in the process at any given moment.
- It's very difficult to share documents and collaborate around them in a way that does not harm the customer experience.
- Paper-based processes kill trees to create the paper and the energy to print on them, too.
- Sensitive documents have a decided lack of security that most organizations simply cannot afford to deal with.
- Finally, paper-based processes and documents are very susceptible to things like fire and flood damage - potentially causing you to lose that critical information permanently if you're not very careful.
The Benefits of Eliminating Paper-Based Processes and Converting to Digital Ones
By eliminating your paper-based processes and converting to digital ones, however, you get to enjoy a variety of different benefits - all at the exact same time. These include:
- The important documents that you're working with can be backed up to the cloud, making them easy to access from any location with an Internet connection and virtually immune to data loss.
- Digital processes allow the collaboration and sharing of documents between not only team members, but customers as well.
- Digital processes dramatically speed up the approval process and generate more visibility into it than ever.
- Digital documents can be encrypted and stored in a secure digital medium, thus making sure that your sensitive information doesn't have a chance to fall into the wrong hands.
Document Management System Replacing Paper Documents
With regard to document management, there are three main approaches for you to choose from depending on the needs of your business.
The first involves the scanning of old documents. Depending on the scanning technology that you employ, along with whether or not the documents are stored as images, the major issue here is that none of the content in the documents is actually searchable. This type of document storage is usually combined with some form of metadata attached to each file. Examples include the name of the document, the date, the author and even a summary of what is inside. The metadata is usually kept in a database, and this is what is searchable - not the document itself.
While using document scanning can certainly be a viable solution under specific conditions, it's less than ideal for these reasons. It can, however, be a good way to digitize old documents, such as property deeds that may be handwritten and may be decades or even hundreds of years old.
Another method of scanning documents has to do with a situation where you're dealing with files that were originally typeset or done with a work processor as opposed to being handwritten. They can be scanned using optical character recognition technology, also commonly referred to as OCR. This will generate documents that are searchable once they have been fully converted into their final digital form.
Finally, you can employ a database-based document management system to accomplish all of this and more. You will have a form that represents a paper document form, but all the fields on said form are actually fields attached to a database record. Therefore, all data in the document gets categorized automatically - making it searchable as well. This approach provides a greater granularity of the data contained in a document instead of treating the document as unstructured text.
A good example of this is when a company has documents that contain specifications for a particular product. Not only is this far more efficient than alternatives, but it also enables the company to build processes around this data, too. If you treated all of these documents as unstructured text you could never answer a question like: “Show me a list of specification documents for all corrugated boxes in our line that are between 12 and 15 inches long.” This type of search can only be done if “length” is a discrete data item.
The 13 Paper-Based Processes You Should Automate Now
All told, the decision to automate paper-based processes is an important one for improved productivity, security and efficiency. Just a few of the processes that should be automated include:
- Accounts payable, invoicing, general accounting. This helps automate the money coming into and out of the business, thus making it easier to manage things like cashflow.
- Contract management / legal documentation. This is especially important for businesses with heavy compliance needs.
- Digital document signing. Documents can be signed far faster, cutting down the amount of time you need to wait before work can begin.
- Document workflow & approval processes. Documents can be routed to the right person in the process quickly, allowing approvals to happen faster than ever.
- HR documents for new hires. This can dramatically increase the efficiency of hiring and training new employees as information is made available immediately.
- Project management. This is important because it generates much-needed visibility into the current status of a project, how far it has come and what work still needs to be done in real-time.
- Purchase requisitions & approvals. If certain conditions are met, purchase requests can be approved automatically - getting assets into the hands of the people who need them as quickly as possible.
- Quality assurance tracking. This helps make sure your products and services are working as they should, increasing the quality of the customer experience.
- Regulatory compliance. This helps manage how data is created, shared and stored within the context of the regulatory compliance you have to adhere to.
- Standardizing customer processes - bringing on new clients. This can help create a more consistent, high-quality experience during the beginning of your relationship with a client, making sure that everything gets off on the right foot.
- Storing, sharing & searching documents. This guarantees that the people who need certain documents or information to do their jobs have access to them, no matter what.
- Time tracking. This helps make sure that employees are getting paid properly for time worked, and that organizational leadership knows that employees are putting in the hours they should be.
- Vendor management. This can take the process of working with multiple, disparate vendors and distill it down into a dramatically easier experience than ever before.
Automating Paper-Based Processes with a Web Application
All told, the best way to automate any business processes - especially those that are unique to your organization - comes by way of creating a custom web application that captures your unique process and manages the information capture, flow and approvals components. Unlike paper, a web application will make this data available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to anyone with the proper access.
If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us that this is critically important not only for the success of businesses, but also for their continued efficiency and growth as well. The best way to go about building these applications is to hire a skilled software development team who work using Microsoft's ASP.NET and SQL Server web technologies. This is a robust, enterprise scale web technology that has been around since 2002.
In the end, every business should invest in eliminating the paper-based processes of yesteryear. They should spend their time looking forward - not backwards into the 1980s.
Business productivity has advanced in a powerful way in the fast-paced digital world and those organizations who choose not to invest in this strategic movement risk getting left behind by their savvier competitors. The best way to harness this tech-based revolution to your advantage is to partner with a company that has the skills, the talent and the technology needed to assist your business on all fronts. They can help dutifully eliminate the paper-based processes that are holding your business back, allowing you to pave the way for the next decade of success and beyond.
To find out more information about our ASP.NET software development outsourcing capabilities, or if you’d like to discuss how eliminate paper processes by automating them with Keene Systems CEO, Lance Keene click here to book a call with him. You can also download our eBook - Why ASP.NET Development Services Fuels Business Growth - to learn more about this essential topic.