Organisations planning to streamline workflows by using a digital document management system need to ensure staff are consulted throughout the deployment process, writes Antonio Leone.
Regular communication about the new technology and its impact on jobs will ensure staff embrace rather than resist the changes.
Digital document management systems sit at the heart of an organisation’s workflows. Removing the need for paper-based processes, they can reduce costs and significantly improve productivity.
However, in some organisations, the promised benefits are not realised. Rather than making use of the new tools, staff shun them and instead remain with their existing work patterns.
Such a response can have a range of causes. Some staff may feel the new system has been foisted on them with little understanding of how they work. They see the technology as something that will require them to alter the way they work but won’t provide them with any real benefits for doing so.
Others may feel they lack the understanding and skills needed to make full use of the new systems. Shifting from paper-based to digital processes requires training and new skills which some may think they have not had.
To overcome these issues, senior management must work with staff throughout the deployment and go-live phases of the project. By showing they understand how staff work and explaining the changes, buy-in is much more likely to be achieved.
The rise of the digital workflow
Despite these challenges, digital document workflow systems are being deployed in organisations throughout Australia. The insurance, medical and legal sectors are leading the move, driven by the high volume of documents that need to be indexed, checked and stored.
Digital document management systems streamline a range of functions within an organisation. They can allow paper invoices to be scanned and sent to managers for approval and internal forms to be completed on screen for processing. The systems also remove the need to store years of records in bulky filing cabinets that occupy valuable floor space in offices.
In the future, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) software will allow some decisions about documents to be made without human intervention. For example, insurance claims could be held electronically and AI software used to examine them and either uphold or reject the request.
The first step in a digital document management system deployment is a careful examination of existing workflows within the organisation. Each process needs to be considered to determine whether it is working effectively or needs to be altered before any digitisation takes place. Replacing an inefficient process with a digital workflow is unlikely to deliver real business benefits.
The second step is to consult with staff to determine how they work on a day-to-day basis and the value that the new technology could deliver. No two organisations operate in exactly the same way so it's important to be sure that the new technology will aid rather than hinder staff activity.
Thought should also be given to how the new document management system will be integrated with existing software applications. These could include CRM and ERP systems as well as finance applications. Such connections are usually easy to achieve thanks to the development industry standards such as XML files and ODBC connectivity.
Delivering business benefits
Effective deployment of a digital document management system can deliver significant benefits to an organisation. Staff can become much more efficient and customer service levels improved.
Workflows that previously may have taken days or even weeks to undertake can now be completed in hours or even minutes. The chance of error is also reduced as staff no longer have to retype data from forms into computer systems. Information is also much more readily accessible via on-screen searches rather than having to consult large paper-based file stores.
Within most organisations, there will tend to be two workflows that meet in the middle. First, there will be a completely electronic workflow where all transaction details are entered electronically and handled digitally.
Second, there will be a workflow that involves taking paper-based original documents and scanning them into an electronic workflow. In this scenario, documents are put through an OCR process so information can be extracted and used to index and route the document through the organisation.
By pursuing a combination of both workflow types, an organisation will be able to obtain the most benefit from its investment in the new systems. The paperless office may still be a pipedream, but the benefits of digital document management can be enjoyed today.
Antonio Leone is the ANZ marketing manager at printing solutions company OKI Data Australia.