We have BPM and we still use paper? Really?

BarcodesAccording to recent AIIM Report – ‘Winning the Paper Wars’, 74% of companies have business improvement campaigns that would benefit from paperless initiatives, but only 24% of those have a specific policy to ‘drive paper out of business’. In the era of BPM, BPMS, iBPMS, ERP, ECM (and dozens of other acronyms), I’m asking: how is it possible we still use paper? Isn’t (paper) document processing a part of business that would benefit from being optimized?

In the same report we read: ‘Nearly half (47%) of organizations made only 5% progress towards processes that could be paper free. 18% haven’t even started yet’. So basically 2 out of 3 companies are still in 1990s when it comes to paper documents. But wait… it gets better:

On average, respondents feel that driving paper out of the business would improve speed of response to customers, citizens or staff by 29,7%, rising to 35,4% for those with more experience [with paperless processes]’. In plain words: those 65% of companies that made none or little progress towards eliminating paper are missing a chance to rise up productivity by more than 30%. OK, but what about ROI then?

Two-thirds of those adopting paper free processes report a payback within 18 months.  50% see payback in a single 12-month budgeting period’. ‘Why don’t we have it implemented yet?’ – a stunned CEO might ask…

Let’s identify the three biggest obstacles:

1. Building a business case. Even with the most appealing arguments and ROI numbers, convincing top management to spend money may be hard. No budget, not enough resources, lack of will to take responsibility for a project – you name it. There are always plenty of reasons not to spend money… unless an organization absolutely has to.

2. Integration and maintenance costs. In some cases an integration DMS capabilities with existing IT systems is too complicated and too expensive. Requires an external service, creation of custom solutions, hiring additional staff for maintenance etc. Additionally when something goes wrong, there’s yet another vendor to call and deal with, which make resolving problems more complicated.

3. The power of habit.  Change is foundation of every improvement process. However the reality shows that transition from paper to electronic documents is one of the hardest to introduce. It is especially a difficult case when it comes to veterans who are very reluctant to increase the impact of technology they are not familiar with.

Handling paper documents within BPMS

In my opinion, for a long term strategy, using paper documents is not an option. Of course it is not possible to go 100% paperless but organizations should gradually minimize the role of paper in their businesses.

Two technologies are particularly helpful in that matter:
barcodes – to optimize document scanning, filing and archiving
OCR – for digitalization, automatic registration, full text search and archiving

But using them as a standalones doesn’t make much sense. Integration with company’s BPMS or ERP is better, but as I mentioned, it could be expensive and potentially problematic. At the end organization could end-up using only some of the potential in that solution.

From my perspective, the best course of action in order to maximize productivity and ROI, is to invest in BPM suite that would also have capabilities of DMS (Document Management System) with fully integrated OCR and barcodes modules. It allows to handle all business processes end to end (along with these processes that start with paper hard copies) within only one platform. Therefore end-users have only one interface to deal with, and IT department only one vendor to contact when necessary.

When it comes to functionality, besides usual BPMS capabilities, it allows for:
• precise document routing (executed by BPMS)
• full text search (OCR)
• mass document scanning (barcodes)
• easy and transparent filing (barcodes)
• automatic document registration and workflow initialization (OCR)

Full scope of process optimization

We often discuss what’s the best way to optimize certain processes and at the same time we tend to ignore other ones that have significant impact on organization(s). I’m constantly surprised by the fact that most of the top BPM suites noted in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant are still missing some of the aforementioned DMS functionalities. Isn’t it a major overlook? Aren’t BPMS supposed to be truly comprehensive when it comes to process optimization?

What’s your take on the subject? Is dealing with document hardcopies worth time and effort? Is ‘one to rule them [business processes] all’ approach appealing?

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By Michal Rykiert @ WEBCON | September 4, 2013

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