Paperless Workflow: The Dream and the Reality
By Mike Raia Posted July 6, 2015
Paperless Workflow or "The Paperless Office" both sound like great ideas but surprisingly, many businesses, large and small still rely on paper-based communication to manage requests, complete forms and even communicate (interoffice mail envelopes are still in use). At last estimate, 5 million tons of office paper was still being used each year in the U.S. alone. We cover more on these paperless projects here.
Resistance to adopting paperless workflow by going digital and automating even basic processes like onboarding employees or requesting budget approvals persists despite all the clear disadvantages of paper:
- Paper forms require hand processing that wastes time and staff resources.
- Paper forms can be easily lost and misrouted causing miscommunication and delays and/or extra filing.
- Confidential forms can be accidentally made public (ever leave an insurance form on the printer?).
- Paper requests can be held up and miss deadlines because of the need for handwritten signatures.
- Handwritten forms can be difficult to read, leading to incorrect data entry and, yes, more delays.
- Paper is difficult to track. For instance, where is an approval in the process? How many requests have been submitted? How many budget requests were rejected?
- Digital versions of paper forms can be routed based on the contents of the form using business logic.
Digitally automating one simple painful and "paperful" process can not only greatly benefit the department who sets it up, but all the employees throughout the organization who can now easily submit and track their own requests. Rather than calling Finance and trying to track down where a capital expenditure request is in the approval process, the requestor can simply look at all their requests on their own dashboard and see where it may be held up. They don't have to ask and Finance doesn’t have to spend time tracking down status info and communicating it when it could be working on something more valuable.
Once one process is automated, others will follow as efficiency increases, morale improves and management begins to get a clearer view of operations. Paperless workflows have been shown to reduce direct workflow costs by more than 30%, cut process management cycle times in half, and deliver positive ROI in less than three months.
In addition, ditching paper helps improve productivity and knowledge transfer. Moving information to the cloud makes it accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from anywhere.