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Crossing the digital divide
A quiet evolution has taken place in document management. Smart electronic systems and processes are now realising significant productivity and efficiency gains. Glenn Baker reports on the latest thinking in document management and print management.
I read in a 2003 IDC white paper that documents, whether printed or in electronic format, are to a company what blood is to the human body. They feed the body (company) with the oxygen (information) that enables it to operate. They also provide the life blood of communications with customers, prospects, suppliers and business partners. It’s a fitting analogy.
So it makes absolute sense for a business to invest in smarter document management solutions to realise productivity and efficiency gains and save costs. But how do businesses go about achieving this?
First there is the whole issue of merging two document workflows – physical paper and digital (electronic) documents – in order to eliminate cost duplication. It would seem that many organisations have started the conversion process only to stumble into paper road blocks, according to Rod Vickers, solutions product manager at Fuji Xerox New Zealand. He says some firms have purchased Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) software for managing documents in a digital format and for distribution and storage, but have failed to maximise the full benefits even three or four years down the track. Now, with budgets pegged back companies are looking to increase the return on their investment.
Vickers reserves judgement on whether EDMS technology will ever completely tame the proverbial ‘paper mountain’, but sees many benefits in electronic document storage.
“For a start, documents are all kept in a central repository and can be searched, viewed and output from anywhere in the organisation.
“From a legal and regulatory compliance perspective, businesses can now have their archives in less expensive off-site storage, while having full access to all company information via the EDMS. And that has a direct impact on return on EDMS investment.”
Greg Twiname, channel manager, software for Konica Minolta Business Solutions NZ, agrees that the use of EDMS is clearly on the rise and by businesses large and small that want to improve their document management processes and reduce costs.
“In spite of this awareness, the handling of documents is an area that is still handled in a very mixed manner. Some Councils and Government departments have made progress with formal EDM systems but most organisations utilise various approaches to retaining and managing documents,” says Twiname.
“Most documents are still being held in informal or semi formal Window file ‘structures’ with only limited organisational agreement on the structure, the filing methodology and Metadata elements.” [Metadata is essentially data about other data.]
A significant issue remains with the retention and disposal of documents, he adds. “We still see a very high level of duplication, where the same document is being stored many times in various directories. There is little or no control over document disposal processes and documents being either retained unnecessarily or deleted when still required.”
The size and scope of the potential cost savings associated with EDMS software can be highlighted by large enterprise and government agencies requiring documents to be signed, says Rod Vickers. By the time a document is created, couriered, actioned, processed and returned, the turnaround can involve three or four days. No matter how hard you attempt to convert paper forms and their manual sorting processes into automated, electronic workflows, there always seems to be that paper element as it either enters or exits your business.
Vickers answer? “Smart Connect 2.0 from Fuji Xerox is a New Zealand developed software that lets you scan in a document and provide workflow instructions at point of entry (MFD), that push the document through your entire network – enabling the process described previously to happen in a matter of minutes rather than days, and with all the associated savings such as transportation, and benefits such as quick access.”
The paper mountain
Converting paper documents to digital format inevitably does have an impact on the aforementioned paper mountain. But such a strategy needs to be backed up with a concerted effort to reduce print waste.
Vickers says one recent study determined that a typical document can be reproduced up to 11 times within an organisation, and a large percentage of printed documents are never collected from the print device as employees get side-tracked for whatever reason. “Walk around your office late on a Friday afternoon and see how many documents are left in the output tray!”
A ‘Follow-You-Print’ solution from Fuji Xerox overcomes this by making employees walk up and authenticate (identify themselves) at the print device before the document is released for print.
An additional benefit from this type of solution is greater information security. And you might just be able to reduce those two paper recycling bins down to one, and save on storage space.
Konica Minolta’s Twiname is currently assisting one client to implement an EDMS system in order to reclaim three large rooms full of paper documents.
“Most organisations keep documents too long because they are unable to easily identify documents that are ready for disposal. They continue to store these unnecessarily. EDMS solutions are excellent in identifying those documents ready for disposal or archiving,” he says.
It’s also the norm to find multiple copies of a document in an organisation he says, rather than one central copy. “The lack of access with paper based systems often results in copies been distributed around the organisation – and these are then filed again, increasing storage requirements.” 
But there are also device functions that can assist in reducing the amount of paper printed he says. “Automatic double-sided printing, PIN release and process improvements such as fax-to-email can eliminate wasteful usage of paper.”
Let’s not forget the sustainability issues surrounding document management either.
It has been estimated that individual US office workers can consume as much as 1.2 trees a year through paper usage (
www.printgreener.com). Obviously at the heart of any sustainable document process is the need to reduce print volumes, says Twiname. 
“The electronic transmission of invoices and statements in PDF format rather than posting a hard copy is one example of how to do this. Our work just with one large client has seen an 80 percent reduction of print volumes from 32,000 printed pages per month to just 6000.
“The improved accessibility of an EDMS system means documents can be retrieved 24/7, and by staff working in the field. This reduces the tendency to print out hard copies to support activities outside the office,” says Twiname. Compare the time spent locating a document in a central electronic repository compared to a staff member searching for a physical document, and it’s easy to see why EDMS is catching on.

Moving forward
The first step towards implementing an EDMS system is to first define the process, says Greg Twiname. “The benefits of an EDMS will only be partially realised or not taken up by users without the necessary policy and procedures in place.”
He says the key points for any implementation are:
• Develop a classification structure (file structure aligned to business function).
• Agree on retention and disposal rules (for long term records management).
• Implement training and procedures (helps the client understand the process).
• Invest in software products that reduce or eliminate the number of steps involved   in the scanning and filing process. 
• Remember that retrieval is improved with good digitization – i.e. the ability to search on the document content (OCR and ICR).
• Organisations must also ensure that they have very good backup/recovery capabilities. Offsite backup is critical – consider a third-party or off-site ‘cloud’ solution. The latter option is evolving extremely quickly.
Twiname says many of the old-school paper-centric generation are understandably nervous about switching to electronic management. “They still want to physically see and touch their files.” But once they are shown the benefits they are quickly won over, he says. “We believe we’re at the beginning of a wave of acceptance for EDMS solutions.”
Technology has definitely come to the party in recent years to make the capture and scanning of paper-based documents easier, says Twiname.
“For many organisations the MFD (multifunctional device) was, and will remain, the primary source for scanned documents. Historically these devices made hard work of the capture and processing of the paper documents. MFD software has now evolved and we are seeing software that enables users to scan, digitize, route, store and optimise their business critical information,” he says. 
“This improved processing at the MFD reduces the number of document processing tasks, reducing human errors, improving efficiency and saving costs. The improved ability to capture, and codify documents has addressed one of the key issues, or difficulties, associated with earlier attempts to manage and store documents electronically.”
Email is a major business communication and often outside the document management loop. For many organisations email contains key information, often pertaining to, or relating to other documents. In many service related industries email is a key business document. “Historically many organisations have handled the need to hold emails by printing and filing these documents with the related ‘project’,” says Twiname. “EDMS systems are increasing their support for the filing of these emails alongside the relevant transaction or matter. 
Of even greater importance is the ability to be able to search on the email’s content and traditional email archiving has not provided this capability.”
Security is always of paramount importance with any EDMS system he says and this must include functional security (who can do what with a document). “Older EDMS systems often made hard work of effectively defining and implementing secure file structures.”
Less reliance on paper
Now is the time to optimise the usage of EDMS – this is the view of everyone we spoke to.  Rod Vickers says adoption is about self perpetuation – the more it gets used, the bigger the knowledge base and in turn, the better the staff uptake. “You have to condition your processes not to rely solely on paper, but a combination of both.” He says Fuji Xerox spends a lot of time working with IT decision-makers, helping them with the process of eliminating time-wasting business workflows. In many cases, they’re also helping them to merge their existing records management system (RMS) with their electronic document stores.
“The divide between hardcopy and electronic processes is closing – it’s time to see some tangible results.”
Vickers says that judging by recent sales feedback businesses are now seriously asking how they can work more efficiently, and what processes are there to realise this. The recession had them looking for immediate cost savings – now one year later, they’re prepared to make that investment in electronic document management. But he does admit that there’s still some work to do.
Glenn Baker is editor of NZBusiness.

 

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