An effective electronic document management system (EDMS) and process can be the key to reducing costs for organisations, large and small. Glenn Baker investigates.
In a nutshell, ‘document management’ controls the lifecycle of all documents generated within your company – how they are created, reviewed and published – and, longer term, how they are stored or disposed of.
In this new post-GFC business environment in which all businesses are under intense pressure to cut overheads and do more for less, document management processes and systems are understandably coming under increased scrutiny as a means of trimming expenditure and driving efficiency. It’s an area of business where a lack of planning and process can simply no longer be tolerated.
Fuji Xerox has long been an industry leader in the DMS field. NZBusiness asked Paul Prouse, GM services and solutions, just how much progress has been made in recent times and what this means to typical SME businesses.
“Procuring a document management system used to be an area that required a large capital outlay, took a few months to install and required ongoing internal maintenance that drained internal IT resources and time. And then there was the headache of whether employees actually used the system. One international study shows ‘knowledge workers’ – that’s staff working with documents – spend half their time trying to find the information they require and are successful only 80 percent of the time. It’s just a waste,” says Prouse.
Innovation in technologies and the move towards hosted/cloud based document management has changed this, he says, removing the barriers to entry for smaller businesses who now have access to document management systems and services to match their specific requirements and size of their business – coupled with a more manageable monthly cost.
Prouse says the key to a successful DMS is first thinking about your business documents and why they are essential to running your business – rather than the actual system you are going to use to store and access these documents.
“Think about how accessing or sharing critical documents could actually change how you interact with and service your customers. Could you drive more revenue to your business if customer service or sales staff could easily access documents and make decisions faster? Rather than looking for the document in a filing cabinet or realising it’s not in the cabinet but on a colleague’s desk.”
If you’re wondering whether better document management would matter to your business, look across your business and identify areas where getting an answer faster or having information more quickly would offer quantifiable benefits to a specific process in your business, adds Prouse – such as a product launch, a specific project, sales campaign, or a sales proposal or enquiry. “This will then help to formulate what type of document management strategy and system you need and how this can improve not only employee productivity but overall productivity and revenue in your business.”
Tangibles and intangibles
Tangible efficiencies are there for the taking when a well-planned DMS is implemented. Neal Ross, CIO for Konica Minolta New Zealand was quick to point the following out:
• Simplifies document filing and retrieval; reduces costs and space of storage; reduces the risk of losing physical documents; reduces wastage and cost; encourages collaboration; removes silos from within the organisation; facilitates process automation.
• Paper, printing and copy charges are greatly reduced. For example, research indicates that a staff member in an accountancy firm can spend up to 15 hours per week photocopying/printing documents. An EDMS can reduce this by upwards of 75 percent, resulting in huge cost savings in terms of time, paper and click charges.
• Paper files in filing cabinets or boxes take up a lot of space. The result of reducing or even eliminating paper storage can result in substantial cost savings from recovered floor space in either the office where square-metre costs are at a premium, or storage facilities where costs associated with document storage and retrieval can become prohibitive.
Then there are the intangible efficiencies, says Ross. “Instead of one person working on a document at a time and then passing it onto the next, causing bottlenecks and delays, multiple people can view, comment and edit a document simultaneously – thereby streamlining the process.
“A well-ordered EDMS will also enforce standardisation and best practice in an organisation’s document process. And, of course, with metadata and content search functionality it is all but impossible to lose a document, regardless of how poorly it may have been indexed or filed.”
The impact on internal costs a well-managed DMS delivers cannot be overemphasised. Paul Prouse estimates that internal costs can be reduced by up to a third, by producing and distributing an e-document rather than a printed version.
“Think about the benefits of having files available and shared real time in a DMS for key people to access. What benefits could this bring to your business and the way you interact with your customers? Our experience tells us that digitising this process and automating workflow can take a current process from 15 days to two days, to two hours,” he says.
“An internal study by AIIM Market Intelligence tells us that ‘significant numbers of organisations are only scanning for post-process archive. Whilst they may be making savings in records storage space and improving subsequent searchability, they are not improving the efficiency of the process, nor raising the transparency of in-process documentation’.
“A wealth management client of ours witnessed this first hand after streamlining its process for opening new accounts,” says Prouse. “A laborious five-day cycle was reduced to about two hours, enabling clients to invest on the day they signed the contract. What was the impact to the business by automating the process? About $1 million per year.”
Of course new technologies are having an ongoing impact in the DMS market space – and that includes cloud-based services.
“Cloud-based and hosted services have become more prevalent,” says Ross. “However, uptake is not high.” The ROI on EDMS remains difficult to quantify and is a barrier to adoption, he says. “But natural disasters such as the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes caused a call to action by those businesses that recognise the benefits of data storage over paper.”
Technology innovation is rapidly changing the landscape for DMS, suggests Fuji Xerox’s Paul Prouse. “You can now use your traditional photocopier/printer as an efficient and effective on-ramp into your business processes. Fuji Xerox multifunctional devices (MFDs) coupled with our ‘SolutionBuilder’ software tool lets you index, OCR and file documents that you can locate in the future.”
This has helped cross the bridge between digital information and physical information, he says.
Myths and misconceptions
Of course, when it comes to electronic document management systems, many SMEs fail to utilise them properly or have overly high expectations of what they can deliver. Konica Minolta’s Neal Ross says many businesses believe open source systems are easy to use and configure. “But in reality, they’re rather like a kit-set kitchen. Unless you have the necessary skill, you would still need a kitchen installer to be able to assemble and use the kitchen”.
Ross also points out that an EDMS does not solve business issues. “If process is poor, adding an EDMS will not correct this position.” Eighty percent of the features on an EDMS are rarely used, he adds. “And organisations believe they can install a DMS system with little planning of their taxonomy and metadata. The ones that succeed apply phased, approached implementations involving careful planning and refining.”
One of the biggest myths and misconceptions is that you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get a robust DMS, and this is not the case, says Fuji Xerox’s Paul Prouse.
“Document management hosting and outsourcing has changed the landscape and now SMEs have multiple DMS options to choose from to suit their business, size and budget requirements. The most important investment is a little time to consider what documents are critically important in your business. Start with your critical documents and the processes they drive and this will ensure you find the right service and solution for your business.”
Prouse agrees that some companies don’t get the most from their DMS. “We recently worked with a local business that came to us to replace a scanner. After reviewing their document and scanning requirements as well as understanding the actual process in the business we also uncovered that their current DMS wasn’t being used to its full potential.
“The business had outgrown the system and didn’t have the in-house expertise to develop and scale it further. We proposed that our business analyst team review the scanning process, the document involved and what was required from the DMS in order to meet their requirements.
“After consultation and review, the client decided it was actually more cost-effective and productive to outsource the scanning and hosting of the document management to Fuji Xerox. We had the internal expertise and resources to provide a more scalable DMS to meet their requirements and we had the outsourced scanning and workflow expertise to manage their scanning process, which is now done in real time, rather than post process.
“We have changed the way this customer interacts with their customers in real time.”
Documents are still viewed by many as static pieces of A4 paper even though the world is flooded with email messages, electronic bank statements, e-tickets, tweets, digital photos, electronic medical records, online applications, YouTube videos, podcasts, PDF product instructions, Google listings, Apple iPad forms and countless other variations on the theme.
So, says Prouse, the DMS of the future must capture all of the above as well as information from social media, video clips and voice conversations.
“The ability to search, access and extract this information will be vital to the future of how businesses operate and interact with their customers either online, via mobile devices or through traditional mediums such as physical mail, email and fax.
Mobile and cloud-based technologies in all forms – Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) – will make documents more accessible than ever.
“So what does the cloud have to do with documents and document management? Plenty, says Prouse – with cloud computing and dynamic content, individuals anywhere can create documents, make changes, reconfigure content chunks, repurpose content, embed new content forms, aggregate real-time information, develop mosaic documents from multiple sources and so on – without worrying about having the ‘right’ operating system or application.
“In short,” he says, “users will be able to easily access, manipulate and share documents and content from any computing platform that has a web browser. It means easier access, greater collaboration and at a lower cost.”
Konica Minolta’s Neal Ross sees an all-digital future for documents. “There’ll be a much tighter integration into business processes and workflows – for example, accounts payable processes,” he says. “Document life-cycles are rapidly changing from being digital-physical-digital to being purely digital. This will remove the ‘printed’ phase from the document life-cycle which will have far reaching implications on efficiency and cost.
“As a result DMS will be mandatory since the majority of documents will only exist in digital format.”
Contextual language search engines such as Pingar are likely to become mainstream, he adds, allowing rapid meaningful searching of unstructured data.
“SaaS in the DMS space is also likely to increase, and with a reduction in wholesale prices the uptake should be strong. Smart MFDs will provide more interfaces too, enabling printing from, and scanning to, cloud-based document management systems.”
Glenn Baker is editor of NZBusiness.