Why Digital Transformation won’t kill your paper problem, and three things you can do about it.

No longer simply a trend and now more a compulsion, Digital Transformation is a movement IT leaders know they must embrace to keep up with the ever-evolving global business landscape, and the across-the-board urgency of this digital migration is being documented almost daily, as in Gartner’s recent 2016 CIO Agenda Survey.

Of course, Digital Transformation isn’t just a fancy way to say “go paperless”, but rather a core strategy through which businesses achieve significantly improved customer experience, speed, and insight by digitising information and processes.

Now, if you’ve spent any time thinking about what Digital Transformation means for your own organisation, you could probably be forgiven for assuming that physical paper would just naturally disappear as part of this process. I mean, it will, won’t it?

Unfortunately, no. And, likely, not for the reasons you think.

With an almost endless list of possible digital transformation initiatives, businesses understandably get mired in complex projects that focus on the centralisation of data, content, and processes. And with so much focus on centralisation as a concept, many IT leaders find it is easy to overlook the surprising gains represented by improving “end point” efficiencies, such as optimising basic workflows or upgrading software tools used by employees.

As is so often the case, it’s a matter of prioritisation. Centralisation projects are obvious “big rock” projects. But successful prioritisation is not always about big rocks versus small rocks, but rather costly wins versus quick wins. And, this is exactly where a simultaneous evaluation of decentralised end-point tools and processes can help.

For example, once an employee accesses a document from a centralised storage repository, what do they do with it? Do they have the tools they need to complete the next stage of workflow efficiently? What lost time, security risks and other issues are introduced by non-standardised, or the wrong, tools and processes?

IT leaders who look beyond large-scale centralisation initiatives into just how employees are doing daily work find that it reveals some startling insights, particularly around the role physical paper still plays in their businesses.

A 2015 report released by Nitro, in partnership with the PDF Association, found that 40 per cent of knowledge workers use digital PDF documents ten or more times a day — but over 31 per cent reported that they are still using a printer, scanner, or copier ten times or more per day. This reveals that many processes that start digitally are often not staying digital when they move through review, collaboration or final signature processes.

Toward that end, more than 70 per cent of IT leadership see paper as a continued organisational obstacle. And why? Digging deeper, more than 50 per cent are challenged by inconsistency in workflow and collaboration processes; more than 40 per cent struggle with document version control; and more than 33 per cent grapple with lack of visibility into document activity.

It’s clearly a pain point for organisations of all sizes. IDC research found employees spend more than 20 per cent of their time dealing with document challenges, and that time and cost can quickly undo the gains of digital transformation progress.

There are a number of reasons why these document handling inefficiencies and obstacles are so pervasive. Employees often lack the right tools, or use the tools they do have ineffectively. And, even when given the tools they need, many employees cling to old habits and carry on working the way they had before.

These challenges represent an opportunity for IT professionals to make an immediate and lasting impact by improving workflows at the document level, which will boost the overall productivity of their workforce and realise more of the benefits the rest of their digital strategy provides.

Here are three tips for IT pros, who want to do just that.

1. Get the complete set of digital document tools

Making sure employees can accomplish everything they need to quickly and effectively, and without having to resort to paper, is an essential piece of the digital transformation journey. With PDFs being the most ubiquitous document format in the world, users will also need to convert documents to industry-standard PDF and PDF/A files from a wide range of source file formats. They should also have the capability to extract and edit content, merge multiple documents into a single PDF, and convert entire collections of files in a single step with fast, intuitive editing tools.

2. Speed up signing

Huge amounts of time and paper are wasted on signing documents, which is why robust eSignature solutions play a key role in ground-up digital transformation. Beyond capturing signatures, these tools manage approval workflows, visibility, and provide greater security than printing, signing, and scanning. eSigning can result in an 80 per cent reduction in document turnaround times, $20 average savings per document, and increased loyalty by improving the customer experience — an important aim of digital transformation.

3. Collaborate smarter

The third step to killing the paper trail is to collaborate smarter. This brings with it several worthy benefits, as a study from consulting firm McKinsey identified a clear link between collaboration and productivity, as well as innovation. However, most organisations struggle to unlock true digital collaboration. For most, documents are still shared, reviewed and stored based on an individual user’s desires, creating many disparate workflow patterns across an organisation. Businesses can streamline this by standardising on a secure cloud-based sharing, storage and collaboration platform that will help increase transparency, speed, and enable colleagues to work together more effectively.

It can be motivating to consider that there are projects that may represent ‘lower hanging fruit’, such as implementing digital document tools at scale, adopting electronic signatures, and smarter collaboration that can fuel their organisation's productivity, while helping to achieve and retain meaningful, and lasting, digital transformation.

Image source: Shutterstock/Who is Danny