A PAPERLESS OFFICE RECIPE FROM THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION COOKBOOK

By Manie Du Preez, Product Manager, Assimilated Information Systems

How do we transform our business by applying digital technologies with minimal impact on our current processes and budget? What constitutes a successful digital transformation journey? Let’s see if we can answer some of these questions, but we will do so while answering a more specific question: How do we digitally transform our paper and resource intensive business into a well-oiled, automated paperless office?

While a lot of emphasis is being placed on the business value and necessity of digital transformation in general, our main focus is to identify and assess the practical building blocks required for document automation and paperless processes. At Assimilated Information Systems we have identified five key ingredients that are essential to transforming a paper and resource intensive business into an automated (digital) paperless business.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we could compare this digital transformation journey to baking a cupcake. Our final product – a paperless office – is the tasty treat at the end of the journey.

We need ingredients such as flour, salt, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs and milk. These are all the essential ingredients required for baking a cupcake (according to someone’s recipe). These ingredients are sold as products and a recipe may not necessarily favour a specific brand, although quality branded products (ingredients) will definitely determine the quality of the final product. These days, some brands sell us pre-mixed (combo) products that contain multiple ingredients in one pack. I can buy a packet of cupcake pre-mix which already includes most of my ingredients such as flour, salt, baking powder and sugar – just add butter, eggs and milk.

Where am I going with this? If we step out of the analogy for a second, our final product is the “automated paperless business” and the production process can be defined as “digital transformation”. To create this efficient, digital, automated, paperless business, we would need to acquire some key ingredients. These are sold as software products and our recipe may not necessarily favour a specific brand, although quality products are highly recommended. We recommend scalable, user-friendly, low code products. These days, you may find that some brands will offer more than one of our five key ingredients as part of one product suite.

Transforming your business into an automated paperless office is not only essential to keeping up with the times and becoming environmentally friendly, but it is cost effective, time efficient and risk averse.

Let us now reveal these five key components (“ingredients”) we have identified and look at how they can be used together in many different ways and with many different products to transform your paper intensive business into an automated paperless office.

THE FIRST INGREDIENT: SMART FORMS

Definition: A Smart Form is an electronic form with capabilities beyond a traditional paper form, such as electronic completion, dynamic sections, database calls and electronic submission.

The foremost ingredient for building an automated paperless process is the ability to collect data from an end-user or even multiple external data sources to provide context to the rest of the process. Without relevant data, the rest of the process falls apart. How else would we guide the rule-driven workflow process, pre-populate documents and provide meta data to our document repository?

Some software vendors provide low code smart form solutions with a drag-and-drop forms designer that allows users to create dynamic, responsive, mobile-friendly forms with custom controls and configurable properties, such as field visibility, validation and repeatable elements.

Once a smart form is published, it can be accessed by the end-user on a mobile device to capture relevant information, trigger a workflow process and provide context to the rest of the automated paperless process.

Related Topics: Electronic Forms, Front-end

Related Articles: https://www.formulate.com.au/blog/what-is-an-electronic-form  

THE SECOND INGREDIENT: WORKFLOW (BPMS)

Definition: Business Process Management Software (BPMS) is a type of application that is aimed at streamlining business processes and workflows in order for them to become more efficient and adapt to ever-changing environments.

Workflow is an essential ingredient to building an automated paperless process. There can be no automated process without workflow. Workflow is the glue that strings all the other components together.

BPM software provides users with rule-driven workflow capability based on a combination of user and system tasks. Workflows can usually be built using a low code, drag-and-drop designer with configurable activities or actions. Most BPM solutions also provide valuable insights in the form of reporting and dashboards and these may play a critical part in identifying strengths and weaknesses in your current processes, allowing you to adapt and optimise as you move along in this digital transformation journey.

“The only long-lasting processes are the ones that are easy to change.” – Bogdan Nafornita

Related Topics: Business Process Management

Related Articles: https://www.techopedia.com/definition/28519/business-process-management-software-bpms

THE THIRD INGREDIENT: DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY

Definition: Document Assembly is the design of systems and workflows that assist in the creation of electronic documents. These include logic-based systems that use segments of pre-existing text and/or data to assemble a new document. Document automation systems can also be used to automate all conditional text, variable text and data contained within a set of documents.

Document Assembly is perhaps one of the most underrated ingredients in the digital transformation journey, yet it is crucial for creating a fully automated paperless office. Document assembly software assures the electronic origination of documents and reduces the risk associated with human error.

“The role of automation technology in the production of legal documents has been widely recognised. For example, Richard Susskind’s book ‘The End of Lawyers’ looks at the use of document automation software that enables clients to generate employment contracts and Wills with the use of an online interview or decision tree. Susskind regards Document Assembly as one of 10 disruptive technologies that are altering the face of the legal profession. “In large law firms document assembly systems are increasingly being used to systemise work, such as complex term sheets and the first drafts of credit agreements.” – Wikipedia on document assembly in legal services

“While document automation software is used primarily in the legal, financial services, and risk management industries, it can be used in any industry that creates transaction-based documents. Some of these documents can contain as many as 80 to 100 pages, with hundreds of optional paragraphs and data elements. Document automation software has the ability to automatically fill in the correct document variables based on the transaction data. In addition, some document automation software has the ability to create a document suite where all related documents are encapsulated into one file, making updates and collaboration easy and fast.” – Wikipedia

At Assimilated Information Systems, we have spent almost a decade on mastering the craft of document assembly and automation with our flagship product called DocFusion®.

DocFusion® is an advanced document assembly suite with some distinctive features such as:

  • a low code, rule driven, user friendly, drag-and-drop template designer
  • dynamic clause numbering based on dynamic content
  • digital signature and barcode support
  • smart parts for data fields, optional content, repeatable content and external references
  • a version controlled document repository
  • high availability and scalable for enterprise environments and batch processes
  • BPMS, CMIS and OFFICE 365 integration

“Your journey to digital transformation is incomplete without automated document output” – Ernest Kleynhans, CEO, Assimilated Information Systems

Related Topics: Document Composition, Document Generation, Document Automation

Related Articles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document_automation  

THE FOURTH INGREDIENT: ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES

Definition: An electronic signature, or e-signature, refers to data in electronic form which is logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign. This type of signature provides the same legal standing as a handwritten signature as long as it adheres to the requirements of the specific regulation it was created under.

Electronic signatures are yet another often underrated component in the digital transformation journey, but also essential for a truly paperless office. Electronic signature capability is perhaps the biggest motivation to completely eliminate the need to ever print a piece of paper again.

“Electronic signatures are a legal concept distinct from digital signatures, a cryptographic mechanism often used to implement electronic signatures. While an electronic signature can be as simple as a name entered in an electronic document, digital signatures are increasingly used … to implement electronic signatures in a cryptographically protected way.” – Wikipedia

Related Topics: Digital Signatures

Related Articles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_signature    

THE FIFTH INGREDIENT: DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT

Definition: A document management system (DMS) is a system (based on computer programs in the case of the management of digital documents) used to track, manage and store documents and reduce paper. Document management systems commonly provide storage, versioning, metadata, security, as well as indexing and retrieval capabilities.

At last, the final key ingredient for the automated paperless office recipe and the final resting place for our electronically assembled, signed and approved documents.

Most Document Managements Systems provide more than just storage and archiving capabilities, they also provide versioning, metadata, security, collaboration, retention, indexing, classification and retrieval capabilities.

Related Topics: Records Management, Content Management

Related Articles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document_management_system

THE BENEFITS

There you have it. Our winning paperless office recipe. Call them ingredients, pillars, steps or whatever you like, but they are all essential for a complete end-to-end paperless office. Some would argue that back scanning, document classification and OCR technologies are also important ingredients in a paperless office and there may be some merit to that, but these technologies only solve the problem of digitising existing document archives. These technologies do not solve the problem of completely eliminating paper from the process since the original copies of these documents are still paper-based. I do agree that these technologies may play a role in some digital transformation journeys with legacy processes, but when you prepare and plan your paperless office from the ground up, you may not have to rely so heavily on these scanning and classification services.

The “ingredients” mentioned in this article solve the problem of never having to print a piece of paper, since documents can now be dynamically generated in a digital format at origin and then digitally signed for acceptance and digitally stored for preservation. This brings us to our first and most important benefit of having a paperless office – saving paper.

Saving paper may not seem like a big cost saving exercise at first and the price of paper may seem negligible, but when you consider the true costs of a paper-based process you will soon realise exactly how much money is spent on paper processes. Have you considered the costs for printing, photo-copying, document delivery, scanning, document storage and document retrieval? Have you also considered the costs of manual human intervention and the legal costs associated with possible risk and compliance issues?

This brings us to our next benefit – managing risk and compliance. A well-defined, automated, rule-driven process will drastically reduce risk and compliance issues by lowering or even eliminating the margin for human error. The DocFusion® document assembly and automation suite allows for rule driven content creation to define and manage legislative changes and corporate identity.

THE PROCESS

In a nutshell, a paperless office process allows us to capture (or collect) data, generate documents, sign electronically and store digitally, managed by a configurable workflow process.

Let’s have a look at the practical application of this paperless office recipe and consider a customer on-boarding process.

  • Capture customer information (Smart Forms)
  • Generate a customer application form and contract based on captured data (Workflow and Document Assembly)
  • Send the generated application form and generated contractual documents through an approval process (Workflow)
  • Get the contracts signed electronically by the customer (Workflow and Electronic Signatures)
  • Send the final signed document to a storage repository (Workflow and Document Management System)

Other paperless processes could include employee on-boarding, conveyancing, project life-cycle documentation, real-estate transactions, human resource processes, and many more.

THE PRODUCTS

In conclusion, we recommend that you do some research and choose wisely before acquiring products, this will ensure that your choice best suits your needs when building your paperless business. Look for products that support low code, drag-and-drop, configurable changes and rapid deployment options. Consider maintainability and scalability. Consider the fact that some product suites may contain more than one of the ingredients mentioned above, for instance, some BMP products include both workflow and smart forms capability.

Procuring products to address your requirements for a paperless office environment may involve some thought and will depend greatly on your current organisational landscape, immediate needs and budget.

IN CLOSING

“The foundation for any digital transformation journey is cultural change, supported by a clear understanding of your organisation’s strategy mapped to current and future operating models. Adopt early, fail fast, apply learning, change heading, and then go back to the first step…” – Ernest Kleynhans, CEO, Assimilated Information Systems.

I hope that you enjoy this recipe and cook up some amazing paperless processes.