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The unrelenting requirement to increase revenues, reduce costs, secure corporate assets and innovate is prompting organizations across all industries to identify areas that are ripe for digital transformation. IDC defines digital transformation as the application of “3rd Platform” technologies—cloud, mobility, big data analytics and social media—to fundamentally change the way something is done. As organizations seek to optimize business processes across the customer, product and service life cycles, the document workflows that support a company’s operations are an often overlooked opportunity to further drive business transformation.

However, cloud-based applications, mobile devices and the increasing socialization of business are creating new pain points, as well as new opportunities, related to document and information management. Your stakeholders—both internal and external —expect access to the content that they need, when they need it and via their desired medium, and that medium is increasingly shifting from paper to electronic versions. Although electronic formats are enabling new ways of doing business, in some industries, they are also driving regulatory changes. At the same time, the number of content types and channels are increasing, and organizations must manage both structured and unstructured content arriving through a myriad of media channels.

"Replacing technology without changing processes or being able to do new things is not transformational."

Paper continues to play a role in businesses of all sizes, and in all industries, and contributes to document workflow pain points. According to recent IDC research of knowledge workers in the United States, 28% of all documents used each week are in paper format, and this is only expected to decrease to 20% in the coming two years. We all know that searching for information within paper documents is time-consuming and frustrating. Knowledge workers spend an average of two and a half hours per week searching for documents. Integrating this information into any type of enterprise application or back-office system requires manual intervention. Many organizations have a number of disparate systems that generate, consume and store content, contributing further to document inefficiencies. Knowledge workers in our study used an average of five different content repositories to find documents (paper or digital) on a weekly basis.

Document compliance and security suffer as well. In an earlier IDC study, sponsored by Adobe, more than a third of business leaders indicated problems with agreements missing signatures, initials or dates—or that have been signed by the wrong person; nearly half (46%) aren’t sure they have copies of all signed agreements. Just over half (51%) say they have problems with documents that are misfiled or lost.

It appears obvious that the automation and optimization—and ultimate transformation— of document workflows should be on the organizational radar. Document workflow is an untapped opportunity for further cost reduction, and this doesn’t just mean eliminating print-related costs. Additional examples are decreasing transaction times or reducing the fees and penalties paid for lateness or non-compliance. There is also the opportunity to increase employee productivity, including minimizing rework and errors. Digital workflows are more easily tracked, leading to improved auditability, greater accountability and increased security. All of this adds up to competitive advantage for an organization.

So why aren't organizations focused on document workflows already? A large part of the reason is that document workflows in general, and print specifically, are an often overlooked expense because its oversight is distributed across the organization. Since they are so fragmented, inefficient and retain outdated processes, though painful, they may not be top of mind for decision makers. These decision makers may not be aware that there are opportunities for transformation within these processes—and if they are aware, document workflows may not be a priority versus other “3rd Platform” and digital transformation initiatives.

So, how do you go about making these changes within your own organization?

1. Evaluate your existing document workflow infrastructure and process maturity to gain a good understanding of your starting point and your organization's readiness for transforming document workflows.

2. Use this evaluation to identify use cases with the most significant pain points and the greatest potential for return on investment.

3. Develop a strategy to address those pain points. Consider a pilot initiative for one specific workflow. This can be used as a proof of concept and a way to demonstrate potential benefits.

Of course, it may be important to educate key stakeholders and decision makers in both information technology (IT) and line of business. As we noted previously, document workflows and the opportunity for process improvement is frequently under the radar of decision makers. Above all, be sure to look beyond simply converting paper-based processes to digital equivalents—think about how “3rd Platform” technologies could be used to drive entirely new business models. Replacing technology without changing processes or being able to do new things is not transformational.

Don’t miss IDC’s General Session, “Transformation of Document Workflows LIVE Benchmarking” at the DOCUMENT Strategy Forum on May 11, 2016 at 4:10pm - 5:00pm. All attendees will receive a personalized recommendation sheet on how to progress to higher levels of document workflow maturity.

Holly Muscolino is the research vice president of Document Solutions at IDC. She is responsible for all written research related to document services and the solutions that enable them, including managed print services, related software solutions, the scanning ecosystem and document outsourcing. Follow her on Twitter @hmuscolino.

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