The Promise of the Modern Workplace is more than just converting paper into digital files

By Ron Cameron, KnowledgeLake

COVID-19 has forced many companies to change the way they capture, process, and manage documents, as it has with so many other areas of getting things done. Organisations that previously got by using outdated and clunky, but comfortable, manual processes have had to increase their use of digital solutions dramatically.

Leading consulting firm McKinsey said, “we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.”

But what does that mean for good old capture?

According to a study by Ardent Partners, 2020 was the first year in history where more invoices were submitted and processed electronically (50.3%) versus manually (49.7%). In addition, more workers are now getting paid digitally (55%) than via paper checks (45%).

Neither of these statistics allows us to conclude that paper is gone, but they are indicators that we are moving faster and faster to a truly digital workplace.

A Reality Check For Digital Processes

Despite the progress that’s been made, the fact remains that many organizations still use large amounts of paper and still rely on time-consuming and error-prone manual workflows. This would appear to be good news for capture vendors — if paper is still part of the landscape for a significant proportion of organizations, then there will continue to be a need for digitization of that paper. However, as we are seeing, the percentage of paper transactions is reducing year over year, so is this a sign of impending doom for the capture industry? Far from it.

We all know that capture is now much more than just the digitisation of paper into electronic files. For many years, capture vendors have been expanding their capabilities to process emails, faxes, text messages, and more. To achieve true digital transformation, organisations need modern solutions for digitising, organizing, and processing all files and documents — regardless of format or where they come from — and modern capture solutions enable organizations to do this.

But while this approach provides significant benefits to the business and helps move the digital agenda forward massively, it also means that organisations often miss out on a much more significant benefit.

The heart of the challenge lies in misconceptions about what it really means to modernise the workplace. The idea of the paperless office began by taking a paper document and turning it into a digital file. That progressed to the digitisation and automation of core processes.

But the multitude of input formats (paper, email, fax, etc.) meant that for many processes, the automation journey created digital twins of the manual processes. However, the promise of the modern workplace is more than just converting paper into digital files and manual processes into digital equivalents.

Some organizations suffer more from this challenge than others. The real-world example of a large manufacturing company offers a powerful example. The manufacturer asked its suppliers to submit invoices via an online portal, but many suppliers didn’t trust the portal and ended up sending them by email as well to ensure the bills made their way through to the accounts payable department.

The problem was these two workflows didn’t interact. As a result, the company experienced a 300% increase in the number of duplicate invoices paid that year.

This example illustrates a digital process that had not evolved from a single stream manual process to a multiple-input digital process. For a modern, digital workplace, we need modern, digital processes that are created based on the desired outcomes and the tools available — not simply the digital twins of outdated manual processes.

A Smarter Approach to Managing And Processing Documents

When organisations use the same manual approaches for managing document-centric workflows for digital files, then they’re simply replicating the same inefficiencies they used when they were managing paper documents.

The concept of the paperless office is not so much about reducing paper consumption as it is about rethinking the end-to-end processing and tracking of documents in the digital era. Capture used to be an isolated activity that simply served as the starting point to individual processes. Now capture has an opportunity to become much more.

Consider the benefits of capture as an integrated component to a digital business. Not just a feeder for processes but a processing tool that can be connected to the growing number of other content services within the organisation.

It doesn’t matter whether the content being processed by the capture engine is a picture taken by phone, a PDF coming through via email, or a scanned file – it should be quick and easy to extract the insight from that content and feed that information to the people, process, or IT agent to make use of it.

Next-generation Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) solutions do exactly that. Modern IDP offerings leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) to automatically and accurately capture and extract business data from various types of content and export the information into workflows and content services ecosystems to help streamline and connect documents data, and processes.

In these scenarios, capture substantially reduces document processing time, decreases operational costs, and, more importantly, increases business agility.

For too long, we have considered capture either as a paper-processing tool or simply as a process-feeding toolset. As more and more content becomes digital, the role and importance of capture will continue to evolve.

IDP solutions that combine capture with AI, RPA, and other content-enabled services are poised to revolutionise the way enterprises extract information and value from all of their content and data. This isn’t capture 3.0 — this is the start of something much, much bigger.

Ron Cameron, is president and co-founder, KnowledgeLake