Four Obstacles to Digital Transformation: Why Paper Keeps Hanging On

Why Can’t We “Go Paperless” Faster?
It’s hard to empower revenue earners, reinvent customer experience, or launch breakthrough products and services when collaboration and interaction are hampered by paper-bound processes. It doesn’t matter whether those processes connect customer-facing engagements or internal support functions. One delay, one error, one missed step drives down quality. Even worse, it can cost you a customer forever.

Enterprise leaders recognize the importance of adopting digital ways of working. A survey from McKinsey and Company finds that top performing companies take advantage of digital innovation. In other research from Gartner, 25 percent of CEOs cite technology-related issues in their top business priorities, while two-thirds say their enterprises are involved in industry-level digital initiatives.

1. Process Digitization Takes Work
Whatever your digital transformation objectives or initiatives, moving away from paper is a top priority. Digitization of paper-based processes is a fundamental enabler of digital transformation for traditional businesses.

Going paperless is easier said than done, especially for large, established organizations. For one thing, there are the cost and time to digitize entrenched end-to-end workflows. The return on investment is appealing, but first that investment must be financed and resourced. And even before getting to deployment, you need process and workflow analysis to factually understand what you’re dealing with.

It takes time, expertise and technology to map customer and employee journeys in the context of business processes. In the meantime, organizations may have to manage hybrid environments of non-digitized and partially digitized processes. If it sounds challenging, it is.

2. Making an Exception Again and Again and Again
Another hurdle for digital crusaders is that even the most thorough of digitization efforts can’t account for all exceptions in a process. In an ideal world, every structured, automated
business process is defined by a set
of events that follow one after another without mishap. In the actual world, stuff happens.

We well know to expect deviations or “exceptions” to a process. If, for example, the first workflow step is completion of an electronic form, the assumption is that it will be filled out fully and accurately. Any error or omission signals an exception to the process, and it’s still common to fall back on paper-based workarounds when an exception is encountered. Exceptions that need paper intervention throw up constant barriers to full process digitization.

3. Impromptu Paper in Unstructured and Personal Workflows
Examples of continued paper use persist, even in organizations heavily invested in digitization. Some paper holdouts stem from choosing paper in unstructured and personal workflows, because available digital approaches are clumsy or complex. These personal and impromptu uses of paper tend to fall outside organizational digitization strategies.

In unstructured processes, whether people are collaborating with others or working on individual tasks, each has their own personal or team-based ways of working, which may involve paper. Personal workflows may exist within more structured processes whenever someone adds a step of their own. For example, you may ask a colleague to review a document, even though the defined process doesn’t call for a review. Signatures or sign offs frequently generate a paper step. If you need a reviewer to initial a document, there’s usually a print job involved.

4. Transient Paper for Temporary Needs
A digitized, structured process sometimes generates “invisible” or transient paper (meaning not permanently associated with the workflow or tracked for print cost) whenever anyone adds a paper-based personal step. For example, an HR manager prints résumés that have been submitted electronically, works through them on paper to make acceptance and rejection decisions, then enters those decisions into the recruitment system to trigger the next step in the process — and throws the printed résumés away.

Alternatives for Digital Work
Do these entrenched realities mean we must reconcile to workplaces that still use paper — and its associated inefficiencies — for some time to come? Accepting or ignoring these conditions doesn’t solve the problem. It creates more.

What then can be done to eliminate or minimize these barriers and speed up your digital transformation? One thing to consider is digital alternatives to paper that require no process re-engineering or special digitization initiatives or training to launch. Such tools simply facilitate paperless working for tasks that typically cause people to still choose paper.

Additionally, by combining digital alternatives solutions with usage analytics, organizations can tap into data to help decide where to invest further in workflow optimization, digitization and automation. Armed with this knowledge, your enterprise is ready to move forward towards work-changing digital transformation. And that’s change that matters.

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