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Is Eliminating Paper One of the Keys to Process Improvement?
Interesting blog from Sandy Kemsley, Looking For Process Improvement? Follow The Useless Paper Trail, where she writes:
If you can get something in electronic form rather than paper, do so. If it never exists on paper, then it is much easier to change the processes around itSo what are your thoughts on paper processes?
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Accepted AnswerMichal RykiertOfflineIn my opinion paper (document) is always a process or at least a part of a process. I'm surprised that in the era BPM, BPMS, ERP, ECM etc. going paperless is often not regarded as worth exploring.
According to AIIM Report: ‘Winning the Paper Wars’, 74% of companies have business improvement campaigns that would benefit from paperless initiatives, but only 24% of those have a specific policy to ‘drive paper out of business’.
From my experience, electronic document is better than the traditional one because:
- it doesn't need to be physically transfered to another recipient
- I can copy/paste whatever I want
- If deadline is coming, I can get a notification reminding be about it
- it's hard to lose or damage
- my desk is clean
In most cases it's not possible to go 100% paperless, but even if 50% of documents were paperless it would bring ROI high enough to make it worthwhile. It's even more cost efficient when you combine electronic documents with BPMS. Especially in case of mid and large-sized companies.
I'm surprised that even the top rated solutions in Gartner's Magic Quadrant report on BPMS market don't have at least some of DMS capabilities. There's so much fuss about social BPM (which in my opinion is redundant in most cases) while things like paper processes are being overlooked.
Accepted AnswerMax J. PucherOfflineThere is much being said here that I do not agree with. Getting rid of paper is a nonsense driver for BPM. I said ten years ago that there is no process without content and content without process is waste. Paper always was and often still is the carrier of the process.
I take thus a much more real-world view. Paper is neither the enemy nor bad nor expensive. It is simply one of the many channels that documents can travel through. There are good reasons to have paper and good reasons to not have it. There are now the additional channels with Social and Mobile and the information sent through them is ALSO content. The key for a good process platform is to open up that choice to the business, user and customer without restrictions. As a matter of fact, 95% of process suites HAVE NO CONTENT FUNCTIONS. At best they can attach a file-BLOB to a task or store it in a folder. There is a lot of programming and integration work necessary to get documents into BPM systems.
1) Business content travels through both INBOUND and OUTBOUND channels and the process can execute on both intersections either within the business or outside the business at partners or the customers.
2) Business content is a complex mix of:
* text blocks (with many variants),
* structure information and content components (outbound),
* formatting and layout (style) instructions,
* business rules related to both components and data,
* business data,
* content classification and capture instructions (inbound),
* .. and content creation and content capture processes in progress.
Plus there are content administration processes for templates.
3) Originals, versioning and variants: Paper has the benefits of being legally accepted originals and digital documents have the benefit of being easier to distribute and access. Both are necessary. Digital content lack originality. You send an email attachment and everyone has an original. The key of case/process management is to reinstitute what is the original instance. Some BPM experts do not even understand the difference between a version and a variant. A good process captures or creates ONE electronic original and testifies to its originality regardless of what happens to any electronic or paper copies. I have hardly seen any BPM solution doing that.
4) To testify to originality content/process engines must allow the establish authenticity and ensure non-repudiation. Most of that is ignored in many BPM designs, where Ironically the functionality of MS-Word is considered to be enough for business content and a PDF file is considered an original.
There are many more issues in the detail but I will leave it at that. It is not as simple as most portray it here. Letting process management dictate what you do with your documents is a bad idea. BPM does not have content features and integrating ECM and CCM and more turns projects into nightmares. Businesses do need a consolidated view and functionality for processes and content in one. Clearly, if a vendor does not have it, he will downplay the issue. Has been like that since 2001 when we announced inbound/process/outbound as one solution.
I did intentionally not go into the issues of notarized copies and digital signatures which in itself are a huge issue to be solved before paper can be completely eliminated.
Accepted AnswerDr Alexander SamarinOfflinePaper-less (actually less paper & other physical media) way of working is mandatory for distributed enterprises, close business partners and mobile users. They are examples of drivers for improving business processes by replacing paper documents by electronic ones.
In general, the use of electronic documents has the following benefits:
• flexible organisation of business documents & information
• easy flow of information within and beyond the enterprise boundaries
• access at anytime, anywhere and from any device
• enabler for automation of manual work
• work at convenient time
What is not obvious is how to transform paper documents in electronic ones. Just scanning is not enough to create an electronic-based record. A combination of tools is required: EA, BPM, BRM, SOA, ECM, … My recent presentation of this topic - http://improving-bpm-systems.blogspot.ch/2013/02/towards-paperless-or-digital-or-less.html
Similar to money (we always carry some cash and credit cards), reduction of paper will take time although the practically all business paper documents are prepared electronically.
Accepted AnswerE Scott MenterOfflineShort answer: Yes!
Long answer: We have a customer that reported to us a $1 million annual savings in paper alone after introducing BPM. That figure does not include any savings realized from increased efficiencies, etc.
So, in addition to everything everybody has already stated, I'll add this: paper ain't cheap. Trees aren't infinite. Saving paper is both a necessary and a noble goal of BPM.
Accepted AnswerManaging EditorNathaniel PalmerOfflineThe most paper-intensive processes I have been involved with over the last few years:
• Mortgage Acquisition and Refinancing -- why on Earth is this so paper-intensive?? How about the gamification of mortgage documents to demonstrate understanding and acceptance?
• Public Sector Bids -- the bigger the bid, the greater the paper volume, the less likely the paper is being read, and thus more likely there are mistakes so there is a risk-premium built-in by the bidder, and thus the buyer is unnecessarily paying more as a result.
• Engineering Change Orders -- again the paper trail is more CYA than anything else; it is both inefficient and fraught with a lack of traceability.
• Board Documents -- sitting various oversight boards, having to sign documents of various types (always an unnerving experience, never enough time to actually read them.)
These aren't all processes per se, but are collections of documents surrounded by processes, where the physical paper and the work involved seems intractably linked, due in most cases to regulatory issues. Yet in every case the paper itself does create a problem that is worse than simply the physicality of paper -- consumers don't read mortgage documents; government stakeholders don't really read the documents involved in large bids (talking about 1,000s of pages), ECOs are far more likely to be successful if their performance is tied to some kind of project management and governance (not just as an attached image).
It seems to me the process has to change for paper to be eliminated. So improving the process is key to eliminating paper. Although the reverse maybe true just as often.
Accepted AnswerKeith SwensonOfflineYes. You should work first to eliminate paper, and then to improve the process.
1) Paper is outmoded simply because it can be in only one place at a time. Information online can be accessible to anyone anywhere. Whether you have a (formal) business process or not, this advantage of location independence of information is huge.
2) Paper costs more than the hard disk space that you store the information on -- even a graphic scan of a page of paper.
3) Disks take up far less space -- even if you include the backup disks.
4) With modest backup planning, electronic information will last far longer than paper.
It should be self evident that conversion to and from paper multiple times would be wasteful and expensive. Sandy's point is try to start online if possible and I agree. If you have to convert from paper, do it as soon as possible.
While a company has information on paper, it is difficult or impossible to facilitate the process with a BPMS. Years ago there were a number of BPM projects I participated in that were, in the end, nothing more than allowing the field agent or call handler to type the information directly into a form, instead of converting it later. This benefit outweighed all other benefits of the BPM system.
I might even say that conversion to get rid of paper should be a primary focus of any BPM effort. Then, we can focus on ending this bad habit of routing information around and through people, and keep it in a centralized, yet still accessible, location.
Keith, for business documents it is impossible to eliminate paper without also digitizing its process too. The paper is the carrier of the process too. It is also incorrect that paper documents hinder a BPM design. Very often that is a key element of a good solution that you retain the paper original but allow processing of the digital copy. Often it is more customer oriented to allow them to use paper where it improves their customer experience and handle the conversion on the inbound. There is no one-fits-all solution to this.
Accepted AnswerChristopher TaylorOfflineTo still use paper, you'd have to believe a couple of things to be true:
- Paper is a cost-effective way to communicate
- Information stored on paper is secure and durable
- Your organization changes infrequently enough that a physical record is sufficient
I haven't met many large organizations that believe these things to be true. I rest my case.
Brevity is the soul of wit. I appreciate that fact that with your very clear and concise parameters you did not present usual diametric, moralistic arguments about paper -- if these apply to your process, then use. Otherwise, the question answers itself. Indeed there are cases where these apply, but increasingly few.
Accepted AnswerPhil AyresOfflineMany BPM advocates believe that paper just an inefficient way to transmit information and requests through a business process. The challenge is that the same paper carries more business weight than just a 'slow email'. Especially in regulated industries, the business records that the paper represent are equally important (more so if you are an auditor). Just replacing it with a bunch of rows in a database generated accidentally in an 'electronic' process is often insufficient.
This is not so say that it is not possible to create, manage, classify and destroy business records using an electronic medium. It is just an issue that doing so has been proven (by enterprise content management systems users and vendors) to be significantly harder than it sounds, both in terms of the extra cost in technology and getting regulatory approval.
A while back I wrote about how chasing paper from the filing cabinet backwards to the author can help highlight where business processes are hiding that other business users may not even be aware of them: http://blog.consected.com/2010/06/avoiding-rat-holes-by-working-backwards.html
Cutting obvious waste out of a process is a big key to successful BPM. That includes avoiding paper where possible. But focusing exclusively on paper as the bad guy may mean we are missing other opportunities to improve processes more rapidly and cost-effectively.
Accepted AnswerDavid ChasselsOfflineLess paper should not be a driver of process improvement it is a consequence. Whilst much will be stored digitally it will be necessary to be able to print documents as required. Minimising effort yet customising as required is an aspect that is very important to efficiency.
BPM supporting software should be able to print custom documents automatically reflecting the instance and thus purpose of the communication. Two examples an invoice is only a “report” using a template but automatically populated direct from the stored data of the transaction. The other say a letter to a customer that can present the information reflecting the purpose of communication and which can be amended in the browser before printing and posting. Remember that last standard letter you received from your supplier that had little relevance to the facts……?
I tend to disagree. I believe that the purposeful elimination of paper drives the kinds of decisions that help the organization do its job better. I remember showing a dynamic process diagram that quickly switched to a role-based view with a single click and had analytics built in. Someone on the Webex asked, "Where are the print lines?" I didn't understand until I remembered that MS Excel can add print lines to the screen to show how the page will be rendered on paper. I had to stifle my chuckle.
Accepted AnswerScott ClevelandOffline
Accepted AnswerEric A. StephensOfflineI despise paper. But I'm also a hypocrite because I use a Moleskine notebook to take notes
Moving information from one medium to another only benefits the organization if it aids in achieving an objective or improving a KPI. In 99.9999% of cases, I'm betting moving something to electronic form will accelerate information sharing and thus make the overarching process more efficient. In some very rare cases, paper serves as a nice backup because the batteries don't wear out.
I am left-handed and dyslexic. My penmanship has been a lifelong source of shame and embarrassment, beginning in early days of Catholic School. But despite best intentions as an early adopter of a Newton, Palm, Casio Wizard, iPad, et al., I too rely on a Mokeskine journal for note-taking.
Accepted AnswerEmiel KellyOfflinePaper is just the carrier of information. It's the information that's used to execute and manage processes.
So nowadays you see a lot of companies using capture software to scan documents, extract the data and use it in their systems. And indeed, that sounds like a problem that shouldn't exist. ('Can't those customers just order on our website?')
But be aware: Starting with the assumption 'no paper anymore' is the wrong way round I think.
So I would always go back to the information needed and then decide the best way to transport it; paper, text message, ecm system, etc.
Then you might probably conclude paper is not the best way anymore.
Accepted AnswerSteve WeissmanOfflineI agree with Sandy's overall point, and have for years distilled BPM analysis as essentially following a piece of paper around the organization from the time it comes in until the time it comes to rest. But the trick to getting Maximum Total Value isn't to specifically target paper, as the questions suggests, it's to ensure the process flows most effectively. Perhaps not coincidentally, paper reduction frequently is a happy byproduct.