Digital process transformation: start leaving paper behind

Documents are key elements in the business world, but paper documents are not. Our daily routine is so full of paper that we don’t even notice. How long does it take you to find documents in your company? Are your files left on non-functional shelves and boxes in separate rooms? Spending hours looking for an important document is not productive at all, is it?

In most companies, employees are already using mobile devices for their daily work (whether their own or provided by the company), as paper usage is already on an ongoing decline. But the reality is that a truly paperless workspace remains a distant dream for most companies. And there can be no sustainable digital transformation as long as the physical element remains dominant.

It is interesting to think about it, because there is no lack of technologies today to end the use of paper once and for all. The problem is that we don’t want to get rid of paper. There is clearly resistance to change because people are used to paper documents, and most employees continue to use physical documents only because they have always done so.

The fact is that dependence on paper documents generates millions in waste that can be avoided or at least reduced by eliminating paper. For many companies, there are several ways to minimize paper usage and digitalize physical files. Digital documents are more secure and easier to access, store and share. So, why haven’t we gone paperless yet?

Challenges caused by the use of paper 

As your physical paperwork piles up, your problems also pile up and grow:

  • More time to complete routine tasks that rely on paper input;
  • Difficulty accessing documents and wasting time searching for files and information;
  • Increased risks of data security breaches, where physical documents are easily damaged, lost, misplaced or stolen;
  • Risks regarding access to documents by unauthorized persons, fraud, data confidentiality, and duplicate information;
  • Potential errors in data entry caused by manual entry of information;
  • Lack of sustainability, as papermaking is an extremely polluting process. The use of paper is harmful to the environment and does not contribute to your company’s environmental credibility;
  • Wasted money on on-site or off-site storage just to keep paper copies.

For these and other reasons, companies and organizations of all types are striving to implement paperless processes. And that change can happen top-down, through company policy, or bottom-up, through employees who manage paper-based processes and see a huge opportunity to streamline their operations.

Starting process modernization 

The good news is that there are better ways to store corporate documents and maintain data integrity. If you are having trouble finding documents or are running out of storage space in your company, an essential first step in your company’s digital transformation is to transform paper into electronic files. In this context, digitization and digitalization could either be the ideal solution for your business.

But what are digitization and digitalization? These concepts end up sounding so similar that it’s no wonder they’re used interchangeably. But in fact, when analyzed separately, they have very different meanings and refer to completely different activities, with different purposes, objectives and impacts on company operations. So, let’s learn a little more about each term individually?

What is Digitization?  

First, let’s talk about Digitization. The term was not that familiar and ended up being overcome by the next process, which is digitalization.

The Gartner IT Glossary provides this definition:

“Digitization is the process of changing from analog to digital form, also known as digital enablement. Said another way, digitization takes an analog process and changes it to a digital form without any different-in-kind changes to the process itself.”

The first documented use of the word with this meaning was in 1954. But, over time, the term ceased to be used and the word digitalization came to include the same meaning. However, according to academic theory, digitalization encompasses more than the simple conversion of an item from physical to digital medium, but rather the adoption of a digital process.

What is Digitalization? 

According to the Gartner IT Glossary, digitalization is “the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.”

Digitalization harnesses the potential of digitization, using digital technologies and digitalized data to improve business processes, create new revenue streams and build a digital culture. Therefore, digitalization refers to the internal optimization of processes (for example: automation of an activity, minimizing paper use) leading to cost reduction.

In summary, we can understand digitization as the separate act of converting a physical format into a digital format, and digitalization as the adoption of generally ongoing processes of digitalizing and managing digital content. For example, scanning physical documents is digitization; however, if we organize a process that converts the entire archive from a physical format to a digital format, and from there organizing a new work flow with this new digital format, we have a digitalization process.

Why is digitalization important? 

Companies worldwide are going paperless, digitalizing documents, and streamlining their processes. But when it comes to document digitalization, many people may still think of scanning, which is the conversion of the physical document into a digital image.

Document digitalization is a more comprehensive process, whose objective is to go beyond scanning, it is to transform the files in such a way that they can be indexed with software to allow searches in different ways. In practice, this means that the file receives a binary code that contains information that the management system will read and interpret. Once they are digitalized, these documents can be stored, named, accessed, and managed in a 100% digital environment, complying with security, accessibility, and traceability standards.

Storing digitalized documents in software is an effective alternative to protect them in a digital environment, as the tool has data protection standards and access is restricted to registered users. That is, more control over who has access to information. Another advantage is performing frequent backups to ensure an up-to-date copy of all information. Therefore, there is no risk of losing or misplacing documents. In addition, records stored in the cloud facilitate data management and do not take up space on your desktop, network or device used to view them.

Therefore, digital management of scanned documents is a strategy that allows you to preserve your company’s entire archive in an organized way. This process is already a reality in many companies, after all, market agility, high demand for information, data security requirements, and the need to access documents in real time entail simple and fast processes.

The benefits of turning paper into digital data 

Organization: No more piles of paper on desks and shelves, and flat file cabinets. This prevents wasting valuable time searching for misplaced or misfiled documents that could be spent on other priorities. Finding, accessing, and sharing files and documents will be easier.

Efficiency: Digital documents are easier to manage, store and locate than paper documents. Being able to access and share documents at any time, no matter where they are, increases employee productivity. Extracting the necessary data from a document (via automatic recognition) is much faster and less error-prone than manually entering information from paper.

Space: Rather than piling up rows of files throughout the company, going paperless requires far less space.

Good for the environment: less paper printing means cutting down fewer trees to make more paper.

Faster communication: It takes at least a day for paper documents to travel from point A to point B. There may even be delays, poor distribution or total loss. Once digitalized, documents are immediately available where they are needed.

Document backup and recovery: When paper documents are damaged or lost, replacement takes time, money, and in many cases is impossible. Stakeholders may never have access to important documents because someone has lost them, or there may be a disaster like a fire or flood. In a paperless work environment, documents are stored electronically on remote servers or in the cloud, storing your essential information in a secure, easy, and simple way.

Cheaper: File storage is expensive. Printing also costs money. You pay for paper, printer, ink, and printing equipment maintenance. By reducing or eliminating the need to store paper copies, your business can even move to a smaller location with cheaper rent, saving even more by going paperless.

Now you know the benefits of converting paper documents to an electronic format and that using technology to increase efficiency is key to transforming your organization into a digital workplace. But it’s still hard to know where to start, or even how to start. I invite you to download this eBook:

eBook: Digital Process Transformation - Level 1 - Digitalize Documents

This eBook presents the first aspect to be considered in digital process transformation: the digitalization of documents. This is the first eBook in a series of 5 eBooks that present strategies to help organizations achieve digital transformation success.

    Daiane Loeffler


    Daiane Loeffler

    Daiane Loeffler is a Business Analyst at SoftExpert. She holds a degree in Chemical Engineering from UNISOCIESC, a specialization in Process Engineering from Sustentare Business School, and a specialization in Pharmaceutical Engineering from Instituto Racine. She is experienced in the Processes and Quality Systems areas and has expertise on Good Manufacturing Practices, Risk Management, Audits, Root Cause Analysis, CAPA, FMEA, PPAP, APQP and Six Sigma.

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