4 Things To Know To Build a Smart Electronic Document Management Strategy

Recent statistics make a glowing business case for digital document management. A staggering 45% of companies spend an entire week waiting on a single document to be signed, 83% of employees recreate documents due to versioning issues, and document issues account for a 21% drop in overall productivity. There's a reason that the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) market is expected to grow to a whopping $70 billion by 2025; it's hard to justify existing without one in today's digital world. 

The average company processes an immense number of documents. When those documents are paper-based, productivity and budget bottlenecks happen. It took a couple of decades, but the corporate world is now keenly aware of the economic benefits of digitizing these documents.  And now that your company is on board with going paperless too, how do you implement an electronic document management strategy if you don't have one (or if you have one but it's not working for you)? To start, you have to understand some key elements about your document needs, business requirements, and scale. 

1. Understand Digitization vs Paper in the Context of Your Consumer

Business analysts have been predicting a total elimination of paper for over 35 years. Yet, still today, 82% of businesses still use paper. It doesn't make sense. Why haven't we all jumped aboard the paperless express to Efficiencyville where every process flows smoother than silk and cost reduction buys all the employees BMWs? It's pretty simple, really: customers and clients still want paper

Paper is a wrench in the system. Despite rallying calls from virtually every major research firm on the planet, complete digitization is used at nearly zero organizations (especially in healthcare, manufacturing, and financials). In fact, a recent Gartner survey suggested that 87% of senior business leaders considered digitization a top priority, but 76% are "less than 50 percent complete." Why the disconnect? There are too many obstacles to a fully-automated paperless ecosystem. The internal obstacles (building out IT infrastructure, making the actual decision, and committing to a timeline) are certainly there, but they're beatable. External obstacles like consumer preferences are more difficult. You need to create a comprehensive digitization strategy that aligns paper-based needs with the value of digitization. You need a system that can handle both worlds.

So, when you approach your electronic document management strategy, understand that paper is a pain that people find hard to let go. It forces employees to perform manual and repetitive processes, it's an antonym for data and analytics, and it creates massive upfront and back-end costs (not to mention it contributes to deforestation across the globe). Think about how you're going to eliminate the negative components of paper without actually eliminating the paper itself.

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The goal of your electronic document management strategy is to find ways to ingest paper documents, digitize them, analyze them, store them, and deliver them in a cost-effective, automated, and actionable manner. This marriage of digital and paper requires some immediate investments in ingestion technology like OCR, ICR, and OMR, and it certainly requires ECM solutions that can quickly manage documents, store them, and deliver them to the right people.

2. Understand How to Grapple With Customization

You have unique needs. We all like to think that we can take a merry trip down vendor lane and hand-pick the perfect, off-the-shelf solution to fit our needs, but that doesn't always fly with document management. Don't underestimate the power and value of a holistic, brand-centric document management solution, and (more importantly) don't overestimate the value of pre-built solutions. Your customers, workflows, paper burdens, and employee requirements are unique from your competitors—much less other industries. Does a hospital need the same DMS as a manufacturer? How does a financial services company—in an industry heavily tied to paper-based interactions and hefty compliance requirements—find the same value as a retailer out of the same solution?

This is, by far, the toughest problem to tackle. McKinsey recently advised, "Be cautious about building custom solutions. Available commercial solutions are highly advanced to those looking to do document management correctly." But that's only a half-truth. Yes, you should avoid building out your own document management system. The pure scale of the expenses there would be staggering. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't leverage custom-built vendor solutions. After all, ECM vendors already have the core components that make up an ECM solution; they can adjust them to your preferences in a cost-effective manner.

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From custom processes to UX, UI, and distribution, custom-built document management solutions are must-haves for a number of companies. The variation in needs is, by far, the biggest barrier to successful document management adoption. Vendors promise the world. It's hard not to fall into the overly-cost-effective trap of pre-built solutions. Granted, there are plenty of circumstances where pre-built ECM systems make sense, but there is an equal number of situations where they simply don't. This is something you need to sit down and think about critically. Start by answering questions like:

  • What are your unique document needs? A good example of this is in healthcare. The complex payer system in healthcare may require specific ECM needs (both in terms of ingestion and processing) that aren't required by other companies. Often, this question is hinged to your customer-base or supply chain relationships.
  • Does your company process documents in a manner that requires custom-configured document digitization, storage, or retrieval? For example, some companies need OCR solutions, while others have more complex documents that require ICR. Additionally, this can be a problem of scale. Do you need digital mailrooms (see this JP Morgan case study as an example of document scalability)?
  • How important is branding? If your company wants unique branding, you're glued to custom-built solutions.
  • Are you looking for specific UX or UI requirements to fit in with your existing tech stack flow? A good example here is an office that uses only Microsoft products. Do you want your ECM to follow a similar flow? This can prevent employee burnout and help you build a more comprehensive ECM ecosystem.
  • Do you want an ideal system? To put it lightly, off-the-shelf solutions are never "ideal" solutions. You're forced to settle. If you want a long-term and holistic investment, you have to go custom-built.

3. Understand the "Scale"ephant in the Room

A successful electronic document management strategy relies on both vendors and change management. You should absolutely scout out the right vendor, build a relationship, secure the right technology, and have the right solution customized for your business. But you have to carry some weight.

This can get complicated. Change in the document management space is all about scale. You have to create process and behavioral changes that compliment your movement towards digital transformation in the document space. What new roles do you need? How will you teach employees about new systems? What are your policies for digitization?

To handle change management, slowly scale up your document management. Start simple—pilot with a few employees in financials. For example, many companies focus heavily on invoices and claims first. It's an area that's quick to see ROI, and creating an electronic document management strategy in this space has a wealth of research and documentation supporting it. Once you (and more importantly stakeholders) see value in a particular business area, it's easier to justify rolling out your ECM into other business areas.

Eventually, you want your document management solution to broadly impact every layer of your business. But you don't want to force it overnight. It's all about scale. Again, customized solutions can come in handy here. Tackle a specific area then, once you have the systems and processes in place, ask your vendor to scale that solution out into other business areas.

4. Understand vendors are not created equal

When it comes to an electronic document management strategy, smooth implementation hinges on the vendor you choose. Issues like scalability, paper-mix, and customization are balanced successfully by choosing the right partner. At DRS Imaging, we align industry-leaders with document management solutions that best fit their needs. Why are we your best choice? Since 1964, DRS Imaging Services has exclusively focused on helping companies manage their information to optimize business processes. We were there at the start of the digital wave and we've fine-tuned our offerings from fully-customized solutions to tweaked out-of-the-box experiences. We have a lot of experience creating a system that helps you find value in your documents. Let's cut costs, generate growth, and design the digital document management ecosystem that works best for you, together. Contact us to learn more.