Paperwork is the bane of business leaders, who have long bemoaned its time-sapping properties. However, the transition to digital across all sectors of the economy is finally providing the opportunity to speed up and automate many of these tiresome but necessary functions, freeing up swathes of management time. With a little imagination, the benefits can go far beyond simple time-saving.

Entrepreneurs and executives who are considering investing in a new IT infrastructure must think beyond the technology and define their vision for the project in terms of how they want to see their organisations working. Too often the focus is on what is changing, rather than why.

Enterprise content management (ECM) technology, for example, means documents and files in all formats, such as images and emails, can not just be searched, but managed and made available to staff, often automatically. This means managers can focus on strategy, secure in the knowledge that they will be alerted should key processes, such as compliance, fall behind.

Such an approach could also enable regular and automatic training updates – with confirmation that a document has been read and understood; it can prioritise and assign tasks and ensure they go to a suitably qualified staff member; and it can facilitate remote working by giving access to even the most obscure documentation.

With a cloud-based ECM system there are no barriers or excuses to getting started, and the files presented will always be the most up-to-date. This vision of a paperless system gives improved and auditable compliance with HR and health and safety legislation, as well as an improved service to the customer.

These ECM systems are commonly designed to be flexible and allow the business leader to consider the project in terms of how it can make the organisation work better, rather than being a solution brought in by the IT department. One of the key areas for success is to involve the people who will actually be using the system from the very beginning. Talk to them, find out what their challenges are, ask for their input and ideas. Only once you have a vision of a new digital way of working, based on the needs and ambitions of the company, can you move on to thinking about designing it from a practical viewpoint.

Despite many executives' fear of IT projects and the havoc they can wreak, the technical stage of actually implementing an ECM systems is likely to be straightforward and rolled out in stages. There is no need to invest in hardware or other admin expertise to create a solution that will adapt to the changing needs of the business – it is designed to be user-friendly and works with devices people are already familiar with such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.

In fact, that is not where the real difficulty lies or where projects sometimes fail or fall short of expectations. The biggest single reason behind the failure of IT projects is commonly when leaders fail to secure full adoption by relevant members of staff. It is essential to keep staff on board during the planning and implementation stage and, in particular, key team members. Otherwise, benefits will be lost and much of the investment wasted as a project, though technically implemented, will not actually be used to anything like its full potential.

In the case of a new ECM system, remember that end users may not care about projected cost savings – what matters to them is how tasks may be completed faster allowing them to spend their time on higher value and more satisfying work. So concentrate on these benefits and allow key staff to become 'champions' of the new tech, experimenting with it at an early stage and developing uses for the system within their area of expertise or work.

Early buy-in across the organisation will not only spread the idea and generate usage scenarios, but will also foster user adoption once the system is implemented. You will, therefore, end up with a system that uses technology for the benefit of company and staff, rather than an imposed solution that resourceful workers will rapidly find a way to bypass.

By Tim Rushent, director, industry and commerce, with Hyland, creator of OnBase