By John O’Keeffe, VP EMEA of Nitro

Reams of articles have been written about how businesses can embrace and use technology to change what they do for the better. For the most part, businesses large and small have moved with the times. Online retailing, mobile payment, cross-channel advertising and big data are just a few of the trends that have profoundly changed traditional business models and in some cases, created completely new areas of business. What is striking to me is how the actual bread and butter of business such as signing contracts, creating and sharing documents and reviewing presentations, hasn’t changed significantly since the advent of the PC in the 1980s.

Documents, contracts, proposals and plans have been around for an eternity and in many ways how businesses deal with them has remained static. These documents may now be electronic thanks to computers, but once they have been emailed or printed, the process becomes distinctly archaic. For example, your business emails a proposal to a customer for review. From that point on, you have zero visibility into what the customer is doing with the proposal, who they have shared it with, what actions they are taking or plan to take, what questions they have on specific points or even whether they have read it. The process relies on phone calls or follow up emails to move it forward. And as most business owners know, time is money.

Similarly, signing a contract requires you to print out, sign, post, or scan and email. Not exactly convenient and nowhere near as fast a process as it should be. So how can this process be made faster, efficient and more intelligent? The answer is with smart documents.

At Nitro, we define a smart document as one that is intended to be shared, where collaboration, workflow and security features can be turned on or off on-demand. Where everything, including views, collaboration and version histories, can be tracked.

Smart documents make common business functions —such as sales, marketing, HR, finance and legal — significantly more efficient. No longer will you have to wonder whether your approvers have reviewed the presentation you sent them in the right sequence, or wait around until a job candidate finds a scanner before he can officially accept your offer letter. Once your organisation adopts smart documents, you’ll close deals faster, execute contracts in seconds, collaborate from anywhere, and share information more securely. This ensures an excellent customer experience and helps you get to a signed contract faster. By sharing through a smart platform, you can make it easy for your customer to collaborate with you, while maintaining control over what they see and interact with.

This new generation of digital documents has only recently emerged for a few key reasons. Firstly, traditional business applications are increasingly online, open, and connected, allowing your documents to integrate seamlessly with the way your business works. Secondly, the challenge of dealing with multiple format types in web browsers and on mobile devices is being solved, making documents more portable across all the places we do our work. Thirdly, more content is being created online, rather than offline, and that makes the possibilities for smart documents almost limitless.

To take advantage of today’s smarter documents and achieve hyper-productivity, your business has a couple of options. You can combine several online services — such as cloud storage, online collaboration solutions, and e-signing tools — and create your own smart documents platform with some clever engineering to stitch everything together. Or, you can find a single solution that includes these different aspects of document sharing, collaboration, signing and workflow.

Businesses that make the transition from old-school, inefficient paperwork to smart documents gain a competitive edge. You’ll give your customers, partners and employees a better document experience, you’ll get more insight into your key document sharing workflows, and you’ll empower a more collaborative workforce — no matter how geographically dispersed it is. As a result, your business reduces cost from inefficient document processes in multiple business functions, whilst increasing revenue by improving the productivity of your team and providing value to your customers.