By Sam Ferguson, CEO, the EDM Group

Many years ago UK manufacturing and service industries adopted technology to improve productivity and automate the way they worked — and most are now well oiled, efficient machines. With approximately 50 per cent of the UK workforce currently employed in the ‘knowledge economy’ you would expect our mailrooms and back offices to be models of efficiency as well. In most cases, however, this is far from the case...

The fact is that despite the introduction of computer technologies, including Internet and email, an awful lot of business is conducted by post and phone. Most of our offices and mailrooms function with piles of paper that move from desk to desk having information extracted, typed and retyped into the very electronic systems that were supposed to replace paper. These systems have become silos of information that have to be separately maintained and separately accessed — making it cumbersome to find answers that require data from disparate sources within the company. Thus, the way businesses implement technology often makes it more of a hindrance than a help.

Competitor Advantage

The business technology industry likes to paint a rosy picture of completely paperless offices filled with employees executing complex processes at the touch of a button. The reality is that most organisations will — at least for the foreseeable future — still require paper for certain purposes. The key to implementing effective business technology is to look at the organisation’s strategic objectives, processes and compliance requirements to find a solution that facilitates efficiency.

The appropriate technology can take a variety of forms. It may be that correspondence received from customers and suppliers by web, post, email, phone or fax is delivered to one inbox — where anything that isn’t already in electronic form is captured and has important data extracted so that it can be classified and handled regardless of how it was received.

It may also include an element where all correspondence, inbound and outbound and including email, is converted into structured digital information that is stored in a secure electronic filing cabinet where it can easily be found — today, or in six years’ time.

It may even move to the next level where, based on the information captured, every piece of correspondence is automatically routed to the appropriate person or team based on skill, knowledge, jurisdiction and availability up until the item’s processing deadline.

The technology exists to achieve all of the above across organisational structures and time zones, unfettered by physical constraints such as location and logistics. Technology can identify who should handle items, what has to happen to them and where they need to go next. And to close the loop, it is able to reply to customers electronically or by post at the click of a button, without walking to the printer or putting the letter in an envelope.

The Three Keys to Efficiency

The correct solution should comprise three key elements: outsourced services, leading-edge technology and the skills and experience to apply them intelligently to deliver efficiency improvements.

For example, paper documents are digitised in outsourced bureau facilities and digital mailrooms; intelligent data capture and applied workflow software combine with web expertise to handle, store and route information from multiple channels; and business and technical experience is applied to integrate everything with existing manual systems and business IT applications.

Return on Investment

And it should be scalable across an entire organisation to maximise savings. We have had the technology for many years, but only a handful of our 600-plus customers were previously brave enough to consider enterprise-wide information management across every department and channel. The progress of technology, speed of networks as well as the need for ever-tighter governance has resulted in most of our efforts now being engaged in enterprise-wide solutions.

The current business environment is incredibly challenging as organisations seek to remain agile while protecting the front line. Fortunately, the benefits of intelligent outsourcing and deployment of IT are both proven routes to achievement of strategic objectives, liberating organisations from manual tasks and arcane practices and delivering step-change improvements in efficient information management.

So, if you want a rapid return on investment at low risk, it’s time to consider the benefits of electronic document management. After all, it could be the essential driver to delivering your competitive advantage.