The digital transformation paper trail

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck June 1, 2016
Digital transformation is the latest organizational cure-all. Not so fast, says Barb Mosher Zinck - too many companies are still stuck in paper processes. Zinck shares her chat with Nitro about their research on document-based inefficiencies. As it turns out, PDFs aren't much better.

We spend a great deal of time talking about digital transformation, and why it’s necessary for organizations to move forward and embrace digital strategies and technology to ensure their continued success in their respective markets.

We love to talk about things like customer experience and putting the customer first, or employee experience and how we need to help them collaborate and become more efficient. These are all great conversations, and much needed.

But sometimes we get so caught up with the high level strategies and plans that we forget organizations have long histories with process and tools that are really hard to change. Our love of paper is one of these.

For the love of paper

At first blush - boring right? Who wants to talk about digital transformation and how our reliance on physical paper hinders our ability to move forward?

Before you start freaking out and asking what I may, or may not be smoking, I do realize we create much of our content on a computer. We use Word, Excel, PowerPoint (or the Mac versions), and we save them on our computers, our networks. We share them via email or file shares so other people have them on their desktops, in their cloud drives, etc..

There’s two important aspects to this “paper” discussion. The first is the physical documents we manage every day, and the second is the digital documents we create and share in countless ways.

Take a minute and think about how you use paper in your organization. How many PDFs, Word docs, reports, notes are sitting on your desk right now (as a note - mine’s a little scary). How many documents do you create every day, or partial documents via digital notepads or email and share across email?

While you’re looking around and thinking about it, let me give you a few stats from some research from Nitro, a document productivity solution provider, from a study with the PDF Association. According to this study, 31% of knowledge workers use a printer, scanner, or copier ten times or more per day. Forty percent use PDFs ten or more times a day, and 29% receive email attachments eleven or more times a day (22% send eleven or more per day).

Some of the biggest challenges with PDFs:

  • Editing - 30%
  • Signing - 17%
  • Reviewing - 15%
  • Collaborating and sharing - both 14%

What are those stats telling us? Why does not going paperless result in increased costs, slow  revenue recognition and delayed service delivery?

  • It takes us longer to work with paper than with a computer. How many times have you printed out a document for review, marked it up, then went back to the computer, typed notes in an email or made comments directly in the document, then emailed it off to be fixed? Track your time there.
  • Think about how secure the documents you are sending are.
  • Think about how traceable those attached documents are.

Nitro did their own customer survey to better understand the challenges CIOs and IT leaders faced with digital transformation and how paper-based processes are causing headaches for many:

“This survey supports what I’m hearing directly from CIOs at some of the biggest brands in the world,” said Sam Chandler, CEO of Nitro. “CIOs and their direct reports want to move the needle on digital transformation within their organizations, and they understand this is the year to do so. While much of the digital transformation discussion focuses on the customer, these IT leaders realize that internal processes are a critical part of the puzzle.

From big wins to little wins

Sam Thorpe, Nitro’s Director of Product, filled me in on some of the key insights they learned from the PDF research study and their own customer research.

He said that CIOs have several core objectives:

  1. Improving customer experience
  2. Efficiency
  3. Better insights and effective decision making

Thorpe said that many are focused on complex projects associated with digital transformation, but there is starting to be an awareness that opportunities for smaller wins have an important impact on the business and the path to digital transformation.

PDF usage, Thorpe said, is still pervasive and it’s proliferating. He said this is because no one is teaching the common denominator worker to go digital. They aren’t being trained to evolve their work habits to use digital documents. Nitro’s research shows that no one rated their document efficiency higher than a 4.

It’s paper right? No one owns the process that tells employees how they work with documents. It’s something, Thorpe said, CIOs have to take on as 20-30% of knowledge worker productivity is lost working with document challenges including:

  • Discovery
  • Traceability
  • Recreating content
  • Collaboration
  • Security

A few more stats from Nitro’s customer survey:

  • More than 70% see paper as a continued organizational obstacle
  • More than 50% see inconsistency in workflow and collaboration
  • More than 40% struggle with document version control
  • More than 1/3 grapple with lack of visibility into document activity

My take - can eliminating paper really help?

Maybe it sounds a little crazy, that improving document productivity can lead to bigger gains in productivity overall, or a smoother path to digital transformation. From the bigger picture it may.

But maybe we spend too much time looking at the bigger picture. We spend all our time looking at the customer experience from one angle, the more “exciting” or at least more interesting angle.

To be successful with digital transformation, organizations have to think small pictures too. They have look deep into how the company functions at its lowest dimensions and you can’t get much lower than paper.

We’ll never go completely paperless. Kudos to those companies that can make it happen. But there are tools out there, like Nitro, that offer ways to improve how we create, manage and collaborate on documents.

And if using those tools, and changing the way we work with paper, can make us more efficient and productive in our jobs, there’s a ripple effect that flows upwards to the customer and that’s a good thing.