Jon Wainwright believes advice firms can follow in the footsteps of banks and accountants towards the paperless office. Although starting with less paper is a step in the right direction
Today, the goal of a ‘paperless office’ is climbing higher on the agenda of organisations as they look to devise and execute on their digital transformation strategies.
Fundamental to the success of this goal is institution of organisation-wide electronic data flow and document management processes.
To achieve a ‘less paper’ office, the first step is to convert paper to a digital format – it then becomes an ‘asset’.
Electronic files are easy and cost-effectively stored; backed up for business continuity in safe and secure locations; instantly indexed and archived for fast search, retrieval and re-use – all of which is critical for any professional/knowledge worker.
On the other hand, paper documents have non-automated workflows and require manual records management procedures. With the variety of ways in which records are generated today (email, voice and text messages) and using multiple devices (PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets), there difficulties associated with storage and back-up.
Such an approach is bound to encourage client “stickiness” – i.e. the convenience and ease of working with the firm is potentially likely to outweigh any advantages that another firm might offer
The business rationale for well-structured, well-configured document management processes and automation is strong. For instance, the biggest advantage of a ‘less paper’ office is faster customer response.
In fact, this view is corroborated by 43% of respondents in a recent survey conducted by AIIM, the global community for information professionals, too. Also, 72% feel that “business at the speed of paper” will not be acceptable in five years’ time.
Furthermore, electronic email and document management processes can be leveraged for collaboration and customer engagement. With the ecosystem of service providers, suppliers and clients spread across geographies, there is value in setting up the document management function as a shared service – both to internal clients and customers.
It allows departments to share data and collaborate. For example, within an organisation, establishing a shared document management system as a collaboration tool between the human resource and accounts departments eliminates duplication of data and makes things like payroll, pensions, on-boarding new employees and so on timely and seamless across both functions.
In banks, often legal and corporate departments use document management processes to collaborate with traders on the floor to ensure compliance.
At a leading national UK bank, the company secretariat uses its document management system to establish processes with traders to ensure compliance with US Dodd-Frank legislation.
This is hugely beneficial as every email can be automatically stored in the document management system, which proves valuable in audit situations. Regardless of whether individuals are currently employed at the time of the audit, all email communications undertaken on behalf of the company have already been accurately recorded.
Similarly, accountancy practices can extend their document management systems to clients and customers to enhance engagement. Only recently, a top 20 UK audit and accountancy firm has set up a collaboration site for every single client that the firm services via its document management system.
Now customers including business owners and private clients use the system as a default, secure, single location to store and share all their accounts-related paperwork – completely eliminating the need to share information via email or other means.
Such an approach is bound to encourage client “stickiness” – i.e. the convenience and ease of working with the firm is potentially likely to outweigh any advantages that another firm might offer.
In addition to enabling professional services firms to strengthen relationships with clients, an electronic data flow environment allows them to genuinely add value and differentiate themselves in this fairly crowded industry sector.