Anthony Pearlgood, managing director at PHS
For today’s document-intensive firms in particular, the challenge of physical records management remains a major hurdle in both time and cost, as the holy grail of the paperless office seems as far away as ever.
Yet with the growth in remote, flexible working, for example, increasing the pressure to streamline internal processes, for many businesses the need to digitise paper documents and records is moving centre stage in improving administrative efficiencies and customer service.
For such businesses, paper-based processes can create a number of operational issues, ranging from the time needed to re-key data, search for paper copies, the cost of storage and the monitoring of workflow progress. These can give rise to compliance and audit challenges and create an inflexible environment which prevents employees from working away from the office.
By contrast, organisations that have effectively implemented document and data workflows within the business have benefited from lower operating costs, improved productivity, fewer data errors, better records for audit and compliance, faster customer responses and, last but by no means least, faster and more effective customer responses.
So, what is holding firms back from setting off on the digital journey, despite the well-established advantages of integrating information into business processes and eliminating associated paper documentation? One hurdle to overcome continues to be internal resistance to relying solely on electronic copies, especially in meeting legal compliance requirements, yet the gains in freeing up valuable time and office space can be considerable.
However, it must be recognised more broadly that going digital will not be the answer in every case. For many organisations in both the public and private sector, there remains a continuing need to use and retain paper copies for certain parts of their operation. Although this is inherently less ‘green’ than digital alternatives, the adoption of best practice tools enabling effective storage and rapid retrieval of hard copies will ensure the organisation operates in the most effective and cost-efficient way.
Putting the customer first
Fast, accurate response times are the key to retaining customers in increasingly competitive markets. And here, the greater efficiencies which document capture and data management critically provide when dealing with customer queries and is essential to making this happen.
Further, the introduction of more effective business processes enables professional services companies in particular to manage higher volumes of clients, without impacting negatively on service levels or increasing staff numbers and other overheads.
Yet arguably the biggest advantage of outsourced archiving is that of greater document security, with reduced risk of loss or damage. Using document classification alongside an archiving solution will guarantee that the appropriate retention and disposal policy can be quickly identified and data cleansing can be carried out on existing records. This ensures compliance while further increasing the level of process automation.
As the document management system captures data as soon as it enters the business, this means that errors can be instantly flagged through data cleansing. As a result, mistakes can be identified and resolved immediately, rather than allowing input errors to remain unchanged.
For records management, an end-to-end ‘scan, store, shred’ document solution also provides a complete and comprehensive answer to the burden of archive files, ensuring the information they contain is stored securely, yet is readily accessible when required.
Faster, more efficient internal business processes
Outsourced data management provides the opportunity to improve accuracy, secure better access to information and improve records management. At the same time, for businesses with multiple sites or employing large numbers of remote workers, it enables fast and easy access to individual records.
Working with centralised documents with a single point of access, employees can store, retrieve and share files. Collaboration across projects and departments also becomes simpler, as employees and authorised third-parties can all access data from a centralised source. This results in better and more rapid decision-making, as everyone is looking at, and working on, the latest versions of all relevant documents.
Although much of the information generated by a business must be retained for a minimum of six years (Finance Act) to satisfy HMRC requirements, it is likely that in many cases daily reference may not be required, with the result that documents are taking up valuable office space unnecessarily. Equally, if they are not stored in a secure facility, files and other documents could also be at greater risk from fire, flooding or theft. Should they suffer damage, this could result in significant problems should records need to be recalled for auditing or to meet a customer or compliance request.
Many of these concerns can be addressed with modern storage and retrieval solutions. Alternatively, a dedicated ‘scan, store and shred’ approach designed to meet the needs of paper-intensive businesses can provide significant operational, environmental and compliance benefits.
Paper documents are automatically scanned in at the point they enter the organisation, securely stored when required, and those not retained are shredded, creating large volumes of recyclable material.
At the same time, the implementation of scanning and data capture technologies can also facilitate improved distribution of information, reducing costs and increasing efficiency, while observing relevant legislation.
The paperless office may still be a long way off and indeed may not be the ideal way forward in every case. Yet where appropriate, a best practice ‘scan, store and shred’ data solutions approach from PHS can make a major contribution to a leaner, more environmentally positive and compliant strategy for records management and document processing.
This article appeared as the cover story for the October issue of Building & Facilities Management.