Unlocking the value of paper and shifting to digitisation

Johannesburg, 13 Jul 2021
Read time 5min 30sec
Jonathan Osbourne, Altron Document Solutions, head of sales.
Jonathan Osbourne, Altron Document Solutions, head of sales.

With the majority of the world’s office-based workers still working remotely, what are the implications for managed print service providers? Much as business models across size and sector have had to adjust, so too have those of MPS providers due to the reduction in print volumes. The opportunity lies in digitisation having become more key to business survival than ever before, accelerated by the pandemic and greater than ever need for collaboration between a remote workforce.

While businesses believe they will never get close to what their print costs were pre-COVID, Osbourne says that without a clear focus on digital alternatives, end-user behaviour and strategic change management, old habits creep back into the office workplace and print costs slowly start reaching the pre-COVID volumes.

Yet Osbourne isn’t anti-print, he’s just highlighting areas in which companies might be losing potential momentum in the digital transformation journey.

“With the correct supplier and strategy, companies have the potential to cannibalise their print budgets and create self-funding digitisation models. For MPS providers, this requires the skill and ability to move from the traditional cost per print/copy models and focus on increasing customer value through transactional-based solutions or as a service offerings. This ultimately helps customers gain more flexibility, scalability and compliance versus traditional MPS solutions.”

Osbourne says: “We’re never going to see a printerless environment, but a print-less environment.”

He explains how global office automation leaders in MPS were forced to invested in R&D and developed solutions that embraced the digital era within print environments. “We’ve seen a few innovative digital workplace solutions from some of the large MPS players. However, the ability to successfully execute on these strategies reduces this number of the potential supplier to one or two. The framework and fundamentals of these concepts are mostly based on global trends such as digitisation, security, analytics, IOT and cloud. The objective is to support the changing work environment so that customer information is still available where and when it’s needed.” Both OEMs and the market predicted this shift happening eventually, it’s just been accelerated by COVID-19.”

Naturally, compliance with legislation such as GDPR and POPIA is a large contributing factor. “It’s difficult and risky to secure and manage paper documents. With the 'new normal' or flexible workforce needing access to information that they’d traditionally had in the office, businesses realised the inherent risk in staff being able to access and potentially print confidential documents on their home devices. A lot of corporates don’t have the systems and processes in place to deal with this concern.”

Organisations wanting to drive digitisation and the ability to share information easily and securely require a strategy that has a three-pronged perspective:

Firstly, in most traditional businesses, there are years’ worth of paper-based documents stored in an archive somewhere, either on- or off-site. When the business decides to digitise, it has to go back into those archives and decide which content to digitise, bearing in mind that more recent data is accessed more often than six-year-old data, for instance. Businesses have to comply with data retention and management legislation. Once they know which data must be retained for compliancy purposes and which can be purged, a scan bureau or aggregated scan solution needs to be set up to start capturing the information structurally into an electronic content management (ECM) system. The resulting data can either reside on-premises or be hosted in cloud solutions. It’s key that this data be indexed and structured in such a manner that it can easily be stored and accessed in a compliant manner.

Secondly, there’s the actual paper-based process itself. The business has to consider how the information comes into its environment from external sources (in the form of contracts, PODs, etc) and then look at how to intelligently capture that. It needs to move away from having everything printed and someone then physically capturing that information back into the system. “You need to review paper-intensive processes and identify how you can capture that information digitally in an efficient and secure way, as well as how to follow the necessary process without having a physical paper process running in parallel.”

Not only does this create more efficiency within the business, it also reduces the risk of data breaches and non-compliance. Once the information has been indexed, the business can implement analytics which allows for quick access to accurate, live information – enabling intelligent business decisions.

Such solutions allow further functionality and security, such as redacting personal data for unauthorised viewers and the ability of a full audit trail, tracking who accessed what and what they did with the document.”

The third element in a digitisation journey is change management, required to ensure that people don’t fall back into their old habits and routinely print everything. Human adoption of the digital realm can cause a lot of anxiety. Not only do people have to learn new ways of doing things, they also worry about job security as business processes are automated and taken out of their hands. It’s vital to ensure there’s sufficient change management and communication throughout digitisation. Businesses need to communicate where people can bring more benefit to the organisation instead of physically handling pieces of paper.”

Osbourne highlights why this is so important: “When South Africa went to level five lockdown, print volumes dropped significantly as people worked at home and stopped printing. Despite having proven that they could work without printing, the minute they were able to return to the office, print volumes rose significantly, showing that they automatically reverted to their old way of doing things. Change management not only drives the adoption of new processes, but also people’s understanding of the benefits of those processes.”

This is the first in a series of press releases. The next press release will discuss back-scanning: how businesses can digitise and index its archives.

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