Small and Medium Business - Going Paperless?

By Shadrach White posted 03-19-2012 14:39



What do a Moving company, a Veterinary clinic and a Naturopathic healthcare provider all have in common?

They are all very different professions. Relocating a military family has little do with getting your dog spike neutered or having a far east medical treatment like acupuncture performed.

There are actually several common threads for computing needs. They all require scheduling, billing, customer databases, email, word processing, and spreadsheet software. I have found that several common toolsets are used such as Microsoft Office, Exchange Server, and FileMaker Pro. What is drastically different is the software applications specifically designed for each profession.

The biggest common thread and where each of these business want efficiency is paperwork. Managing the paper that is used to facilitate so many of the daily operations in each of these businesses has always been a challenge. Over the last ten years the software applications that exist for these service oriented businesses have all incorporated scanning features that allow users to simply buy a scanner and start attaching files to scheduling, customer information, and financial records.

This can lead to some misunderstandings and actually exacerbate the problem. If your strategy begins with buying a document scanner or multi-function peripheral to start going paperless you might be in for a few surprises. Three things you must understand before getting started on a paperless initiative

  • Buying a scanner or multi-function copier is like an onramp to the freeway, its only the beginning of the journey.
  • Preparing documents to be scanned can be a monumental task. To often business owners look at how fast a scanner processes paper and make false labor predictions based on that alone.
  • Properly identifying or indexing files using barcodes or database lookups will provide a more streamlined and consistent electronic filing process.

The typical process for clerical staff using scanning features is to scan paperwork individually to a local or network file folder, usually as PDF’s. Then attach the scanned images to records individually. Most of the software manufacturers that have incorporated scanning features have not thought through the process. The PDF files are rarely compressed, image quality is poor and the files are dumped into database tables.

It is understandable that this would occur. How many small or medium size businesses could afford to implement a true document imaging or document management system? Try rolling out FileNet, OpenText, SharePoint or Oracle IPM into a business with 5-100 employees. In order for this to be successful you will need to be prepared for the following high level requirements.

  • Professional IT staff or vendor partner with a track record of success
  • Systems integration to enable communication with existing business systems
  • $60 – 150K Budget depending on scope of work

It seems like a perfect solution to just add a scanning button to the scheduling, billing, or patient records system. If your existing software system has a module why not use it right? So your business spends hundreds of man-hours tediously scanning transactions in the quest to become paperless. You are on your way to achieving the goals of saving space, eliminating lost or misfiled documents, and increasing your efficiency. Well, not quite.

After a few months or so you start to realize the databases don’t scale well and often become unstable. the neatly created folder structure you developed got accidentally copied over itself or files and folders were deleted by mistake. The scanning process to prepare, scan and index files is taking a lot longer than you expected. So what seemed to be a perfect solution really isn’t. It’s more problems.

Sooner or later your businesses will be faced with a need to migrate scanned files to a true document management repository. Post migration these records will need to be linked to the matching transactional data in the original software applications. Operational procedures will need to be altered; fortunately they will likely become way more efficient.

There are so many home brewed paperless office solutions today. Whether its using network shares, email folders, access databases, or completely custom-built applications. The biggest technical challenge in migrating these solutions is the proprietary data and/or file structures of each system. The biggest financial challenge is how to make the migration and new software solutions affordable.

Fortunately there are some great options today that can help you navigate and solve these challenges. Many small and medium size businesses can take advantage of cloud based storage repositories that are scalable, secure, and accessible using smart-phones and tablet computers. If you have an existing paperless system or process in place today or your considering buying a scanner give yourself the advantage of talking to one of our industry professionals today.

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