The Internet of Things. The cloud. SaaS. Digital transformation. Digital disruption. The paperless office. Mobile workers. Big data and analytics. Business process automation and optimization. These buzzwords represent the new technologies changing the way businesses work and driving them to previously unseen and uncharted heights. The shifting environment is leaving the document imaging marketplace with an ultimatum ripped straight from a biology textbook: adapt, migrate or disappear.
For a long time, paper-based processes were the only way of doing things, and that suited the traditional business models for the dealer channel quite well. However, advances in cloud, mobility and business software are changing the landscape, and even for those most stridently pro-paper businesses, some paper-free processes are being forced in. The traditional enterprise may have been built on paper, but the enterprise of the future must adopt digital functions. But like most adaptations, the move to digital is not happening swiftly.
In their recent report, “Paper Free — Are We There Yet?” AIIM found that “despite widespread acceptance that reducing and removing paper is a best practice, we find that only 25 percent of our 2016 respondents indicate they run a clear/paper-free environment,” although “40 percent of our 2016 respondents indicat[e] they have a number of paper-free processes and will do more in the future.” Users reported that their “primary reason for paper use [is] handling, reading, and note-taking (47 percent).” Others reported “a lack of understanding and awareness when it comes to paper-free options (39 percent)” or “a lack of management initiatives to move away from paper (47 percent).”
While some of these factors may take time to overcome, other factors are going to push the digital evolution forward. For instance, it is only a matter of time before younger generations start populating the workforce. We’re not even talking solely about the dreaded millennials here, but also the generation beyond them — Generation Z, as it is sometimes known, will be entering the workplace by the end of the decade with their digital preferences and knowledge in tow.
As these raised-on-digital generations join a workforce that is increasingly dependent on technology, a change in paper usage will be far from the only factor reshaping the imaging industry. Innovative concepts such as the Internet of Things, advances in cloud and mobile technologies, the emergence of software robots and other business process automation technologies, and intelligent decision-making capabilities afforded by data analytics platforms are major forces that provide ideal migration opportunities.
The cloud evens the score for smaller businesses trying to compete with bigger players by eliminating the added infrastructure and labor costs that come with on-premise solutions. Traditionally, the cost of entry, limited flexibility, and the lack of IT resources to deploy line-of-business applications, ECM systems, and other productivity enhancing solutions have been enough for businesses to forgo the risk. On top of the solution’s price tag, businesses have to purchase a server to support it (don’t forget about the increased utility and HVAC costs) and hire IT professionals to administer it. Additionally, these systems can take a good deal of time to get up and running, which will only lengthen your return on investment.
In effect, with cloud-based solutions, you are usually only paying for licenses, although some solutions providers may offer additional services and packages. Cloud adopters can start small and scale up as their business grows. And since there is no infrastructure cost, it costs nothing to walk away should you find it to be ineffective. Businesses with little or no IT know-how — or even with no IT department at all — can leverage hosted solutions to optimize their business processes, improve customer service, and increase the volume of their business.
The Internet of Things is far from a new concept (it dates back to the early 1980s), but our advances in other technology sectors have made the IoT a great fulcrum for leveraging devices and systems of all kinds. The IoT is integral to success in the MPS business by enabling providers to offer services like predictive consumables replenishment and maintenance to limit downtime, real-time monitoring tools to help right-size fleets and save customers money, and interconnectivity with a variety of business software.
But it’s also driving other processes unrelated to documents. It can help businesses monitor their equipment and make decisions in real time. For instance, an airline could reduce delays by using monitoring instruments to better schedule maintenance or catch breakdowns before they develop into something more catastrophic. Coupled with newer analytics tools, the IoT can push businesses to bounds unseen.
Managed Content Services integrates hardware and software into one service. Today’s MFPs, printers and scanners are as powerful as some computers and are intelligent enough to handle tasks that were traditionally reserved for humans. They are networked portals connecting users to content repositories and business processes. As the MFP’s role changes, those tasked with managing them must change too.
MCS providers manage the entire information lifecycle from capture to destruction. And as we see paper — the primary facilitator of information — being replaced with digital alternatives, MPS providers will have to change their tune. Where MPS providers were traditionally concerned with selling hardware, the MCS providers seek to optimize information management with packages of hardware and software to streamline business processes.
Mobile. Consumerization is taking its toll, and the mobile device is at the forefront of what technology workers want to see in the office. The mobile boom has opened a gigantic portal for capturing information and making workers more productive. From solutions that enable internal users to connect with and work on critical business systems, to mobile capture solutions embedded in a business’s customer-facing app, mobile solutions are going to be a big part of the future business environment.
Embedded mobile capture solutions are particularly attractive as they facilitate self-service for customers, a labor saver for you and a time saver (and convenient option) for the customers. Add to that the ability to embed secure e-signature platforms and process IDs or credit cards along with a mobile capture solution, and you have most of the tools to facilitate a nearly end-to-end process.
In other cases, simple mobile capture apps that dovetail with other line-of-business software can make a big difference. For instance, a user could capture and route a document directly to a workflow from the field rather than when they get back to the office, facilitating a faster and shorter workflow.
Business Process Automation and software robots. Perhaps one of the driving forces behind the demise of paper is the concept of business process automation. Current solutions can read and understand digital information and act on it accordingly. Through the use of barcodes, metadata, OCR, rules-based decision trees, machine learning and AI, business processes can be completed faster, with more accuracy, and much cheaper than human labor.
The age of automation is blossoming. While Elon Musk is trying to replace drivers with sensors, cameras, and software, the same is being done in the office. Only now, it’s the repetitive tasks of office workers being replaced by software robots. They are faster, don’t take breaks, make fewer mistakes, and don’t cost nearly as much as their human counterparts. This frees up knowledge workers to spend time on creative tasks. Many of the solutions available are quite advanced already, with some claiming to be smart enough to replace manual labor processes.
Analytics. As we move from paper in storage units to files in databases, we will be able to leverage our troves of data to make smart decisions. Analytics software can see entire systems at once, in real-time, and present that data within a matter of seconds or minutes. These solutions are highly customizable and can get quite granular, giving businesses insights never before seen.
Ultimately, these trends boil down to a few themes. Some forces are fostering convenient interfaces for employees and customers alike. The combination of cloud and mobile technologies are allowing workers to collaborate from anywhere at any time, and customers to make purchases or sign up for services without having to leave the couch. And with IoT technology creeping into virtually anything that runs on electricity, it looks like massive data collection and powerful analytics are here to help businesses act faster on (or in some cases, before) problem areas that arise in their business.
The changes will be small and slow. The world isn’t going to be completely different tomorrow. But it’s going to be different. And as it changes, we will see who adapts, who migrates, and who disappears.
Contributor: Eddie Castillo, Samsung Electronics America, www.samsung.com/us/business
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