Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “The paperless office is coming.” We’ve heard it for so long, in fact, that it’s hard to take seriously — but as of late, it may actually be coming to fruition. Digital workflows are starting to catch on and businesses are deploying Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions, plus a slew of other complementary line-of-business applications in order to operate more efficiently.
On top of the ability to automate most, if not all, document-related processes, these solutions make fewer mistakes than their human counterparts; they reduce the time employees spend completing administrative tasks, help businesses save a ton of money on document shipping and storage costs, enhance document security and allow workers to easily access and collaborate on documents in one central location.
According to Doug Miles, chief analyst for AIIM, “nearly every document is now originated digitally, but most end up on paper at some stage in their lifecycle.” In the white paper “The Digital Office — Improving the Way We Work,” Miles places part of the blame on a lack of “obvious” alternatives to paper and how contracts, orders, and booking forms are more likely to be signed on paper than digitally.
Miles explains that “completely paper free workers are still considered to be evangelists.” According to an AIIM survey, “only 4 percent of organizations head off paper at the door by using a digital mailroom to scan inbound mail,” and that “just 16 percent of respondents run a clear-desk, mostly paper-free office.”
So paper usage isn’t going anywhere fast, but don’t let these numbers fool you: Paper usage will shrink over time as newer generations of workers that are more acquainted with digital documents begin to populate the workforce.
This leaves MPS providers in an interesting position. While paper usage is sufficient enough to sustain MPS operations and copier dealerships for now, the future is in paperless solutions. Future-thinking MPS providers should consider transitioning to the managed content services (MCS) model — infusing ECM solutions into their portfolio to focus on capture and content rather than output and devices — to help their customers optimize operations. Ultimately, this should lead to higher customer retention, and in the short term, increased hardware sales.
But before we can get into the ways MCS can benefit your MPS operations, let’s get you up to speed on some things.
What is MCS?
Gartner describes MCS as “a comprehensive package that rationalizes, streamlines and optimizes business communications by providing customers with consultative help, software and implementation.” MCS concerns itself with the evolving information lifecycle. It aims to optimize information capture, processing and collaboration, file sharing, storage, and print or distribution. It targets business priorities such as worker productivity, access to information, and content integrity.
In other words, just as MPS bundles consultation, implementation, services, and devices to deliver an optimized print environment, MCS does the same with software and cloud services to foster a finely tuned content management platform.
ECM: What the Paperless Office Should Look Like
ECM solutions are the embodiment of the paperless office. In the last few years, these solutions have become more than just a digital repository. ECM has grown to accommodate a business’s end-to-end document lifecycles — including the ability to integrate processes from other line-of-business applications — from capture to destruction. Typically, ECM solutions can be deployed on-premise or in the cloud and scale based on your customer’s need.
ECM’s Core Functions
Capture and Storage. This allows businesses to capture hard copy documents from a scanner, or electronic documents via a monitored network/email folder. Most recently, some solutions allow businesses to host fillable electronic forms on the web to streamline customer data collection. Typically, these modules offer a feature set that automatically enhances images for easier processing down the road; OCR so documents can be stored as text-searchable and editable files to enhance search and collaboration capabilities later on; a variety of manual and automated indexing methods; and the ability to route documents to the ECM’s repository, email applications, cloud services, or other third-party applications.
Workflow engines allow businesses to build custom, rules-based digital workflows to replace their inefficient manual processes. Despite the power offered by many workflow engines, configuration usually doesn’t require any programming or coding. Instead, many solutions offer workflow builders that enable users to easily configure custom workflows via a graphical, drag-and-drop or wizard-like UI. These can replicate even the most complicated processes as users can program exceptions, “if-then” scenarios, and other rules-based conditions.
Search and Retrieval. Lost and misfiled documents lead to downtime and bottlenecks that ultimately add up to poor customer service and lost revenues. But since ECM solutions index and store documents as full-text searchable file types, users can locate documents with cursory knowledge of its whereabouts or content. Most solutions offer keyword, Boolean, wildcard and search-within-a-search options to narrow down results even further.
Collaboration. The ability to collaborate on documents is important. ECM solutions can help employees work together on documents in many ways. For one, most solutions will offer document check-in/check-out and versioning functionality to keep workers from inadvertently making changes to a document simultaneously and to enable users to roll-back documents to a previous version should a problem arise. Sharing documents can be done easily as well, as users can email, fax, or send documents to connected cloud-services and line-of-business applications. Usually, these systems offer a full array of document markup and annotation tools, plus the ability to integrate with digital signature solutions to securely streamline approvals.
Security. Insecure document management can lead to regulatory violations or leaked information. ECM solutions can integrate with Active Directory or LDAP to assign user rights for operating the system. Administrators can restrict users access to documents that they are not authorized to view.
Business Intelligence (BI) Integration. The newest craze to hit the ECM space is business intelligence engines. These tools can monitor the entire system and compile data into reports that can be used to identify bottlenecks, right-size infrastructure investments, and to make better decisions for the future of your business.
Bridging the Divide: From MPS to MCS
MCS isn’t a complete overhaul of your business model, but rather the natural progression of the services, and ultimately the value you can add to a customer’s operations. In fact, according to Gartner, “in the early stages of maturation, [MCS] is tightly coupled with MPS and focuses on communications inside of the organization.”
There are parallels between basic MPS and MCS strategies. Rather than focusing on devices and output, MCS providers are interested in improving capture and content-related processes. This involves assessing the client’s operations, identifying bottlenecks and redundancies, optimizing the environment, and setting targets for rationalizations like cost or resources.
There are some major hurdles that you will need to overcome. For one, compensation is a tricky problem for subscription services. Do you pay sales folks upfront for the length of the contract and hope the customer sees it through? Or do you cut them in on a percent of the subscription every month? A third alternative would be to charge an opt-out fee, but given that many cloud adopters choose cloud for the flexibility, this may be more harmful than helpful. And while the software and hardware intersect, ECM and related solutions are heavy duty systems, and will require a lot of research, training, and new skill sets for your staff.
Benefits of MCS
1) The Cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS). Advances in cloud technology have enabled businesses to use the SaaS model for deploying and licensing software in the cloud, rather than on-premises. This has lowered the barrier to entry for many businesses that lack the IT-know-how or resources to implement productivity-enhancing solutions, thereby expanding your pool of potential clients.
By hosting the solutions for your customers, they can avoid costly upfront deployment costs such as licensing and maintenance fees; purchasing, managing, and maintaining servers; employing more IT personnel to administer the system and support end-users; and worrying about security and disaster recovery measures. Instead, these solutions are licensed per-seat and rolled into one simple, static, monthly payment for the customer.
2) Value-added sales. The value of your MPS contract depends on how much you can upsell features and services. MCS is no different. ECM solutions are sophisticated systems that are difficult to manage; so much so that managing users, access rights, devices, and databases, configuring workflows, and optimally leveraging the solution against other investments might require a specialist. This is where you can increase your value to the customer and the size of your contract. Services such as configuring, deploying, and optimizing workflows tailored for specific customer needs or developing custom applications that can be used along with the solution as needed can go a long way in generating additional revenue.
3) Collect their data to optimize your customer’s business. Obviously, you are not going to be reading your customers’ emails. But since you are hosting their solutions, you have access to a wealth of metadata that can be funneled through BI and Data Analytics software to paint a complete picture of your customer’s operations. For instance, you can use this data to locate bottlenecks in workflows, right-size fleets, and recommend other fixes — all options that lead to higher revenues.
MCS is the future. It can help your customers be more efficient and save more money than afforded by current MPS standards. It makes you an asset and more likely to retain customers. Embrace the future, because it’s coming whether you like it or not.
Samsung Electronics America
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.