A paperless process and paperless office is all the rage these days—and rightly so. Using physical documents in an operational or administrative process can be costly, inefficient and wasteful. It’s a remnant of a bygone era of (actual) carbon copy memos and typewriters.
However, “going digital” isn’t as simple as getting rid of your filing cabinets. Transitioning from manual paper-based processes to a paperless operation requires careful planning, buy-in from every stakeholder, and an understanding that this improvement is an ongoing process.
This guide will help you navigate the major steps you need to take to make a process paper free.
Step 1: Identify the Process
There are dozens of paper or document-based processes that support your business. While you may think that these should all be paperless, it’s a good idea to start small and convert a simple process as a proof of concept.
Common document-heavy processes include:
- Invoice processing
- Accounts receivable
- Contract management
- Employee onboarding
A major part of this step is facilitating the elicitation of user/business requirements and needs. There are entire chapters of textbooks written for business analysts that focus on facilitation and elicitation. However, some key ideas include:
- Providing structure and direction to a group that is meeting to achieve a common goal
- Understanding a process from the perspectives of both stakeholders (process owners) and users (process drivers)
- Extracting the business and user requirements of the process
- Documenting ideas, plans, and actions of the project
- Communicating with anyone involved with the transformation
Facilitation and elicitation is sometimes known as requirements gathering.
Step 2: Map the Process
Before transforming a process, you need to understand it. One of the best ways to understand a process is to map it with a flowchart. Mapping a process will give you insight to the who’s, what’s, when’s, why’s, and how’s. The visual representation of the process will allow you to identify:
- What starts the process
- Who is involved in the process
- Why and when each step happens
- What exceptions can occur
- What tools/technology are used
- Existing duplication of tasks or activities (if any)
- Any information security weaknesses
This is arguably one of the most important steps of designing a paperless process that works for everyone. It shows how information is moved along in the process and reveals how the movement of paper or disparate documents can be improved.
Step 3: Analyze the Process
Review the process in its current state, step-by-step. This will also be the time to complete a gap analysis to identify improvement opportunities.
Essentially, what you want to be able to do in this step is to be able to address every bullet point listed in Step 2. Focus on streamlining the process, which means you may discover some roles, steps, or tasks just simply aren’t needed.
Common questions that should be asked during this step include:
- Is a task frequently waiting for someone to complete? Why?
- Can any tasks be eliminated?
- Who or what is driving the process?
- Where are the bottlenecks?
- Who must be involved, and why?
Answering the questions above can help you streamline any operation. You may realize that paper might not even be the biggest culprit in an inefficient process!
Step 4: Get People On Your Side
People are creatures of habit. We abhor change and will do our best to maintain the status quo. That’s why change management and good communication is so important. Any plan for improvement you have will inevitably meet resistance—is the return on investment worth all the work? However, your chance of success will improve greatly if you are able to get people on your side to champion the change.
As you design your paperless process, plan to maintain open channels of communication throughout the project. Explain why changes are necessary and how the results will be beneficial. Your goal is to clearly communicate the project purpose, vision, and objectives.
While this step is important, laying the foundation for an effective change management strategy starts in Step 2, where you identified the stakeholders and users. By keeping these individuals involved and a part of the discussion, they will be able to provide insight into what needs to change and why—and feel like they have ownership of the improvements.
Step 5: Improve, and Keep Improving
Redesigning a business operation to become a paperless process isn’t a one-and-done project. Like any process improvement, launching the final product doesn’t mean you’re finished.
It’s a continued effort of working with stakeholders and users to fully understand if the new paperless process works for them. If you did a good job in keeping everyone involved, they should be eager to want to learn a new system of completing their tasks.
After launching your new paperless operation, it’ll be good practice to discuss with those involved to fine-tune the process.
Need Help Going Paperless?
At West X Business Solutions, we have a dedicated team of digital business consultants who are skilled in helping organizations create automated business processes that uses centralized and intelligent information in place of paper and disparate documents.
Call us today (604.689.5554) to learn more about making your business paperless.