Skip to main content

Process Digitalization: Enabling The Paperless Office

What is a Paperless Office?

The concept of a paperless office has been around for a long time. But paper stubbornly stays with us. The concept is sound, it is the technology that has, up to now, not always been able to provide an acceptable replacement.

 

One example is forms. If we consider how a paper form is utilized, then perhaps we may be able to understand if a capable Information Technology solution is both available and acceptable.

 

A paper form is obtained from a physical location. If you do not know where, you ask someone who does. It is then completed, partially at first, coming back to it later. Once a person has finished filling it out, it needs to be delivered to someone else, or to an in-tray drop off point. We complete a form for a reason, so it will kick-off a task, or sequence of tasks, leading to an end result.

 

At some point in the subsequent process, the reason for filling out a form is accomplished. Then the form, plus any information added subsequently, is physically archived. Although, potentially not all together as a pack.

 

Apart from any complexity of the form, then needing to know where it is kept and who to deliver it to when completed, it is, overall, an easy concept to grasp. Find it, fill it out, pass it on and potentially be informed of a result.

 

A system-based form needs to replicate the apparent simplicity of the paper one, but do better, to have distinct advantages over the hard-copy manual version.

Webforms

Today we have intelligent, or interactive forms within our online environment. We often interact with them online, especially outside of work, from commerce to government agencies. The good ones seem simple and intuitive, others can be a less well designed, but enhancing then installing them is far easier and quicker than with paper forms.

 

These online forms have immensely powerful features available. It is easy to have help text for every field, only appearing if requested. Input Fields can appear or disappear depending on previous entries. A field may have defined choices, within a pull down, with radio or checkboxes. Importantly, vital requirement fields will be mandatory, that is, without completion the form cannot be submitted.

 

For both paper and online forms, design is important, but the interactive form has so much more flexibility and function built in. For example, input validation, so that the input is corrected at source, not rejected later. The online forms are in a database, so are always available wherever you are, subject to access rights. They can be searched for online at any time in the future.

 

Online interactive forms have progressed to a high standard, they should not be the gating factor to a paperless office. Access to forms is easy within a system, it is not dependent on a person’s physical location or time of day. They are never out of stock. They are not a problem to update the template; add or subtract function, including improving help text or appearance.

 

Once an online business form has been filled out, completed, how do you ensure it is passed to the correct person? People may assume by email, but there is a superior, more elegant solution.

Intelligent Actions: Low Cost Workflow Solution

Effective and low-cost workflow solutions are becoming available. The workflow solution described here provides a personal Task Console. This is the workflow equivalent to an email inbox. That is, a list of tasks appears within it, ordered by date/time, each of which may be opened to carry out a task, and is even capable of providing the means to carry it out.  Also, each task notification has all the previously entered information / forms / uploaded documents available to be viewed (subject to access rights).

 

To work with this product, utilizing any browser within their Company’s system, a person will securely sign-in to the workflow system. Then on the workflow home page, they choose and click on a form from the list presented. A form is opened on their screen. Once completed and submitted, the workflow system integrates and saves the form, which from then on is available to view in that person’s task console. It also automatically initiates a task on the next person (or system) that the completed form must be processed by. For each form submitted, if any subsequent stage in the process is carried out by a person, or one of a pool of people (by role), then in a defined sequence, they will also receive a task in their Task Console.

 

These sequential tasks are activated until the defined process for this workflow instance is complete. Serial and/or parallel task routing is available. Rework loops are available if required. At all stages, the initial form and any other information added to the workflow is available to those participating. The person initiating the form may check on progress at any time. That is, to see what subsequent tasks have been completed, with a date/time stamp, up to the task that is currently active.

 

Thus, the person who initiates a form can track the progress of whatever follows its submission. Thay can also view any other input resulting from the downstream workflow tasks. Forms or individual fields can have restricted viewing access, depending on the role of the person viewing. Once the process for the form is complete, the Initiator can be informed (if required).

 

If the process arrives at a task and the person assigned is absent, there is the ability to set warnings within tasks. If after a preset period the task has not been opened, an email(s) can be automatically sent, flagging a potential problem. After second preset period, further emails can be sent as an escalation. In these circumstances, there is a quick and easy mechanism for the Task Owner’s Management to reassign the task.

Process Digitalization: Advantages

There are significant benefits with this workflow-based solution with forms, especially compared to the physical hardcopy version. All information for each form submission, both the content and the process metrics, is aggregated and available in one place. This is true for an active or archived workflow. All documentation captured within the work-flowed process will be on the system’s database. Recalling each workflow instance to view the history to date, or has been archived if completed, is done from the Task Console using the search function. Reports from the database are a powerful business management tool.

 

This solution is available to anyone within a Company who can log-in on a browser, regardless of their physical location. That means working at a remote location, for example at home, or whilst travelling. Nobody is excluded just because they are not in the office.

 

The concept here is the same as with paper: Find the form, fill it out and submit it. Now this is achieved from your computer or mobile device. Now you can also track the progress of your form/input.

 

In detail this is: You find the form in your Task Console, choose it, and fill out the displayed interactive form, then submit it. You do not need to know where it goes next, or where you are in the world, that has done automatically and instantly. If you want to find out how it is progressing, check that from your Task Console. If required, you will be automatically informed after all the tasks, started by submitting the form, have been completed.

 

When workflow automation used with deeply embedded interactive forms, it is naturally paperless throughout. This can be applied to most, if not all paper-based processes currently run within businesses.

 

This solution also befits from a low financial barrier to entry, making it affordable to any size of business. It is scalable, so is capable for use in both SME’s and Corporations. It can grow organically and quickly within any business environment; it does not involve a ‘big bang’ implementation. It is also available right now.

 

Steve Humphrey

Intelligent Actions  

Director: Process Consultancy and Automation