There’s no doubt that the modern workplace increasingly relies on digital technology. Amazingly, paper-based forms and processes are still commonplace across organizations of all sizes. Examples abound from patient information forms that repeatedly request the same data to extremely paper-intensive processes like on-boarding a new hire with dozens of forms and signatures.
This continued reliance on paper introduces unnecessary errors and delays, slows your organization down and exposes it to nimbler, digital competitors.
To keep pace, your company must embrace digital transformation. It starts with digitizing your paper-based forms and continues all the way to full-scale automation with electronic access to your customer data.
Consider the five-phase roadmap below as you walk the path to digital transformation.
Phase 1: Digitize paper forms
Forms are literally on the frontlines of your business. They’re how customers, partners and employees first interact with you. Skip Excel and PDF and go straight to powerful, electronic versions that work on mobile devices.
Modern e-forms have advanced capabilities like validation to eliminate errors and omissions, automatic calculations for accurate data, e-signatures so there’s no need to print, and data transfer so there’s no need to rekey information.
Best of all, today’s visual, low-code platforms are so easy to use that anybody can drag-and-drop to create sophisticated online forms that meet real business requirements, look great and work automatically on all mobile devices without writing a single line of code. Investing in one of these platforms is a great way to get started and also helps with subsequent phases.
Phase 2: Automate everyday processes
No form is an island. They’re routed through a business process e.g. a travel authorization form or vacation request form must be signed by a supervisor and then sent to Finance or HR for completion.
Automating these processes increases accuracy as business rules are enforced and gets things done faster as approvals are not stuck on someone’s desk. Employees aren’t wasting time chasing signatures and can focus on addressing customer pain points increasing business productivity.
Using modern, low-code platforms, automating these processes is straightforward and you don’t need skilled programmers for the task. It’s easy to set up conditional routing, notifications, and escalations to create automated processes that match your business operations. Check out the short demo video below to see how.
Phase 3: Connect to business data
Forms and processes are simply more useful if they have access to data stored in SQL databases and other systems. For example, a purchase order process is easier to use if it can access inventory and parts records and pre-fill information in the proper fields.
Electronic forms and workflows can also update data in business systems. Instead of your valuable customer data being locked away on paper sitting in filing cabinets, it’s instantaneously surfaced to operations and can be used to provide better customer service.
Once again, current forms and process automation tools provide point-and-click wizards for bidirectional connectivity to SQL databases and other systems. While some knowledge of the system is required, it’s no longer necessary to have deep knowledge of APIs or other specialized programming skills.
Phase 4: Centralize data and documents electronically
Now that you’ve digitized your forms and processes, they’ll start generating data and documents. This proprietary customer data is your most important asset in the 21st century. You must ensure that you have the ability to access and analyze your data in near real-time so that you can react instantly to changes in business conditions.
The last thing you want is to lock this data in a filing cabinet or even an email folder. They’re hard to search, retrieve and analyze. Invest in an electronic content-management solution so your documents are stored digitally, indexed for fast search, and are accessible 24×7 from any device.
Strongly consider cloud-based systems. They are constantly updated with the latest technology and are offered at extremely affordable price points. For example, SharePoint Online starts at $5/user/month. Vendors invest heavily in security and your documents are probably safer in their data centers.
A modern forms and process automation tool can easily integrate with and transfer data and documents to these systems often using a visual wizard.
Phase 5: Analyze and Optimize
The final phase takes advantage of your digitization efforts to really transform your business operations. Now that your forms and processes are digitized, working with internal systems and writing data and documents electronically, you have real-time access to operational data.
Run reports and analysis on this data so that you can rapidly identify customer problems and quickly address them. Since employees are no longer wasting time on tracking down approvals, they can focus on customer issues. Make sure you eliminate internal obstacles so they can act quickly and delight your customers with world-class service.
Understanding your data will also uncover inefficiencies and the chance to improve your processes. Make sure you talk to the stakeholders (perhaps even create an online survey), listen to their feedback and actually go back and implement it. Iterative optimization of these everyday processes cuts big costs from your operations. You should aim for dramatic reductions – 50% or more and the corresponding massive ROI.
Analysis of customer data can also surface new business opportunities. Armed with your visual, low-code tools and automated operations, you’ll be able to react today – not a month from now when the opportunity is gone.
Process automation is at the heart of digital transformation. It may seem like a formidable project but you don’t need to tackle everything at once. A phased approach breaks it down and simplifies it into manageable pieces. A modern, low-code platform lets you get started today using your existing employees without the need to hire scarce and expensive programmers.
The benefits are transformative – from major cost reductions in operations to massive productivity increases as employees have more time to spend on things that matter to business agility from access to real-time data.
A version of this article also appeared in Forbes magazine.