This article is written by Reynold Leming of Mint Business Solutions to examine the reasons why using less paper, and the introduction of business process automation technologies can help your organisation.
There are three important reasons for making your information processes as electronic as possible: cost, productivity and accountability.
- If you are not the ultimate 'owner' of document files, the expense of photocopying can be reduced if paper documents are scanned for file;
- The electronic distribution of imaged documents can reduce photocopying and postage costs;
- The electronic capture of 'file copies' of computer generated reports can reduce printing costs;
- The costs of data input can be reduced if information can automatically be extracted from scanned or faxed images; any resulting invoices can be issued more quickly;
- The expense of filing equipment, office space and archive storage can be reduced if documents are retained electronically;
- The expense of having to return telephone calls after information is located can be reduced if business records are available on-line at the time an enquiry is received;
- Single copy (paper) information cannot be shared;
- Paper is a fragile medium liable to deterioration, damage or destruction; paper can be misfiled or lost - the staff time spent searching for or reproducing (lost) documents can be saved;
- Staff time spent manually filing, retrieving, posting, faxing etc. paper records can be saved;
- Confusion can arise when there are different versions of paper or electronic documents;
- Single topic filing does not identify the reusable value of a document's content/context;
- Data input from paper forms can be highly time consuming - productivity can be improved if information can automatically be extracted from scanned or faxed images;
- Secure electronic storage can ensure that vital records (i.e. those documents that are fundamental to the functioning of the organisation) remain available in the event of a disaster;
- Being able to locate the right information easily and quickly will enhance customer relationships and make your staff happier.
- Every business should maintain a comprehensive audit trail; this can be facilitated through the use of electronic information capture and workflow management;
- A business should retain (for as long as required by regulation or law) evidential records of their decisions, activities, processes and transactions - this process can be automated and more effectively controlled via electronic records management; please see also the Retention article;
- Records should comprise sufficient content, context and structure to provide such evidence.
Every business should maintain a comprehensive audit trail of the precise sequence of actions and events for their work processes, that form a complete record of what has been done and who has done it. This will help when auditors (and potentially lawyers) seek to determine the company policies and practices that were in effect at a given time. Good audit trails will allow you to undertake retrospective studies of business performance; will prevent repeat work from being undertaken; provide protection of liability from the errors of others; protect your intellectual property; provide a learning history to facilitate the replication of activity. They will help if you are involved in reviews or investigations at the request of customers, suppliers or former employees.
The audit trail should include:
- Correspondence sent and received
- Telephone calls made and received
- Email in and out
- Actions taken and decision made
- Meetings held
You should assess carefully what needs to be captured to provide your audit trail, whether in paper or electronic format. For example, for important outgoing telephone calls, the member of staff should record their name, the matter, the date and time, the name of the person called and a description of the discussion. If the call required prior authorisation, details of this should also be recorded. This will ensure that an accurate record is captured.
This record should then be retained so that:
- It complies with any legal or regulatory requirements for retention
- Its content, meaningful context (circumstances of creation and relationships) and the structure (logical and physical attributes) are maintained
- It remains authentic and can be trusted
- It is securely maintained to prevent unauthorised access, alteration or removal
- That it can be accessed and interpreted through time
- That it cannot be repudiated
If audit trail records are held electronically, it is important to ensure that unalterable system audit trails are provided to record the User, Date, Time, Action and Results. Especially for electronic commerce applications, the complete "visual presentation" of the transaction/record must be retained.
Please also see our complementary information resource, The Document Site
single copy (paper) information cannot be shared
Can Mint help?
Mint Business Solutions can help you evaluate how information is used within your business processes, identifying the potential benefits and objectives of increased automation. Contact us by email or telephone (01225 311993) to let us know your challenges.