Features: December 13th, 2013

Taking a greener approach to document management offers environmental benefits as well as saving time, budget and space, says Mark Kirpalani.

It is often argued that when corporate budgets are tight, environmental considerations are pushed down the agenda as both public and private sector organisations focus on keeping their day-to-day operations up and running.

Yet with EU legislation increasing pressure across a range of concerns, there’s a growing need for organisations to improve their green credentials. From impending revisions to the Clean Air Act, to European Directives around better eco design of energy-related products and improved waste management, environmental initiatives are once again becoming a boardroom priority.

At a time of shrinking budgets, the time and cost required to make these improvements may be unwelcome. However, rather than being a drain on finances, initiatives such as automated document management processing show that better environmental performance does not have to be a burden for the business, even in the largest, document-intensive organisations.

For local authorities, for example, it makes sense to send documents electronically between sites than transport them manually. Large metropolitan areas such as Birmingham City Council may operate more than 100 separate sites which need to share documents on a daily basis. Similarly, law firms frequently have to print off huge volumes of documentation, which have to be physically taken to client premises or court proceedings.

In both cases, the environmental impact of printing documents and associated transportation costs is considerable, as well as expensive and inconvenient. Similarly, documents often take up floor space which could be better utilised elsewhere.

Clearly, in tackling these challenges, going digital will not always be the answer. For many organisations, there will be a continued need to use and retain paper copies for certain parts of their operation. However, although inherently less ‘green’ than digital alternatives, the adoption of best practice tools enabling effective storage and rapid retrieval of hard copies will go a long way to cut back on inefficient records management and storage, ensuring the organisation operates in the most effective and cost-efficient way.

Investment brings a range of dividends

Where a full or even partial move away from paper-dependent processes to electronic data management is appropriate, organisations will gain substantially from improved accuracy and information security, as well as better access to data and improved records management.

At the same time, for those with multiple sites or employing large numbers of remote workers, electronic document processing enables faster and easier access to individual records – something the London Fire Brigade discovered when it embarked on organisation-wide roll-out of the technology.

Previously, the Brigade had been burdened by the cost and time required to store, transfer and maintain paper documents relating to its 113 London fire stations and 7,000 employees. When the time came to move to a new SharePoint system, it decided to use the opportunity to go one step further and review all of its document management processes.

A key part of the project was to automate the document management and capture process through the introduction of a digital mailroom solution and an electronic HR records management system, both of which were tailored to the individual requirements of the organisation. When making the transition, a dedicated SharePoint release script enabled existing electronic documents to be added directly into an individual’s employee folder.

Using the solution, all new HR files are now scanned and uploaded directly into the Brigade’s SharePoint software. When action is needed on any newly-uploaded files, the HR team is quickly alerted. Significantly, this improved process has also greatly increased the ease with which information can be retrieved as well as enabling faster cross-site communication.

As well as storing, retrieving and sharing files more effectively, digitising document management processes also ensures that everyone is looking at, and working on, the latest versions of relevant documents.

In addition, when adding new information and files, the use of classification enables measurable data to be quickly identified and instantly passed to the right business stream or workflow. For example, by scanning third-party invoices as soon as they enter the business, an electronic copy of the data can be delivered instantly to the correct work stream and payment issued quickly. This is far more efficient than waiting for a hard copy to arrive and, in turn, improves customer service.

From an on-going operational perspective, these wide-reaching capabilities have much to offer, particularly in areas such as compliance, disaster recovery, staff productivity and overall efficiency. At a time of continued financial scrutiny in the public sector, it’s a prime example of how, in some cases, greener working can actually be an enabler for efficiency andeffectiveness, rather than an enforced change.

Mark Kirpalani managing director at Capital Capture.