Did you know that about a quarter of all company documentation goes missing, never to be seen again? This was the shocking conclusion of research conducted by Deloitte & Touche. Let’s have a closer look at some of the causes and how to avoid these time and money wasters.
The vast majority of processes in any type of company start off with a form. From application forms to contracts and requests for annual leave, every department in a company accrues information and exchanges when using forms.
Industries in which record-keeping obligations are particularly considerable, such as legal or financial services and healthcare providers, receive mountains of mandatory forms from regulators. On average every pound spent on printing and paper is estimated to amount to six times that amount in terms of staff time spent on document management. In healthcare, more than 20% of clinicians’ and caregivers’ staffing costs is spent on record-keeping obligations alone. All these different forms represent a significant part of a company’s expenses.
For several reasons many companies still rely on paper. Paper can be signed and when it comes to legal issues, a hand-signed original is a good means of evidence. Paper also doesn’t require an IT infrastructure. They are hardware- and software-independent and can be simply distributed, whether by displaying them in-house or via the authorities or by post or fax.
However, these apparent advantages are countered by huge disadvantages. Paper forms are highly inflexible and once printed they can no longer be edited. In addition, data collected from paper forms is extremely difficult to process. Media disruption is unavoidable when transferring data to electronic systems. It either has to be done by staff manually typing everything into a database or using text recognition software, which can be very challenging when the data is handwritten. No matter how the capturing process is designed, it is prone to error and the quality of the data suffers. Therefore it is hardly surprising that in a survey by The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) and emagixx, only 36% of 108 German companies were happy with the quality of their data.
Even if processing the data electronically isn’t necessary, paper forms still cause many problems. Archiving paper documents takes up enormous amounts of space and could cost your company a lot of money. The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) estimates that archiving a paper document costs around £17. The time required to find it again costs an average of approx. €120. AIIM suggests that the cost of re-procuring or recreating a lost document is €220. Next, to these substantial financial concerns, loss of documents can have serious consequences, as evidenced by an IDC survey of over 1,500 IT managers: over 75% of respondents said that poor documentation processes had resulted in serious business risks or compliance issues in the last five years.
Fillable electronic PDF forms provide a solution to many of these problems and more. A PDF form will display correctly on almost every device, can easily be edited by the owner of the form, whilst easily secured so it can’t simply be edited by users. To fill in the form, all a user needs is a free PDF reader. In can also be viewed directly in popular browser such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
However in many companies this is as far as using digital forms goes. A form is sent by email and printed out on paper by the receiver, filled in by hand and sent back by post. Electronic distribution of the form would take the process all the way. Rather than printing out the PDF form, ideally users should be able to fill in and send their completed version digitally.
Certain aspects of data privacy also make hard copy forms and printouts problematic. Without PDFs it is impossible to specify the authorised user group for a document. Anyone with physical access to the records – whether intentionally or unintentionally – or who just happens to be standing by the printer or fax machine when the form prints or sends, has access to potentially sensitive data. Paper documents can simply be stolen or “picked up”, with no way of proving it. Furthermore a PDF document can be encrypted so that unauthorised persons cannot read them. Digital forms also provide proof of communication. It can easily be found when and where certain information was sent.
In short, digitising your company forms speeds up communication and reduces the likelihood of errors. Analysts estimate that business and legal risks fall by a third when forms are electronically processed end-to-end. According to IDC, this boosts revenue by 36% while slashing costs by 30%.