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Big data means cutting big paper down to size
by Ernie Philip, Senior Vice President, Xerox Canada
Big data comes with big promises to most organizations. It can help cut costs, improve customer service, identify the products and services customers want and those they don’t. But the promise of big data will never be fully realized if organizations can’t deal with big paper. The volume of paper that a single organization can generate is staggering. For example, one large Canadian retail chain was using an estimated 200 million pages of paper a year for a number of inventory reports.
Those reports contained piles of big data. But because the information was on paper, printed from different sources in various formats, it was a challenge to extract meaningful information.
Xerox Canada partnered with Datawatch Corporation, a U.S. leader in extracting data and presenting it in a visual format, to convert the chain’s paper-based inventory reporting to digital. As a result, the chain has reduced printed reports by 25 percent or approximately 50 million pages a year, while collecting meaningful and timely data that allowed the chain to make more informed decisions.
Given the promise of big data, and the technology and expertise available to companies of all sizes, you have to wonder, “Why is paper hanging on?” We have found that taking on the challenge of big paper is easier said than done for several reasons. Among them:
- It takes expertise and technology
It takes expertise and technology to move from paper to digital. You need to understand how paper is being used in your business processes and how it can be digitized. As well, while the promised return is appealing, the initial investment must be financed and resourced.
- It doesn’t happen overnight
Going digital takes time. While digital solutions are being implemented to replace paper, there will be a transitional period in which both are being used. If it sounds challenging, it is.
- Exceptions can become the norm
Whenever there is an error or omission, people naturally tend to fall back on paper. For example, if an electronic form is not filled out completely or accurately, people tend to revert to paper-based workarounds. This can become the norm, creating a real barrier in any move to full digital processes.
- Paper holdouts can complicate the process
Some people hold onto paper out of habit or their own personal workflow that add steps of his or her own to the process. For example, you may ask a colleague to review a printout of a document, even though the defined digital process doesn’t call for a review. Signatures or sign-offs frequently generate a paper step. If you need a reviewer to initial a document, there’s usually a print job involved. These personal and impromptu uses of paper tend to fall outside of any strategy to take an organization digital.
- Using Paper for Temporary Needs
Sometimes, digital processes can generate “invisible” or “transient” paper –that is, paper that is not permanently associated with the workflow or tracked for print costs. For example, transient paper is generated whenever an HR manager prints résumés that have been submitted electronically, works through them on paper to make acceptance and rejection decisions, then enters those decisions into the recruitment system to trigger the next step in the process — and throws the printed résumés away.
- Compliance with regulatory requirements
A massive number of paper and digital documents may be required for compliance and audit purposes at financial institutions, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and other organizations in highly regulated sectors. New digital platforms can streamline these document intensive processes and provide enhanced compliance and auditability.
These are some of the main “big paper” barriers in the way of taking your organization digital. Developing a strategy to deal with them can help you wrestle big paper to the ground and deliver on the promise of big data.