Digital transformation in the office – only for the big and brave?

Ditch paper, go digital! This guide helps small offices go paperless in 6 months, even without fancy software. 5 steps, clear timeline.
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There are few people who work in an office and do not use a computer or smartphone. Yet, in many small “ordinary” (non-IT) organizations, several office-related and information circulation processes still occur in paper form – printing documents and handing them over, collecting signatures for acknowledgment, and the like.

Yes, there are “big and progressive” organizations where almost everything is digitized and automated. However, this article aims to provide advice specifically for representatives of small and “ordinary” organizations who may not have the resources for expensive specialized software acquisition or development, but must find resources for paper, printers, folders, and shelving, as well as for archiving paper documents and searching for lost or misplaced paper documents – truly archaic tasks.

Where to start? Here are five main steps in this journey:

1. Decision to transition to electronic documents and their electronic circulation – to ensure everyone knows it is inevitable and will have management support.

2. Inventory of the organization’s current document and information handling – identifying what is happening currently, the pros and cons, opportunities, and challenges.

3. Internal transition – transforming organizational processes and workflows so that paper documents are no longer created and used internally.

4. External transition – understanding the situation and working with clients and partners to ascertain their capabilities and needs for exchanging information and documents electronically. Alternatively, creating internal processes for converting documents and information received from outside into electronic form for further use within our organization.

5. Establishment of systems for electronic storage and accessibility of documents and information.

Here are some key recommendations for each step:

1. Decision to transition: Before making this decision, it is worth setting up a working group that includes representatives from various fields, as well as both optimists and skeptics about digitization, to gain a comprehensive overview of the current situation and to develop useful and realistic recommendations for the transition. Agreement should also be reached on the main tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines. It is crucial for this decision to be communicated to all employees in a meeting or document form – owner or top management involvement and support are essential for significant changes to be successfully implemented. The process of preparing this decision may vary depending on the organization’s operations, document volume, and other circumstances, but it should not take more than 1 month.

2. Inventory of current operations and experiences: This process could take up to 3 months (again, depending on the organization’s specifics and capacity). Key areas of activity include:

– General analysis of document and information management: assessing the flow of information and documents within the organization, their optimality, necessary improvements or changes, the extent of their digitalization, and what still occurs in paper form.

– Analysis of document creation and formatting: compliance with regulatory requirements and organizational needs, and what needs improvement. What still happens in paper form and why.

– Summary and evaluation of the software and technical equipment already used by the organization, necessary improvements or additions, and development of an improvement plan.

3. Internal transition aims to eliminate or minimize the creation of new documents in paper form as much as possible. Implementation time can be up to 6 months (or longer if special software needs to be purchased, which is not currently budgeted for). This step involves organizing or creating electronic circulation processes, purchasing, upgrading, or renewing necessary software, tools, or platforms, and importantly – training employees to use them. Often, organizations have systems and software that are not used because employees are not informed or trained. Once these issues are addressed, electronic information and document circulation can begin. Depending on the size and specifics of the organization, this can either happen uniformly across the entire organization at once or start with one unit and then gradually expand as successful experiences are adopted and lessons learned from mistakes.

4. External transition aims to eliminate or minimize the receipt of paper documents from clients and partners outside the organization. This step’s implementation time could be up to 3 months if it involves a communication process, but it could be longer if partners also need to purchase special software or reorganize their systems. The first step is to gather information on how many and which of our clients or partners still use paper form. Then, at least with major clients or partners, it is necessary to find out why they do this and whether/what their plans are for transitioning to electronic form. There may be situations where certain groups of clients or partners will continue to need to receive paper documents (for example, organizations serving special social groups like the elderly, people with various disabilities, etc.). Then, an internal procedure needs to be developed on how paper documents received will be processed to use them in electronic form within our organization.

5. Electronic information and document storage, as well as ensuring thoughtful access, is the final but no less important step. Practical actions can vary by country due to different regulations and depending on the organization’s work specifics. There are several special programs that provide secure storage of information and documents both short-term and for archiving – if possible, these should be used. However, if such options are not available, then the organization’s representatives can create their own procedures, specifying how documents are combined into cases, setting their storage durations, and arranging access (who can do what with the documents: who has only viewing, commenting, or editing rights, with the most guarded being deletion rights). Implementation time can be up to 2 months (or longer if special software needs to be purchased, which is not currently budgeted for).

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