Ouch! Got a paper cut the other day. Nasty sharp little pain that flared up every time my finger touched something. Too trivial for sympathy or a BandAid, but still, well, unwelcome.
It was a bit weird since I don't recall the last one; they used to be much more common.
In fact, paper cuts seem to have gotten as rare as, well, paper. My mail arrives on my iPad, my bills get paid by electronic magic and my meeting notes live in a cloud somewhere.
But when I get out to see people in action at their companies, there is still a shocking amount of paper out there. Sure, getting rid of paper can help save on the cost of the paper itself: a typical office worker uses about two cases of paper per year, or about $80 worth. That may or may not be a big deal. But the total cost of managing, copying, storing and retrieving that paper can run more like $7,500/per person, per year, according to ALL Associates. Even that figure is dwarfed by the real costs of working in a paper-based environment.
The Real Costs of Paper-Based Businesses
Thinking about it, the idea of paper cuts takes on a new meaning in a mobile and digital era. Let's look at the new paper cuts:
Paper cuts productivity
When paper moves, it doesn't move that fast. Best case is the speed of a jet. More likely, someone is walking around with it in their hand. Worst case is it sits somewhere. Waiting. And because both the information and the workflow is paper-based, it doesn't even know that it is time to move, or who it is parked with. Paper's pretty dumb that way.
Often the paper you need sits somewhere where you are not. You may even need to create more paper using paper information that exists elsewhere. Which makes no sense, but it means that you need to physically move somewhere to create or change information. All of this gives rise to common business expressions like:
"When I get back to my desk, I will pull all this into a proposal"
"Let me drive to the plant office and get the blueprint for that"
"I don't have that information with me right now, let me call you back when I have it in front of me"
"Have you seen the resume for that candidate we met last week? I can't find it"
"Someone call the document storage place and get those contracts from 2009."
So much waiting, and so much searching is stressful for your customers and your employees. While the waiting can be annoying, the increased cycle time slows productivity, strains cashflow and stalls business. During the wait, customers go elsewhere, employees miss deadlines. KPIs get squashed. Real, measurable benefits are left behind.
Paper cuts collaboration
Through the magic of something called "photocopying", paper can exist in more than one place at a time. Except that it may or may not be the same version. And the highlighting and note-taking that happens on one copy doesn't make it to the other versions that may be out there. Worse, each copy doesn't notify the others that something has changed. And fixing a mistake on one does nothing to address the same error on the other copies. And don't get me started on the issues faced by team members who don't have a current copy.
Business is now global and mobile. Teams need to connect and collaborate as never before. Their information needs to flow and sync between them. This is true whether the team is defending a criminal case, maintaining heavy equipment or running logistics for a rock concert. Missed or outdated information grinds business to a halt.
Paper cuts insights
Imagine implementing a new training program and employees getting stuck on question 9. Or maintenance workers taking twice the budgeted time to complete a particular procedure. Consider healthcare workers who start seeing more positive tests for a disease in a particular geography.
In a paper-based system, these realities happen and they are recorded; however, the insights that stem from this information may never come to light. It's not that we don't have computers powerful enough to track the correlations, it's that as paper data, the information isn't accessible. Even with advanced imaging technology, processors struggle with paper-based information. It needs to be digital to make it to the world of big data where it can be analyzed and correlations can be made, opex saved, customers retained and new opportunities found.
A year ago, my rental home water heater stopped working. The service man arrived, cut open the pipe at the top of the heater, removed a faulty valve and reconnected everything. Took about an hour. He then wrote up the operation on a three-part form and handed me the pink copy. No charge to me, but likely cost the company a good $300. I asked what percentage of the heaters needed the valve replaced? His reply: all of them. I asked whether they continue to install new ones with the faulty valves. His answer: Yep.
Clearly there is an opportunity to change a process, and capture significant savings, but the insights to inspire that change are locked up in the pink, white and yellow copies — likely in a drawer somewhere.
Paper cuts accuracy
So you are out for dinner with a group of friends and after some discussion of the menu, everyone places their order. The food arrives and all of the dishes look outstanding, except yours. You've got a tiny piece of what looks like boiled chicken, swimming in a thin, oily broth with some rice on the side. The description on the menu painted an entirely different picture.
Actually, there was no picture. What if the menu was an app that had pictures of the actual dishes so diners could see what the chef had in mind, how big it is, what it comes with and so on. Restaurants with menu apps often include wine or beer pairings, sorted by price and type. Better liquor up-sell, no shaming from the sommelier, larger checks, happier customers. And no disappointing chicken.
A menu mishap could impact business, but imagine the issues that arise in medicine or jet engine maintenance when values are recorded on paper, then keyed into a system. With a typical order entry error rate of 2%, there is ample opportunity to skip a decimal point, transpose a letter for a number or misspell a name. The errors could be life threatening.
Paper cuts into the customer experience
Look at the process of signing up for services at a traditional bank or applying for life insurance with a long-standing insurer. What follows is paper. Stacks of it. Sheets of detailed questionnaires to be filled out and, you guessed it, keyed in later in the back office. What's more: once correctly completed, you are given the right to provide them with a paper cheque to pay the bill. If only you could find an envelope and a stamp — in many cases this is still the only approved payment method. And once the deal is done, you are rewarded with"¦that's right, more paper. Often it's beautiful paper: a handsome 9"x14" folder with a nice picture of a happy couple on their sailboat. Inside is more paper – things to fill in and return, and certificates, processes and records. Where to store it all? It sure won't fit on that sailboat.
I can sign up for Uber by taking a picture of my credit card. I can order my Starbucks from their app and have it waiting when I arrive at the store. Why all this paper to buy life insurance? Or have someone manage my money? Or insure my car? Why isn't there an app for that?
What does it say about a company that still lives in a paper world? How valued does a customer feel when faced with a paper form to complete? It sends a clear message that the company not only doesn't value their time, but would rather invest its revenue in antiquated manual processes.
Paper cuts green credibility
A couple of years back, I installed solar panels on my home. Trying to do my bit. The installation included a nifty app that lets me track my solar production by the hour, day and month, and even compare the data with last year. Very fun. And green. And how cool is it to become an electricity vendor and get paid by my utility?
That is, until the first payment arrived. As a paper cheque. Cruel irony: producing solar power in 2016 and getting paid with a paper cheque. Perhaps they were just unaware of my preference. But no, a phone call confirmed that paper cheques were the only option. I protested, pointing out that I am able to pay my hydro bill electronically, so why do I have to receive payment by paper. Crickets. Then the obligatory call centre questions.
"Was there anything else they could help with?"
"Did they solve the reason for my call today?"
I said no.
They argued that they did since they informed me that paper cheques are the only option, so in their world they solved my issue by answering the question. Sigh. I left them to their dusty processes and used my iPhone to take a picture of my paper cheque and deposit it to my account.
No more Band-Aids
Have you seen some of these paper cuts at the companies you do business with? Or, the horror, does any of this sound like your organization? Now is the time to take a good look of this paper and take action. Here are a few places to start.
- Map out processes and identify any that rely on paper
- Look at pacing items
- Where are you building a paper wall between you and your customers?
- How is paper preventing employee productivity?
- What about employee collaboration?
- Where are you at a competitive disadvantage because of paper-based processes?
Once you can answer these questions, you can define the processes that are candidates for mobile apps and solutions.
We use a structured approach to define the customer and employee journeys and the limiting factors and opportunities in each. Together we consider new possibilities, and assess ways to apply mobile solutions to build collaboration, reduce cycle time and drive business results.
Enough with the paper cuts.
SVP of Global Sales at ProntoForms, Gordon is passionate about transforming businesses through the power of mobile solutions.