Paul Wright, founder, Datafinity.

Paul Wright, founder, Datafinity.

Digital transformation is a non-negotiable for businesses wanting to compete in today's fast-paced marketplace. Businesses have to be agile to meet customer expectations for instant turnaround, and the only way they can achieve this is through the digitisation and automation of processes within the business, thereby improving operational efficiency and effectiveness.

For businesses embarking on their digital transformation journey, it can be a daunting prospect. Paul Wright, founder of Datafinity, says: "The very first step in implementing digital transformation is to digitise documents so that they can be securely stored and made accessible to all relevant parties across the business within seconds. Roughly 80% of an organisation's information originated from and resides within documents, so making that information instantly available is a critical step towards improving productivity."

This applies across the organisation, whether that be in HR, finance, logistics, legal, marketing, health and safety, etc. It is simply not possible to digitally transform until your documents are digitised, says Wright.

"Businesses are always trying to do more with less, yet all the while responding to the ever-increasing demands of their customers to be more responsive, secure and efficient. It doesn't matter what industry you're in; you could be a retailer, bank, insurance company, university, manufacturer or hospital, the customer is more demanding and impatient than ever, and wants rapid turnaround times. Digitising documents makes your business more productive and ensures fast delivery on customer requests."

In the days prior to mass adoption of the Internet, promising a customer a 28-day turnaround time on an application or a claim was perfectly acceptable. However, nowadays, even a 48-hour waiting period is considered excessive. Wright says: "Customers expect everything to be dealt with straight away."

The challenge faced by businesses is that paper-based processes are cumbersome, slow and prone to huge inefficiencies. They are also seldom scalable, therefore making it difficult for the business to continue to respond to customer demands timeously in the face of increasing volumes, without simply increasing headcount within the organisation. Digitising documents means customer requests can be processed more quickly and enables documents to be shared with relevant parties seamlessly and instantaneously. A good place to start, says Wright, is digitising information as it enters the business.

The kick-off to any process (digital or not) normally entails the initial receipt or gathering of information. While automated capture technology is neither new nor revolutionary, it has evolved significantly and has a critical role to play in optimising business processes and going digital.

According to Wright, there are two primary aspects to automated information capture:

1. Multi-channel capture

Information is no longer entering the organisation through a single avenue. While paper documents still prevail, information is also submitted in the form of electronic files via e-mail, mobile applications, portals and fax. It's critically important that as soon as content passes through the physical or virtual doors of the organisation, it be made easily accessible and available for processing.

Multi-channel capture technology, as the name denotes, can reach out to all these different sources, capture the relevant content and connect with other services to ensure it's presented to the right people, exactly when they need it. Wright cautions: "Be wary of investing in different solutions that address the different channels in the business. Rather implement a single capture tool that addresses both paper and electronic document inputs, regardless of whether the latter comes in the form of scanned documents, e-mail, mobile application, portal, etc."

2. Automated data capture

As so much of an organisation's information is unstructured, ie, information that resides in a document, an e-mail or other format, in order for that data to become structured, the information needs to make its way from the source and be captured into different systems such as customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning software, so it can be accessed by the relevant people for further processing.

Wright explains: "In many organisations, this process is still manual and entails staff members manually capturing data that's submitted in various formats into databases and systems. The irony is, often the information arrives electronically, is printed out, and sent on to be recaptured electronically into a different format. The outcome is often information that is captured incorrectly, not to mention the time and other business resources consumed throughout this onerous process."

Automated data capture technology significantly reduces the above-mentioned challenges by extracting information directly from the source, validating the lifted data and passing it on to the systems that need it. This significantly frees up all of those resources previously dedicated to the manual tasks so they can be reallocated to higher-value tasks, like customer service.

In summary, Wright says: "Going digital is not complete without an intelligent information and document capture solution that allows you to quickly and accurate ingest content from multiple channels and make it usable digital information that can feed downstream systems. This provides for higher throughput speeds, better accuracy and lower headcount to do things faster. Overall, this significantly strengthens the business case for moving off paper and gives the business a competitive edge."