COVID-19 is one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history and it has taken a tragic toll on people’s lives and businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While pandemic has exposed the gaps and exacerbated vulnerabilities of businesses, it has also undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for change. The scale of the change and the velocity at which it’s happening is shedding a light on the fact that companies need to evolve in order to adapt to this once-in-a-generation shift, and for all the uncertainty about what tomorrow will look like, it’s clear already that it will be digital.
Even though SMEs in Singapore were receptive or have strategies in place to go digital, the implementation rate has been slow, with companies blaming the pandemic for causing the delay in their digitization plans.
This is in sharp disparity to the belief that the outbreak has fast-tracked digitalization for many SME businesses, a study by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) and tech giant Microsoft showed. This may be due to the challenges that arise since the outbreak such as plunging demand, limited cash flow and inflexibility within the supply chain.
Just like many countries, SMEs are the backbone of Singapore’s economic environment. An overwhelming 99% of all business establishments are made up of SMEs and account for nearly 72% of the nation’s workforce. They are not only the major employers but also buyers to large corporations in supply chains. However, there is a large productivity gap between SMEs and large companies as SMEs in Singapore has only contributed less than half of the country’s GDP.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, SMEs are in an especially vulnerable position. As the key pillar of Singapore’s economy, their survival and ability to restart operations quickly will be a bellwether for the economy as a whole. For many companies, the only option is to accelerate their pace in enterprise digitization to minimize the impact and build the digital foundation for a strong recovery.
While 83% of businesses in Singapore have digital strategies in place, only 1 in 4 SMEs deemed their initiatives to be successful. One of the biggest reasons for these difficulties is that, while companies have had many digital plans in place, they didn’t integrate the right digital capabilities into their existing business to drive the business forward. One of the first steps for a digital transformation for businesses is to optimize the way they handle paper documents and other data.
Accelerating to the path of digitization
In SME sector in which paper plays a pivotal role, manual data processing can be slow and tedious. Employees are required to perform repetitive tasks while adding little value. Processing document manually is also error-prone, and thus often causing operational inefficiencies and confusion among teams. As businesses expand their use of omnichannel strategies, the lack of process transparency also impairs customer satisfaction. In addition, paper data can hinder business growth, since it makes it more difficult for companies to gain insights from advanced analytics.
Given these problems, it is not surprising that companies are striving to remove paper-based processes, but it is easier said than done. The progress toward fully digital document processing has been hindered by a variety of factors including the complexity of integrating new IT architecture into existing organizational processes and the lack of a digitally skilled workforce. It is unlikely that consumers will be able to fully move away from paper, at least in the near term. However, it is imperative for industry leaders to recognize the significance of building a business with the right digital data architecture that is ready for the future.
Phases of document processing
In recent years, thanks to emerging technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR) and intelligent character recognition (ICR), the process of merging data from paper and digital sources has become quicker and more accurate.
The first phase of transitioning paper documents to digital data is document ingestion, which involves processing and digitizing incoming information on paper documents in a structured and organized manner.
In the second phase, the data will be classified and categorized based on types, content, rules etc. and be stored. By establishing this accessible and securely stored digital information, companies will be able to capture the value of data evaluation and analytics and in turn, discover new opportunities.
Digital documents will then be delivered efficiently to stakeholders and the appropriate point of contact in the third phase. Many processes required for paper-based communications will be streamlined which will improve collaboration internally and externally. Keeping structured records not only will improve operational efficiency, but also will ensure data uniformity across the organization. The data can be stored in either an on-site servers or hard drive, a secured FTP site or even on a Cloud server, where information can be accessed using User IDs and passwords.
Document Ingestion Workflow
To incorporate the full range of documents that need to be processed, a digital document ingestion workflow typically involves the following 8 steps:
- Document requirement study – Examine paper documents condition and determine the appropriate input method
- Scanning – Turning paper documents such as customer forms and physical mail, into digital images
- Character Recognition (OCR/ICR) – Using OCR & ICR technology to detect characters on paper documents and convert the output of the scanner into digitally stored text
- Data Extraction – Retrieve relevant pieces of information from the output
- Interpretation – The digital information will be categorized and indexed effectively
- Exception Handling – Detect errors and validate uncommon scenarios and provide alternative methods for proper handling
- Quality Assurance – Inspect extracted and categorized data for accuracy
- Data Utilization – Integration of data into relevant categories, automate internal workflows or to be securely stored
Tapping into Unmet Business Needs
By transitioning from paper documents to digitally stored data, SMEs can gain significant benefits, especially in core business functions:
Companies can now produce daily report on document processing status and share with a Single Point of Contact. This will reduce the errors that might arise with manual processes such as double data entry and transparency issues.
Boosting Consumer Satisfaction
With digitally stored data, businesses can gain access and extract customer information in real time, instead of looking for the information that is buried in large piles of paper and files.
Unlike paper documents, where keeping them safe is extremely challenging, electronic document management not only can improve information security to prevent confidential data being loss and help meet regulations or industry compliance guidelines. Rules and criteria can also be applied to ensure only the right person can access to the information.
Facilitate data scalability
Leveraging on an off-cite storage or even Cloud storage, organizations will have no loss of localized office space.
Employees will no longer have to waste time on performing tedious and repetitive tasks like in manual processes. They will be able to work on more value-added tasks more efficiently and in turn, improve overall performance and productivity.
While it can be difficult for SME companies to start implementing fully digitalized processes, it is important for them to realize the potential and opportunities that they can achieve with this vision. If not, they might face a risk of being left behind the market as competition leaps forward. To make this possible, these companies have to look for the right resources to be implemented into existing processes.
With years of experience in handling data and document management system, Crown Records Management industries to streamline, organize and design digital data management processes. Find out more information about document scanning and imaging here or reach out to our records management consultants.