There are lots of pieces of paper being used by companies all over the world and many of these are taken for granted. The fact that these bits of paper have been around for so long we sometimes forget about what their purpose is. That train ticket for example, its only purpose is proof that the holder has paid for that journey; does that have to be paper?
Well in the UK a few train operators are now testing systems that use an SMS message instead of a ticket. They have had to change some of the rules, it is made clear at the time of purchase that it is the traveller’s responsibility to have their mobile phone with them and fully charged. This is similar to the rules that govern paper tickets, it is the traveller’s responsibility to ensure that their young child does not eat the paper ticket……..
So can this same innovative approach be used for other pieces of paper? How about the Delivery Notes that fill the desk of your logistics manager. Isn’t the purpose of that slip of paper there to prove a delivery has taken place? Will an SMS message from the recipient be better proof? With the right systems in place this could be a more cost effective solution than paper slips. (We will be looking at ways to implement these types of systems later in this guide.) There is also now the ability to greatly improve customer service, informing your customer when the delivery has left the depot, warning of any delay due to traffic jams. Then for the more creative companies, now you have a record of your customers mobile number, the ability to inform them of new products, price reductions etc. all at very little cost.
So we can say that the first category of paper we use in our office is as proof something else has happened, purchase of a ticket, delivery of goods etc. I am sure you can think of many more. There are also numerous ways to remove these, internet, mobile phones etc.
Proof of Identity
There is a special case with the paper we use in our office and this is when we are looking at proof of identity. If you work in a bank, insurance company or any other institution that deals in high value transactions then you will be aware of the Anti-Money Laundering legislation “Know Your Customer”. By law institutions now have to ensure that their customers are who they say they are. This usually means that when they open a new account or transfer large mount of money they bring with them at least two pieces of paper that identify them, driving license, ID card, utility bill etc. photocopies of these are now added to the growing customer file. Now lets ask the same question, what is this paper used for? Is it now as proof of identity? Well the answer is no, because it is difficult to notice if they are forgeries when looking at photocopies. So all they are used for is proof that someone has taken a look at the originals, is there a better way? The answer could be an electronic form and this brings me to the next section, paper used to gather information.
Electronic and Intelligent Forms.
The remaining part of this guide will describe and show many types of electronic form, but for now just think of them as a direct replacement for all the paper forms you already use, Invoices, holiday requests, application forms etc. In fact think of them as a method of collecting information or data. The main difference between the paper forms and the electronic form is that instead of printing them out you display them on a mobile phone, PDA or over the internet. There are many additional benefits in using electronic forms above reducing the amount of paper, these include;
- Integration with existing systems
- Customer name & address
- Reduces errors
- Pre-filling information
- Mandatory & minimum information
- User training and consistency
- Form changes depending upon data or process
- Searching and sharing information
- Calculations and decisions
We will be looking at these later in this guide.
If you look at some of the existing paper forms you are using, I am sure you will see that there is a lot of redundant information on them, for example you may ask your customer to fill out their unique customer number then also fill out their name and address when you already have systems in place that can extract their contact details. When using an electronic form, these fields can be automatically filled. An electronic form can also ensure that all mandatory fields are completed at creation time reducing any time required if incomplete forms have to be returned.
An electronic form can also be used when information is required from multiple sources, an extreme example of this is used in hospitals for Electronic Patient Records, and here data is collected from a number of diagnostic equipment, ECG, Blood tests etc. and then presented as a single view for the doctor to recommend the course of treatment.
Electronic Forms can be used as an aid for the staff. A bank that offers a number of loan products can use the form to recommend the most suitable product depending on the data (salary, value of loan etc.) entered.
Contract and Legal Documents
There are some documents that will have to be kept and retained on paper for legal reasons and some documents that have to be signed and retained. There is still a solution to this that relieves your organisation from the problems associated with paper. Let us look at a customer contract as an example. What a lot of companies have is a pile of pre-printed contracts with blank spaces for the customer to enter their name and address and signature with a box at the bottom for someone in your company to complete to show approval.
Because this contract’s purpose is to gather information, (customer details and the product/service they want to purchase) then it is a candidate to become an electronic form. What we can now do is have the electronic form that can be completed by the customer (over the internet) or the customer service rep if in one of your branch offices. This electronic form is then printed and signed by the customer. This paper copy can then be sent straight to archive with the electronic form keeping track of the location which could be off site where floor space is cheaper. It will be the electronic copy that now moves around your company gaining approval. Should this transaction result in a court case the paper archive can then be retrieved.