Digitisation for SMEs: Where to start

Ralph Mezzoni | Wednesday, Nov 9th 2022
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When it comes to digitisation, start-ups have a clear advantage in that they can go digital from day one. Established businesses have to take a more evolutionary approach, generally starting with pilot schemes and departmental implementations. Evidence suggests that businesses are missing out on the benefits of digitisation due to a lack of strategic direction from senior management. This results in piecemeal and ad hoc digitisation projects that are initiated when a process comes up for review rather than being driven by a vision for the enterprise.  

In the Quadient Mailing Survey Questionnaire 2014, almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents said that the substitution of postal communications with digital alternatives, such as email and social media, was happening in an unplanned manner. Where you choose to start will depend to a great extent on whether the motivation for your digitisation project is to reduce risk (compliance-driven), to save money (cost-driven) or to improve efficiency (opportunity-driven). Some of the most popular projects include:

Archiving documents

The scanning of paper archives to improve access to information and free-up space occupied by filing cabinets. Generally, this involves digitisation of existing archives and 'day forward' scanning of all new records.

Moving to e-Invoicing

Sending, receiving and processing invoices electronically saves time and money. A Billentis report commissioned by Ricoh claims that making the switch to e-invoicing could save European businesses over €250 billion and the public sector over €40 billion. Currently, just one in five invoices is electronic, but the tide is turning. In The Future of Multi-channel Transactional Communications, Infotrends predicts that by 2017, 35% of bills and statements delivered to US consumers will be paperless.

Defining processes for document management

Any other defined process that involves the pulling together of varied material from smartphones, PCs and scanners, from loan applications to employee on-boarding, can be speeded up through digitisation. The most sophisticated solutions will monitor what documents have been received and flag up any that are missing.

Digitising customer communications

The digitisation of customer interactions through SMS, web chat and social media can strengthen customer relationships and save money. A study by SOCITM found that customer interactions in local government cost approximately €10 for face-to-face communication, around €3 for contact over the phone and about 19 cents for a web transaction.

Digitally capturing data

Any process that involves the gathering of data in the field, such as insurance claims or machine servicing, can be improved dramatically through digitisation. Capturing data digitally on a digital dictation recorder, e-pen, smartphone, tablet or portable scanner and routing it electronically to head office enables information to be processed instantly and eliminates unnecessary travel.

Developing a digital mailroom

Capturing information as it enters an organisation, by integrating scanning with mail opening on-premise or in an external bureau and routing mail to recipients is another popular application that impacts every department within an organisation. In The Paper-Free Process Revolution Handbook (2012), the Association of Information and Image Management (AIIM) claims that capturing data electronically at the start of a business process can deliver a 30-50% gain in process productivity and a three to 10-fold reduction in turnaround response times.