From Manual to Paperless Processes

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McDanielCA
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From Manual to Paperless Processes

Postby McDanielCA » Fri Jan 29, 2010 10:53 am

From Manual to Paperless Processes was originally posted on the main page of LDSTech. It was written by Adam Burden.

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The concept and advantages of a paperless office were first introduced in 1975 , and since that time, the quest to achieve the pure paperless workplace has been ongoing. Despite advances in technology, many of our business processes still include passing paper from person to person.

Tasks such as purchase requests, hiring provisioning, and order tracking are some examples of paper forms that historically require manual handling. These forms that are passed from person to person risk being misplaced, delayed in the depths of a cluttered desk, or even destroyed accidentally. All too often, these are single-copy instances that are not backed up electronically or stored in a central location where it is easily retrievable. There are many theories as to why we haven’t made the change to be paperless, such as the concept of affordances; it appears that paper will be around for awhile longer.

By combining the use of paper-based forms and electronic forms with automated workflows, we can create more efficient offices.

Identifying and Understanding Business Processes for Automation

Your first step will be to identify systems that can eliminate or reduce the need for paper. Once you have identified likely candidates, you will need to be able to define and understand the business process and goals. Don’t forget to take into account such things as compliance and retention requirements in determining whether or not paper can be reduced or eliminated.

The next step in converting to a paperless workflow is to recognize the cost savings and gains in efficiency and effectively communicate those savings to the stakeholders of the business process. Without the right incentive, you will encounter reluctance to change.

Workflow is defined as the process that defines and controls the completion of one or more tasks to bring about the realization of an identified goal.

Choose the Technology

You will need to identify the right technology in your environment for your user input forms and workflow engine. There are many options for turning your paper-based forms into electronic forms. If your process requires a print-ready form, then technologies such as Adobe’s PDF or Microsoft’s InfoPath may be worth investigating. If you need to collect data and save it without regard to a presentation format, a simple Web browser–based form and a database may be all you need.

Whichever technology you select for the user input, make sure that it is compatible with the workflow engine that you are going to use. Workflow engine technology has come a long way in just a few years. Companies like Microsoft and K2 have enterprise-class workflow, and several Java-based products are available as well. Go to your favorite search page and search for “workflow engines,” and you will find a plethora of results.

Creating the Workflow

After the technologies have been selected, you will need to document the workflow logic. This step will help you build the requirements of an automated solution. It will also help you understand where potential problems with an automated process may occur.

Armed with the workflow logic, you are now ready to begin creating your workflow. If you took the time to really define and understand the business process as well as document the workflow logic, then this step shouldn’t be difficult since you will be applying these findings to code. Two pieces of advice: avoid infinite loops in the workflow, and make sure that your code can handle exceptions whenever there is an unknown variable in the logic. For example, if the workflow involves an approval process and the approver is on vacation, what happens? Perhaps the approver can delegate the task to someone else or maybe, after a predetermined time has elapsed, the uncompleted task is automatically assigned to another person in a similar role. These are details that should be discussed during the building of the workflow logic stage.

When implemented correctly, automated workflows and electronic form solutions can make an office run more efficiently while reducing overall costs. I have seen manual processes that historically took three or more days reduced to a 20-minute process using an electronic form and an automated workflow.
Sources:

  • “The Office of the Future.” Business Week. 30 June 1975
  • Sellen, Abigail J., Harper, Richard H. R. (2001). “The Myth of the Paperless Office.” Cambridge, MA, USA: The MIT Press. ISBN 0 262 19464 3
Adam Burden is a senior software engineer for the Church.

Freedom55
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Postby Freedom55 » Fri Feb 05, 2010 2:31 pm

Interesting thoughts that mirror some of my "off hours" musings. Another advantage of the paperless office is the reduction in space required to store all the paper we generate. Our stake, like the rest of the stakes in Canada and the US, no longer receives a paper copy of the Church Unit Financial Statements for the Family History Centers in the stake (we have 8). Instead we receive an electronic copy which I file (for the required 5 years) on a USB drive. We also receive the stake CUFS electronically, via MLS, but still print out a paper copy because of the audit requirement to have a signed reconciliation completed and attached. I have wondered about ways and means of dealing electronically with documents that require a signature but haven't come up with anything yet. One of these days someone smarter than me will solve that one. ;)

mprusse
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Postby mprusse » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:22 pm

As a bishop, I have been pushing our ward and stake to reduce the amount of paper that is distributed. Documents that begin their life electronically are printed and copied multiple times and the original electronic files are lost. The paper ones are left to accumulate often without any structured file system and are not available when I need them.

I have developed my own system of electronic filing of PDF files and have access to those files readily. I obtain those files by trying to find the original electronic source rather than taking the time to scan a paper file back to electronic format.

The weekly mailing from CHQ is one such area I feel could largely go electronic. Many of the non-confidential documents I receive could easily be sent to me via email in PDF format. CHQ could develop an online database that is accessed by church leaders where we could elect individually to receive communications electronically or by traditional paper methods. From then on I would receive CHQ Notices, broadcast information, etc. on PDF that I could print or forward on as needed.

russellhltn
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Postby russellhltn » Sat Feb 06, 2010 1:57 am

McDanielCA wrote:Your first step will be to identify systems that can eliminate or reduce the need for paper.


To state the obvious, systems that are internal are probably easier to implement then one that involves a number of outside entities.


McDanielCA wrote:Once you have identified likely candidates, you will need to be able to define and understand the business process and goals.


Unless you've had structure clearly spelled out and enforced, this could be the hardest part of the project. It's amazing how complex some processes have become. The basic process may be straight forward enough, but you may find that there are certain exceptions for a particular vendor or department, or there may be some kind of "patch" that was placed on a otherwise orderly process to insure that some past problem will never happen again. And it's not usual to find details that were unknown to the supervisors.

Even once you do understand it, it needs to be reviewed to see what changes can be made to take advantage of the new workflow abilities. Does it make sense to send out approvals in parallel rather stick to the old sequential routing?

McDanielCA wrote:make sure that your code can handle exceptions whenever there is an unknown variable in the logic.


From what I've seen, the "normal" path is easy to set up. It's handling all the exceptions that make it complex. It could fail at most any step. There needs to be some way to send it back to the approbate place to get fixed.


Freedom55 wrote:Another advantage of the paperless office is the reduction in space required to store all the paper we generate.


An advantage, yes. But not one that even comes close to financing the new system. The ROI has to come from other areas. One disadvantage is that now one needs to take care of one's electronic storage to avoid the loss of all data from a disk crash.

Freedom55 wrote:I have wondered about ways and means of dealing electronically with documents that require a signature but haven't come up with anything yet.


The usual approach is one of two ways. Print -> Sign -> scan, or some kind of electronic signature. Some programs such as Adobe support electronic signature.

In MLS, someone has to do a second "login" to cosign the weekly batch. With the spread of LDS Account, that might be a viable way to deal with non-legal/procedural signatures.


macsense wrote:The weekly mailing from CHQ is one such area I feel could largely go electronic. Many of the non-confidential documents I receive could easily be sent to me via email in PDF format.


Perhaps. But what some people are finding is that the snail mail gets attention. It piles up until you go though it and deal with it. Email tends to simply sink out of sight in a bottomless pit. If you belong to a club that has switched newsletters to on-line or email, do you read them as much as before? In many cases, it doesn't get read. So while it's cheaper, it loses effectiveness.
Have you searched the Wiki?
Try using a Google search by adding "site:tech.lds.org/wiki" to the search criteria.

gdbrown-p40
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Not all have access

Postby gdbrown-p40 » Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:51 pm

RussellHltn wrote:But what some people are finding is that the snail mail gets attention. It piles up until you go though it and deal with it. Email tends to simply sink out of sight in a bottomless pit. If you belong to a club that has switched newsletters to on-line or email, do you read them as much as before? In many cases, it doesn't get read. So while it's cheaper, it loses effectiveness.


We still have many brothers and sisters with administrative responsibilities that do not have access or knowledge to use electronicly generated documents. I agree that e-mail tends to not get read as thoroughly than snail mail but in some cases e-mail can't be read at all.

Our former Stake Presidency expected the members to keep tabs of all that was going on in the stake by accessing the LUWS for the stake calendar. That was five years ago and we still have many in our current ward who don't even have a computer at home! That may come as a shock to some considering we are in the heart of the silicone forest! What is helpful is to identify those who need paper documents and provide them. We did a survey in our ward and learned who wanted e-docs only and who needed paper. Now we feel like we are comunicating better within our ward.
Gene Brown
Brookwood Ward
Hillsboro, OR

busman
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From manual to paperless processes - be careful

Postby busman » Thu Sep 30, 2010 4:45 pm

I have worked in computer records all my career, including records retention issues. I am also familiar with paper production, having worked at a paper mill.

It is perfectly fine to go paperless with almost anything that is guaranteed to be ready for destruction in 15 years or less. If there is ANY chance the document, photograph or whatever may have value beyond 15 years, you must choose your storage media, including paper, carefully. Unlike paper made some 50 or more years ago, most modern papers have a short shelf life - even in a good storage environment. Photographic paper and film have similar problems, with nominally longer shelf lives. Besides the paper or film, don't forget the inks and dyes. Color computer printers use ink which will fade and is often acidic, eating away the paper. Black and white laser printers use a carbon based toner which won't fade, but unlike ink, it just adheres to the paper and does not penetrate the paper. Over time it frequently comes loose from the paper. Color photographs also use dyes that eventually fade. They may last 30-50 years if properly stored. Black & white photos printed on good film or photo paper last much longer, up to 100 years if properly stored.

Most often overlooked is digital media. Remember those 3.5 disks? Getting hard to find a computer with a drive for them, to say nothing of the records on 5.25 disks or computer tapes. CD's OK? For now, but remember the record is stored in dyes on the cd and are sensitive to sunlight or florescent lights and even long exposure to ordinary light. Same with DVDs and blue-ray. Memory sticks? Great for the next 8-10 years, maybe longer. However they do wear out. They can be read and written many times, but each time it is used actually wears out the memory just a little. Hard drives? Everyone knows of a disk crash, which eventually is guaranteed to occur; that is if you can still find a computer which can read it. It's beginning to be hard to find hardware & software to read EISA drives - which were new technology only a few years ago.

Digital archival records need to be refreshed every 6-8 years, 10 at most. Refreshing moves the records from older media to newer, more modern media.

The most lasting record is cut into stone or metal sheets. Even then you need to choose the stone or metal wisely. Choose a hard stone such as granite (not a granite composite) or inert metal such as gold. Just goes to show why God chose gold to keep the Book of Mormon readable for a thousand years.

-Steve Jones


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