Lithe Chief Technology Officer – Derek Crawford.
Digitizing inbound documents transforms your whole company – not just your mailroom. The pandemic-driven shift to remote working has forced organizations to rethink their mailrooms and all business processes that rely on inbound documents. Simply put, the race is on to transform physical, paper-based mail capture and routing. What’s needed? A digital operation that delivers inbound mail securely, quickly, and in digital format to the right people, no matter where they are.
We’ve helped multiple customers meet this urgent digitization challenge and I want to share what our experience tells us are important secrets of successful digital mailroom implementation. Save yourself time, effort and money, and ensure your success by discovering the secrets before you begin.
1. Go live in one week. Then iterate to greater levels of automation, if it’s worth it.
Before the pandemic struck, mailroom automation projects typically had long implementation timelines. First, project teams created document taxonomies and classifications. Then they did extensive technical development and fine-tuning to ensure reliable data extraction. The result was a “go live” date months or even years after the need arose. This is a rational approach that was acceptable before the pandemic exposed the weaknesses of physical, paper-based operations. There’s a better way.
Deliver immediate benefits and productivity by digitizing and delivering documents instantly into the hands of the people who need them. At Lithe we’ve honed this methodology, based on our prebuilt Lithe Digital Documents product, and we put customers live in 5 days with enterprise-wide digital mail delivery. It’s amazing what can be achieved within a working week – take a look at our case study of a global insurance giant who did just that! If there’s benefit to further project investment, iterate from week two onward to automate complete document classification, data extraction, and routing. But don’t fail to deliver instant productivity gains to document recipients in that first week.
2. Avoid email as a delivery mechanism
Email is an amazing enabler within every organization. However, it’s an information security nightmare – ask any Chief Information Security Officer. When used to distribute documents containing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and other sensitive business information, the nightmare turns dangerous. Commonly, multiple copies of documents reside in many email boxes. People download documents. Different untraceable versions of the document proliferate. By using email to distribute inbound documents, organizations immediately lose control. The risk of fraud, tampering, loss and fines skyrockets and compliance to GDPR and similar rules and regulations becomes impossible.
We recommend you rule out “scan to email” or similar approaches – they’re just not worth the risk. We use specialised digital mailroom software that ensures only a single copy of each document exists. That single copy is securely viewable and shareable within and across teams, and all these interactions are audited, timestamped, recorded and transparent.
3. Ensure security and compliance are integral to your solution
Your organization needs to be aware of what data it holds (especially on individuals) and to ensure that this data is only stored or kept for the appropriate reasons. You need to control access to each new mail item that arrives, manage its lifecycle as a document under your control, and minimize risk.
Based on our experience we recommend using software that can prohibit downloading of documents, if appropriate, and provides a “rules-based” approach to document security and regulatory compliance. By automating the enforcement of safe downloading, archiving and disposal of documents, you stay secure and compliant with regulations automatically, and with no effort. As the amount of work done “at home” increases, you can still be confident you are in full control and can enforce your security and data protection policies inside and outside the office.
4. Empower the business to adapt to change
No-one knows how the business functions as well as team managers do. If new systems help them control how, where and when documents can be accessed, they welcome the change because it helps them control their teams’ productivity. They also need to adapt quickly to organizational change and want to be able to reconfigure team structure and membership easily and quickly, without relying on IT or facilities partners.
When transforming to a digital mailroom, we recommend empowering your team leads and department managers to control who can access their teams’ documents, and what actions and activities those people are allowed to perform. But you must not lose control while delivering this empowerment. Ensure that your mailroom automation is governed by permission levels that allow only the appropriate managers to alter these controls. Make sure before you start that your mailroom software gives you tools so you can achieve the right balance between empowerment and control.
5. Plan for scalability
Do you know how many mail items you receive across all the mailrooms in your organization? Do you know how many people or teams receive mail most days? In our experience, the figures are often higher than most customers initially expect, so ensure you implement a digital mailroom solution that is proven to work at scale, both for numbers of users and volume of documents.
It’s important also to consider “multi-location” capabilities. Documents may arrive at multiple locations ( central mail operations, branch offices, etc.), and document recipients will be spread around the world. In some cases, it may also be important to be able to provide data segregation (now or in the future) even within a single business. So ensure you have a solution that can cope with this at inception, or later as the need arises.
6. Put your head in the cloud!
Many people think of a mailroom as a physical place. But your future mailroom will be largely in the cloud. The cloud already supports most of the applications your employees use in their personal lives, where they’ve come to expect fast and easy-to-use applications. Cloud computing is also transforming the business landscape. Organizations are no longer constrained by internal IT capacity and don’t need to invest upfront in buying and maintaining IT equipment.
Our experience confirms that the best future-proof mailroom automation is digital mailroom software that is “cloud ready” and can be deployed into proven and trusted environments such as Azure (by Microsoft) or AWS (by Amazon). It’s faster, cheaper, and provides flexibility to increase or decrease your capacity as you need it. It’s “browser based”, can be delivered to anyone, anywhere, and does not require local software installations, upgrades and maintenance. At Lithe we’ve invested in this cloud-based digital mailroom technology and have been delighted to hear that our customers’ employees call Lithe Digital Documents “their favourite application”.
7. Location, Location, Location
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed in glaring light the serious business continuity risk represented by reliance on physical delivery of documents. Many business process ground to a halt when all work had to be done remotely. Resilient future business operations must reduce or eliminate their dependency on physical infrastructure, including physical mailrooms. Post-pandemic, a significant portion of the workforce will continue to work from home for at least part of their working week and must get those inbound documents delivered to them remotely. Location matters, but workplaces are now virtual desktops, fully usable in any location, at home or in office.
To meet this new future of work, your digital mailroom must be as effective from home as from within the office. If possible, enable “Single Sign On” so that your document recipients and managers can use their digital mailroom securely, without having to remember a username and password. Also consider what sort of devices might be getting used to access the digital mailroom, such as laptops, tablets, or phones, and ensure your digital mailroom can deliver a seamless and productive experience regardless of employee location or device.