1. August 2017

Let’s make documents great again

To mark the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Project Consult, CEO of AMAGNO Jens Büscher made this guest contribution to the Ulrich Kampffmeyer anniversary newsletter. You can find the whole anniversary newsletter and its many terrific articles on the Project Consult homepage.

I sit out on the terrace, having just booked a ticket for an event in Leipzig over the internet – of course I’ve booked myself an e-ticket. Why do it any other way? In the living room, I shout to Alexa to play me some jazz on Spotify and ask about the weather in Leipzig on Monday. Finally, I’m ready to write my article – let’s get to it. However, my way of life demonstrates quite clearly that digitisation is here – and it’s here to stay.

By day, however, I work as a service provider in a company, where I experience something quite the opposite. Document-centric and paper-heavy work is commonplace in such an environment. Employees search network drives, file systems and e-mail inboxes for the documents relevant to their work; they then send these to their colleagues who perform the same tasks over again. Each document is stored manually in a laborious process that must be repeated time and again. The process is slow and errors are common. If documents are digitised at all, this sometimes takes the form of legally questionable online storage solutions with little value added, used in secret outside of the IT department.

What’s happening here? How is it that we have already digitised our private lives, yet companies and their offices are still working in the analogue Stone Age? Why is it that digital solutions for managing documents have been around for more than 30 years, yet only about 20 % of small and medium-sized businesses are using such solutions – commonly known as document management or enterprise content management systems? Is this not something we, as service providers, should constantly be asking ourselves? How can we use technical terms (ECM, EIM, content services) and trend words in our industry, while digital solutions are absent from 80 % of medium-sized businesses?

I feel very strongly that the explanation for this is not a professional one, but an emotional one, which can be traced to the limbic system of employees. To get a bit of context, we must travel back to the past once again.

On Wikipedia, you can find pictures of cuneiform stone carvings that show written records of a merchant’s wool trading business. The carvings date back 2,000 years BC! If cuneiform script was once so popular, why do we use paper today? The advantages of paper are obvious – in addition to a few minor drawbacks. Nobody wants to go back to the days of writing on clay tablets. Where would our businesses be today if this were still our primary form of documentation? Of course, the evolution from stone carving to modern-day paper writing did have a number of intermediate stages. Papyrus and parchment, to name two. Each of these stages of evolution had such strong added value that no-one wanted to return to the previous stage. As a result, we have ended up with the fiercely defended medium of paper.

In my personal opinion, employees do not use digital documents at all levels due to a perceived lack of value added, coupled with a fear of change. In both cases, the considerations are emotional and cannot be reasonably justified. The reasoning comes later, as the brain’s neocortex desperately attempts to rationalise our emotional aversion.

If digital documents can not only replace the analogue options (e.g. stamps, memos, handwritten notes, signatures) but also provide distinct advantages over these, then we should be able to bring offices into the next stage of evolution and towards successful digitisation. Digital documents can be so much more than a sheet of paper. This is something that needs to be felt by every employee.

What’s more, we service providers need to see our solutions as digital assistants which automate work in the background, particularly when it comes to storage and data extraction for external applications. Whether files, scans or e-mails, we must independently present the relevant documents in an interactive way.

We all know that digital documents are simply an intermediate stage on the way to document-free, cross-company data streams. For a period of time, however, we must make digital documents so cool that everyone wants to work with them.

So, while it might be a bit of a bold statement: “Let’s make documents great again.”

Jens Büscher
Jens Büscher, founder & CEO. After a successful stint as Product Manager at RedDot Solutions AG (now OpenText) he founded AMAGNO as an innovative Enterprise Content Management solution in 2010.

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