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On June 20th, I hosted a webinar for clients of Aon's iVOS claims administration platform entitled Document Imaging: The Benefits of Working in a Paperless Environment. Following the webinar, a client asked me a question I've been pondering ever since: If the case for going paperless is so strong, why isn't every claims organization already paperless or moving quickly in that direction?
It's a good question! I'd like to take a stab at answering it in this blog post.
First of all, the client's question reminded me of an important consideration that I didn't address in my presentation: namely, that we rarely make decisions based on benefits alone (click here for the webinar PowerPoint, which spells out the details of going paperless). Rather, we make decisions in terms of both the costs and the benefits.
In the case of going paperless, the costs go beyond financial considerations and human resources; indeed, when we talk about going paperless, we also have to consider the costs of modifying our deeply ingrained reliance on paper – in our personal as well as our professional lives.
The good news is, the costs of going paperless, as well as the effort needed to modify our pro-paper biases, have gone down substantially in recent years. In fact, I'd say for claims organizations looking to perform a cost-benefit analysis of going paperless, you might be surprised at how much the balance has shifted in favor of the benefits.
Helping clients go paperless is something I've been doing for more than 20 years. Over the years, I've concluded that in some important ways, being paper-free goes against our nature. Think about how we handle paper at home (I'm describing myself here, too!). Most of us have a scanner at home, but do we scan all of our bills and important documents as they come in and then shred them? If you're like me, the answer is, in most cases, no.
When I think about it, it seems to me that there's something deeply powerful in our relationship to paper. We seem to value the physicality of paper documents, and it's a hard habit to break.
Speaking for myself and perhaps for most other people, too, I tend to think along these lines: This document is printed, which makes it more real and therefore significant. It's safer to keep it stored away somewhere – just in case.
Even if we never go back to review those bank records from ten years ago, stacked among the other files gathering dust in our basements or attics, there's a feeling of safety and comfort in knowing that if for some reason we needed to, we could retrieve these papers.
When it comes to paper records, I think were used to thinking of them as being really and truly permanent; if and when I need that five-year-old claim file, we tend to think, I can access it because paper will always be there. And in fairness to that way of thinking, electronic files have not always been dependably accessible. Yet, I believe that things have changed for the better here and that it's now safe to expect electronic records to be completely permanent and easily accessible.
Nowadays, electronic file storage (I'm talking here primarily in the business-to-business world of cloud-based IT services) has matured considerably. The redundancies, backups and guaranteed uptime/availability have really changed the game.
When it comes to corporate document management, there is, quite simply, a level of security that we havent had before in terms of permanence, accessibility and security of electronic records. Redundant IT environments, split across geographic regions, ensure that a potential catastrophe in one area won't interrupt service in another. Multiple backups ensure that electronic files don't disappear. And perhaps most significantly, most hosting centers nowadays are obligated to have at least a 99 percent uptime for the applications that host document imaging and management.
And consider the changes in accessibility and availability. Let's think again about that five-year-old claim record. Most claims organizations don't have the physical space to locate old records in the same place occupied by examiners and others working on claims. So an examiner who needs to access an old claim will have to contact the designated document management service, request that the file be pulled, and have it delivered. Aside from the cost of this kind of service, were looking at a 48- to 72-hour timeframe for having old paper files available to the examiner. That's as opposed to instantaneous availability in paperless environments.
Lets assume that youre convinced that the benefits of going paperless outweigh the costs, and you're committed to making the transition to a paper-free environment (whether at work or home). How do you set up a system that will work tomorrow, next year and five years from now?
The limitations of traditional, paper-based recordkeeping may be quite apparent, but at least these are processes and mindsets that were comfortable with and can execute with minimal thought. Setting up a paperless environment is strange new territory. There's a very real concern that we might stumble when it comes to organizing this new system and then struggle to correctly file away and, later, find our newly paperless documents.
Findability is a huge factor in how successful your paperless environment will be. I plan to address the topic of findability in a future post, because it's a big, important topic and I'd like to go into some depth in it.
For the moment, however, as you think about making your world paperless, remember that workflow analysis is crucial. By taking the time to figure out what you want your paperless environment to do for you, how to classify documents flowing into it and, by extension, how to structure that environment, you can rest assured that documents are flowing into the right places and, a year from now when you need something, you'll be able to find it.
Stephen Thomas is a senior solutions consultant with Aon eSolutions, based in the New Haven, CT, area. Contact Stephen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jul 24, 2013
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