Are we all paperless now?

Are we all paperless now?

Digital transformation and practice management software have long been talked about as a way to eliminate inefficient paper-based processes. Given the rapid transformation that many firms undertook to enable remote working during the lockdowns, are those paper processes now – finally – a thing of the past?

Digital solutions as a creator of business agility

In the last two years, digitalisation has been pushed to the top of many firms’ IT agendas. The sudden and unexpected need to transform working arrangements so that staff could successfully and securely work from home saw many businesses try to pack three or four years of digital transformation into a few short weeks.

Some were more successful than others.

The extent to which digital processes and cloud-based practice management software were already in place had much to do with success.

Those who had already implemented flexible and mobile solutions were well placed to support the sudden transition to working from home.

Other firms, which hadn’t already begun their digital transformation journeys, found the transition much more difficult. The experience underlined just what IT companies had meant when they talked about digital solutions delivering greater business agility.


Early adopters vs. laggards

In the immediate aftermath of the lockdown, analysts were reporting a widening digital divide between the digital laggards and the early adopters.

The early adopters’ IT environments are characterised by low cost yet highly performant and secure devices like Chromebooks, high-performance laptops depending on use cases; mobile devices; cloud-native applications; cloud data storage; a ‘zero trust’ approach to security with effective monitoring and endpoint management tools.

By contrast, the laggards’ IT environments were characterised by desktop computers; applications that required an expensive VPN and cumbersome virtual desktop if anyone was to use them remotely; paper-based processes and a cyber security approach that still focused on network perimeter firewalls.


Reducing the office reliance on paper

Previous moves to eliminate paper processes have focused on the environmental benefits of reducing paper consumption. While sustainability is an attractive achievement, it simply wasn’t compelling enough; it was seen very much as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘need to have’.

However, in the face of the remote working needs of lockdown, the elimination of paper processes took on a new urgency.

It was suddenly no longer possible to pass around paper forms or to leave a paper file on a colleague’s desk.

How could vital information be shared in a secure manner?

The operational value of digitised document management was suddenly, viscerally clear to us all.


Digital document management

Quick fixes and sticking-plaster solutions got many firms through the work-from-home period. These quick fixes solved the problem of sharing information with colleagues and making paperwork available to all who needed it.

However, now that the dust has settled, the inefficiencies of scanning and attaching and saving documents into old systems and between email accounts and general file storage are beginning to grate. Further, the insecurity of forwarding sensitive emails between colleagues is a big red flag for many compliance managers. Most solutions don’t meet modern cyber security practices and GDPR regulations. 

What’s really required is a modern, secure, cloud-based and integrated practice management system that provides the seamless connectivity between functions, users and other necessary tools. This way, documents are created, edited and live in your secure cloud.  They are shared by secure link, and easily edited and collaboratively on in a secure way.

Using a browser-based practice management system is ideal because, not only are fee earners freed from having to carry files of paper around with them when they visit clients, they are freed from the inconvenience of dialing the VPN and battling a virtual desktop in order to view the documents they need.


Optimising your digital approach

User experience can be further enhanced by specific digital document management tools, such as sophisticated document profiling, tagging, comments and notes.

Integration with your email system is a huge timesaver: inbound emails and attachments can be saved directly into case or matter files. With the option for workflow automation, the saving of emails and attachments can be automated – creating further efficiencies and time savings.

Integration with time capture functionality adds another level of convenience and efficiency. It makes it possible for fee earners to track their activity more simply and more accurately.

Even better if the chosen solution can offer ‘plug and play’ services to connect to third-party systems, including partners or government departments.


Are we all paperless now?

While many firms have been on a digital journey over the last two years, as we move into the next new normal – one that looks in many ways like the old normal – it’s a great time to step back and review the changes.

To succeed in going fully paperless, any practice or document management system needs to be easy to use. At a minimum, it must be as easy and quick to use as the old way of doing it – even for those staff who like the existing processes or who are resistant to digital tools.

What is really working? Have the pain points moved? Where are they now? How could cyber security be improved?

The next new normal might feel a bit more like the old normal than the previous new normal, but we can’t let that be an excuse to return to the old way of doing things. This is an opportunity to build on the changes and the steps towards digitalisation that have been achieved over the last two years and make the technology choices that bring true agility to the business.

This way, when change next happens – however sudden – your firm will be one of the digital leaders who respond with agility thanks to your nimble, digital solutions.