In my service business, I’m constantly looking for ways to increase my profit, while at the same time trying to reduce the time and effort it takes to make that profit.
More businesses today are seeking alternatives to paper-based processes which slows down operations and produces redundancy. Companies of all sizes are replacing photocopiers with iPads, reducing storage costs, and severely improving data collection time and accuracy with efficient solutions that automate and empower their local and mobile teams.
It’s been fifty years since the Xerox Corporation introduced the first commercially used fax machines in 1964, which has since altered the face of communications and have contributed extensively to reducing the time and effort required for everyday operations. Technology revolutions come in measured, sometimes foot-dragging steps. While the fax machine became ubiquitous, it is now considered antiquated. New technologies for data transmission have flourished such as Email and text messaging. They now account for a considerable reduction in redundancy. For the every day mundane requirements of running a business, the technological trend now is in automation. If “a penny saved is a penny earned” then a minute saved in unnecessary data processing is another minute I can relish in what I enjoy. Here is a partial list of new technologies that may be used with electronic forms automation:
Portable Document Format (PDF) – to create, display and interact with electronic documents and forms
E-Form (electronic form) – management software to create, integrate and route forms and form data with processing systems
Databases – to capture data for pre filling and processing documents
Workflow platforms – to route information, documents and direct process flow
Digital Signature Solutions – to digitally sign documents
Web Servers – to host the process and manage documents rights
One of the main issues that has kept companies, including mine, from adopting paperwork automation is difficulty capturing digital signatures in a cost-effective and compliant manner. The E-Sign Act of 2000 in the United States provided that a document cannot be rejected on the bases of an electronic signature and required all companies to accept digital signatures on documents. This has been a boom to a paperless work environment. While database management software may seem like overkill for a small company, the benefits of adapting to these new formats are showing considerable promise. Neglecting these opportunities could put you in jeopardy as your competitors adapt and shift into the fast lane and leave you in the dust.
As an example of how this new technology can work, when I perform a service call I write up a receipt for the customer and record the necessary information on a paper invoice. Invoices typically record customer info, part numbers, charges, etc. If the customer pays by credit-card, I have to do a separate process and call in for an approval number, and then enter it on the invoice. This is redundant. At the end of the day or sometimes at the end of the week, I have to input all that data from the invoice into my desktop computer so I can use it to calculate payroll and taxes, monitor inventory, and so on.
With a simple app on your smartphone or tablet all your data is uploaded into a cloud-based storage system, also called a host server, while at the same time processing credit-cards on the fly with the option of sending a receipt to the customer via email, and you have access to it, in real time, on any device; there’s no need to input data twice.
What’s so attractive about this process is that I don’t have to re-enter or calculate anything. It’s all done for me according to the way I design the program. There’s no need to call in for a credit-card approval, the software does everything for you. At any given time of the day, I know how many service calls my techs performed, who did them, how much inventory was used. what the costs were. This technology isn’t new, it’s just now coming into the mainstream for companies like ours. Besides saving time, it’s more efficient, and it can reduce the cost for paper related products and as a bonus build a database of customer’s email addresses for future marketing; the possibilities for streamlining operations seem endless.
Aside from all the benefits of reducing paper consumption and storage by streamlining the workflow, paper product manufacturing contributes significantly to deforestation and man-made climate change, and produces greenhouse gases. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, paper manufacturing is the third largest user of fossil fuels worldwide. Paper production also leads to air pollution. Printing inks and toners use environment-damaging volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and non-renewable oils. So it stands to reason that weaning our way off paper receipts and documents would have a positive benefit on our environment.
One of the more popular software programs gaining considerable attention for small business is called Filemaker. Filemaker is a subsidiary of Apple Computer, but the software works well on all devices. It’s simple to use and set up and the cost is low compared to the return. There’s no need for extensive software training, it works out of the box. I watched a webinar today on my home computer about the new Filemaker Software developed specifically to eliminate paper documents and guaranteed to speed up your day-to-day transactions. Filemaker is a subsidiary of Apple Computer. It’s new software is compatible with both Windows and Mac.