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Is It Really Possible for Businesses to Go Fully Paperless?

Is it really possible for companies to go fully paperless? And if so, is it a moon-shot or a slam dunk?

In reality, the answer is that going paperless is not only viable, but more easily achieved than you might think. Information technology software has matured enough to completely automate cross-functional workflows, and rugged mobile computing technologies have proven more than capable of serving as reliable "command and control" devices for workers that spend their days on the move. The days of true fixed terminal PCs and pounds of paper-based technical manuals are fleeting for the field service and industrial sectors, including manufacturing, energy, utilities and even government. Fixed-location systems meant that paper was needed to bridge from the service world to the information-system world. But today, a truly mobile environment with real-time access is very practical. In other words, it is possible for companies to go fully paperless.

But should every company completely digitalize their operations? Many approach this as an incremental path – automate process A, then process B, etc. But with the complete solutions available today, does it make sense to move so slowly, especially when the benefits of automation are so dramatic in reduced costs (increased productivity), higher quality service, and improved customer satisfaction? The question is: Do they have the confidence, commitment and know-how to work through the complexities that are par for the course during a digital transformation of any scale? Just as important, do they have the right mobility solution to foster a digital-only workflow and data management system for today’s widely disseminated workforce?

Substantial Opportunity, Even More Sizeable Task

The paperless office predicted in 1975

In August 2017, there was a survey conducted among businesses in New Zealand that led to a somewhat shocking admission: Many were finding it nearly impossible to go fully paperless, despite the many technology resources available to facilitate such a transition. Instead, they were leaning into a “paper-light” model that reduced paper processes and printing, but didn’t fully eliminate hard copy workflows or record keeping.

More than a year later, those same “execution” challenges are being echoed in a new VDC Research white paper: Field service organizations are finding it difficult to effectively apply modern technologies in support of “last mile” service delivery as quickly as desired – and as quickly as necessary.

As researcher David Krebs notes: “From the pervasive use of inflexible legacy solutions to the limited visibility into the complete field service workflow provided by existing processes—often still pen and paper based, the opportunity to modernize the job-site field service operations is substantial. Nowhere is this more evident than at the point of asset interaction where technicians are performing maintenance and inspection services…”

While the continued use of “ inflexible legacy solutions ” is certainly going to curb progress towards meaningful business modernization, the truth is that organizations aren’t struggling to execute a fully paperless operation because of technological limitations. The many software solutions available along with mobile computing technology required to achieve complete digitalization have been widely available and well-proven to support paperless process in every private and public sector enterprise environment for more than two decades. Rather, many companies are struggling to achieve their paperless goals for one of two reasons:

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1. They have chosen the wrong mobility solution for their various workers and workflows – which is something that John Graff addressed with real-life examples in his last blog.
2. There have been oversights or missteps during technology implementation. 

  “Specifically, existing solutions fall short of more seamlessly integrating job-site specific reporting into their field service management platforms, leading to poor or inaccurate workflow reporting and workflow inefficiencies. Moreover, the mobile computing and communications used by frontline field service technicians are often not optimized for highly mobile workflows—the ubiquitous vehicle-mounted PC is often left behind in the service vehicles—and are based on legacy or proprietary platforms, incurring higher ownership and support costs.”

That begs the question: How can field service organizations more successfully identify mobile computing platforms that are optimized for frontline workers, and how do we ensure they are effectively integrated into each organization’s unique business structure? After all, as you will see below, it is VERY POSSIBLE for businesses to go fully paperless with the right team and technology in place.

A step-by-step guide to helping those who “walk and work” move to a paperless workflow

As noted upfront in a new mobility buying guide for field service, industrial and enterprise organizations:

“The crowded mobile device marketplace can make for a tedious and confusing buying journey, and many honest missteps can be made along the way. For example, it’s not enough to deploy out-of-the-box platforms from familiar consumer brands in order to check a few boxes and make the claim that you’re now a “mobile” organization. Nor can you spend a few extra dollars on a “rugged” case and prove the business case for an iPad in an industrial or field service environment. Rugged tablet “knockoffs”, those that claim to be inherently rugged but lack quality engineering and testing, can be deceiving too. Very few manufacturers engineer flexible rugged

computer technologies that allow you to implement future-proof mobility solutions with immediate benefits, without compromising on features, price or performance today. In other words, buying mobile technology for your workforce is very different from buying a device for personal use.”

That is why one of the first things you must do, before even preparing a short list of potential mobility solutions, is to identify the issues compelling you to move to a completely paperless operation – or to reboot your existing technology architecture to achieve your paperless goals. You also need to identify and partner with a technology provider that specializes both in enterprise-grade mobility solutions and the specific vertical industry in which you operate, such as field service, manufacturing, public safety, utilities. (Tips on how to do that can be found in this in this webinar or in this blog.)

However, those are only two of the 10+ steps that every organization must complete in order to secure their desired mobile technology ROI, whether taking a “paper light” approach and digitalizing a single business process within a single division or transitioning to a completely paperless operation company-wide. Here is the more extensive game-plan that organizations should following when going paperless, as thoroughly detailed in this new mobility buying playbook:

  1. Know What’s Fueling Your Buying Journey.
  2. Determine Your Budget and Secure Executive Buy-In.
  3. Shop for the Right Partner.
  4. Invite Others Along for the Ride.
  5. Be Willing to Go with the (Work)Flow.
  6. Complete the Mobile Technology Requirements Worksheet.
  7. Reconfigure Your Budget Based on Your Updated Requirements.
  8. Test Drive Short Listed Mobile Devices. This is the ONLY way to truly confirm performance in the field, which is becoming non-negotiable for field service organizations who want to avoid a repeat of the issues outlined in VDC’s report.
  9. Calculate the "Total Cost" of Your Each Mobility Solution.
  10. Refine Your Solution Based on End-User Feedback .
  11. Make Sure You’ve Asked All the Right Questions, Considered the Future and Trained All Users.

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Group Mobile president Darin White, Zebra VP of sales and marketing John Graff, and Field Technologies Online editor Sarah Nicastro also share a simple 10-step action plan that will help you “shop smarter” for mobile technologies based on your paperless ambitions and more easily execute your mobile workforce strategy in this 45-minute“coffee break” Q&A session.

Still believe it’s too aspirational to think your business can go paperless? “So did we…” says these four companies. Until they changed they found the right technology partner and the right “paperless” technology solution...

Success Story #1: Forklift Equipment Dealer and Service Provider

Although MH Equipment has grown from a small company of 50 employee into an organization composed of multiple dealerships with over 800 employees and 27 servicing locations throughout 10 states, this heavy equipment sales and service leader has not been quick to adopt technology just for technology’s sake. Over the years, they have reviewed electronic solutions but did not find one that seemed to have all the efficiencies that would justify the investment – a challenge that many companies still face today due to the increased marketing of rugged “knockoffs” and misleading claims of consumer device manufacturers that their technology can seamlessly be utilized our personal and professional lives. 

“Right now, we complete approximately 95 percent of our work orders in the field, on-site at customer locations. Only 5 percent of equipment actually comes into our shops for repair. When we were a smaller company, the paperwork was not overwhelming. But as we continue to grow and add more technicians and gain more customers that require service, the handling of paperwork, work orders, time cards, etc. has become a major task in all of our service departments. We knew we needed to do something different to keep our service departments focused on the customer. We knew that if we could leave the paper world and move into an electronic environment, we could improve our service experience.”
~ Randy Kaluza, president of operations, MH Equipment.

And like many companies referenced in the VDC study, MH Equipment chose to generate and manage every single work order for its full-service material handling equipment service business on paper for nearly 65 years. Field technicians had to either submit completed work orders, inspection forms, and timecards via mail or physically walk them into the office for processing. Neither option was efficient, and paper-based documentation and records management had several downfalls. Work orders could be hard to read and frequently got very dirty. Key-punching data into the business system from paper created opportunities for errors. Handling, processing, and storing mounds of paper created many inefficiencies and challenges. And technicians handling paperwork manually or through the mail added no value to the transaction; rather, they caused delays and extra expense. As their business continued to boom, MH Equipment revisited their mobile technology options. They needed an effective and cost-efficient way to minimize the administrative burden on its field-based teams so they could remain focused on the company’s priority: customer service.

"The combined Xplore [rugged tablet] and TPI mobility solution has very quickly increased our operational efficiency, eliminated resource waste, eliminated thousands of dollars a year in printing costs, and improved our customer satisfaction levels.”

After partnering with mobility solution provider TPI to design and deploy a custom-built mobility solution, MH Equipment found it quite painless to become a completely paperless business, with all “clipboard” processes now completed electronically.

Download the case study to read more about the various business challenges that MH Equipment was able to overcome once it went paperless with an Xplore rugged tablet solution.

Success Story #2: Transportadora De Gas Del Sur (TGS) Goes Paperless with Xplore Fully Rugged Tablets

As Gabriel Catanzaro, gas products and measurements Leader at TGS, tells it: Maintenance technicians at this Argentine energy company used to manually print, complete and submit every work order. Loading-dock technicians would have to print spreadsheets detailing each truck’s planned delivery schedule and inventory and then manually input their vehicle and inventory inspection results along with any subsequent logistics actions. It was a very slow and tedious process. “Now, these technicians simply connect to the service orders via SAP and complete the digital forms in their entirety on the spot using the tablet” that TGS selected after mapping out and initiating a very aggressive plan to transition to fully paperless operations. The Xplore rugged tablets at the core of this paperless solution enabled TGS’ maintenance technicians to become more resourceful in the field almost immediately. For example, the administrative work that was previously consuming 50 percent of technicians’ time, and requiring significant back-office resources, can now be completed in a matter of minutes, in real time, on the tablets. They aren’t even finished with their migration to fully paperless workflows in every department yet.

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However, as Graff explains, the right “rugged mobile computing technologies make it very easy for large organizations such as TGS to transition to completely paperless operations without disrupting their day-to-day operations in the process. Once their mobility solution is fully online in all departments, TGS managers will have the real-time insights they need to coordinate and execute a number of complex logistical activities in a more time- and cost-efficient manner. At the same time, frontline workers will have the tools they need to fulfill more service orders each day.”

Download the case study to learn more about TGS’ experience going paperless.

Success Story #3: Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Inspectors Go Fully Paperless with Xplore’sHazLoc-Certified Rugged Tablets

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Louisiana’s state inspectors are responsible for routinely monitoring gas stations, refineries, chemical plants, underground wells, landfills and other sites where environmental quality protections are mandated. They are also dispatched to ‘ground zero’ after fires, spills and other emergencies where there’s often an elevated presence of hazardous material. The State agency wanted to transition its field team to a fully paperless operating environment, and Xplore’s C1D2-certified Windows® tablets were the only mobile computers in their class that could safely be used in vehicle as well as in-hand at inspection sites where combustible gasses and flames are present. As John Graff explains it: “Louisiana’s inspectors spend their days executing a comprehensive environmental fortification program that protects the public’s health, safety and welfare. That is why we [Xplore/Zebra] worked closely with the DEQ to ensure our rugged tablet-based solutions provide both a reliable computing platform and a scalable solution to support their growing inspection demands.” 

Success Story #4: Xplore Rugged Tablets Exclusively Chosen for Paperless Factory Initiative at Top Auto Manufacturer

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We are currently working with a leading German automotive manufacturer on a new multi-million-dollar Industry 4.0 initiative that, when complete, will result in the creation of several paperless factories in eight countries. With just one rugged tablet, this manufacturer is replacing more than 240 printed sheets of paper per cart, per day, with an automated, real-time flow of data throughout each plant. Production line workers are now able to instantly search and retrieve vehicle component manuals and assembly instructions using the rugged tablets. The resulting increase in productivity and factory uptime has enabled the customer to improve production output, and that translates directly into bottom line success. At the same time, the global auto leader is saving millions of dollars in paper, ink, printers and overall printer maintenance. “The flexibility provided by Xplore rugged tablets, and our technology’s interoperability with a host of Industry 4.0 architectures, will enable them to evolve their business process design and maintain their competitive edge as customer demands rise. It also proves the business case for certain mobility frameworks within smart factory environments,” explained Graff in the initial project announcement.

The common denominator between all of these “paperless” success stories ? The collaborative partnerships that enabled each organization to closely evaluate their individual challenges and develop/deploy a customized mobility solution that offers the flexibility and scalability required to go paperless within their resource parameters, without issue. Just remember: You do not have to go all-in, all at once when digitalizing your business. In fact, we strongly advocate for a division-by-division or workflow-based approach to mobility to ease your workers into the digital-only world. The last thing you want to do is become disruptive; that can hurt both your workers’ productivity and your customers.

Blog Author: Bob Ashenbrenner
President of Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC.