The Need to Overcome Barriers to Digitizing Content-Centric Workflows

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by Craig Peasley

posted on 03-18-2020

Nearly every enterprise organization on the planet has been investing to keep pace with the relentless march of technology. But more than half admit to struggling with their digital transformation efforts.

That’s according to a new IDC white paper, Mind the Gap on Your DX Journey, sponsored by Adobe, which found most companies (54%) bogging down around one critical aspect of these initiatives: content.

When one stops to think about it, content-centric workflows are the lifeblood keeping organizations healthy, active and relevant. Every employee, from the CEO down to reps in the field, depends on the ability to generate, distribute and retrieve information as seamlessly and efficiently as possible.

For older organizations, this typically meant spending hours-upon-hours generating reams of paper documents or millions of bytes of Microsoft Word or Excel files that would ultimately be shared via internal mail, email or SharePoint. In its day, those mechanisms were the best we had. But in the digital age, such manually intensive time-consuming processes are seen as slow, painful and outdated.

Today, the trend is toward enterprise infrastructures that leverage the best of on-premise and public cloud-based digital platforms to help businesses run more efficiently by sharing content in ways that drive growth opportunities, respond to competitive pressures and deliver exceptional customer experiences. This involves not only paper content that’s been digitized but every other type of communication that might touch an employee, partner or customer.

“Digital transformation aside, what we’re really talking about is customer experience,” said Analyst Brian Solis, a leading expert and best-selling author on digital transformation and innovation. “Customer journeys are starting in a variety of touchpoints that content strategies don’t prioritize as native experiences against very intentional mindsets and expectations. Mobile, voice and visual are all emerging as distinct gateways that require dedicated experiences. Content plays a critical role in every one of them . . . but it must be optimized for each moment, each scenario and each platform for each desired outcome. Only the elite companies understand this.”

Hurdles abound

Digital transformation, especially as it relates to content, continues to be a huge trend. In fact, IDC estimated fully transformed organizations can realize up to 45% more in revenues and predicting worldwide spending on digital transformation technologies and services will approach $2 trillion (yes with a “t”) by 2022. Yet, major hurdles remain.

While a recent survey of 1,350 business executives found those companies investing more than $100 billion in digital reinvention between 2016 and 2018, most reported poor returns on their expenditures. Many projects didn’t get much further than pilot phases. About 20 percent were outright failures.

IDC sees two types of transforming organizations, the “digitally distraught” and the “digitally determined.” For the distraught, digital transformation projects exist within isolated lines of business. Digitally determined organizations, on the other hand, make enterprise-wide financial and technology investments that set them apart from the competition.

That doesn’t necessarily mean digitally determined organizations are much further along than the digitally distraught. However, it does suggest they recognize some of the most common barriers they’ll need to overcome, especially those related to content-centric workflows, and are acting to overcome them.

Barriers include: gaining executive buy-in for programs; updating employee skill sets; reducing the reliance on paper; addressing security and compliance pressures; and managing digital fatigue.

Gaining executive buy-in

Many leaders consider anything related to technology to be IT’s responsibility. But one of the major goals of digital transformation is to improve content-centric workflows across the entire business, helping every function to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Solis, in his latest The State of Digital Transformation report, noted nearly a third of senior leaders (28%) still view digital transformation as a cost center, and most (62%) are putting their emphasis on transforming IT operations.

Interestingly, though, Altimeter’s survey also found these efforts are starting to extend to other areas of businesses, including customer service and support (34%); operations (30%); innovation (27%); sales (24%); and marketing/ advertising (20%).

“What this means is that organizations are still shareholder- or stakeholder-bound,” Solis explained. “All investments of growth come at the expense of potential returns. Yet, those investments can yield longer-term returns than focusing on short-termism.”

Additionally, while company leaders still mostly see digital transformation as the responsibility of IT, changing content-centric processes is increasingly a collaboration between leadership in most cases (51%), with the CEO serving as the key decision maker, IDC’s research found.

“Our take on this is that mid-level leaders need to educate CxOs even more than they already are about how legacy technologies and paper document processes are costing their businesses time, money and opportunity,” said Brian Domingo, an Adobe spokesperson. “Businesses that treat the transformation of content-centric workflows as companywide and business-led initiatives will be far more successful.”

Updating employee skills

As with almost anything touching technology these days, there simply aren’t enough employees trained or experienced enough to help organizations digitize content-centric workflows.

Indeed, about a third (34%) of organizations polled by IDC acknowledged the importance of training employees to manage points of interaction between manual paper and digitized or automated processes.

“Organizations will need to hire talent with new skillsets and reskill employees in order to obtain and retain the digital skills required for digital transformation, including digitization and transformation of content-centric workflows,” said Holly Muscolino, a research vice president with IDC. “This will be an ongoing initiative as the half-life of skills continues to decline. Employees themselves must become lifelong learners, and organizations must enable that with new agile and adaptive learning programs.”

Reducing the reliance on paper

Paper still plays a prominent role in most organizations.

IDC research found 32% of all documents used each day are paper as opposed to an electronic format, in large part because it’s perceived as more secure or regulatory compliant. For many organizations, it’s an age or cultural issue where having something to hold and touch and hand off feels more genuine.

Unfortunately, that reality has become something of a crutch for many organizations pursuing digital transformation efforts. Indeed, many are focusing their efforts almost entirely on digitizing paper records as opposed to using digital transformation to improving access to information that can help drive operational efficiency and business advantage.

IDC also noted that 82% organizations struggle with managing both paper-based and digital processes while only 18% said this is not a problem. In addition, 41% of survey respondents said they think the cost of change is too high to justify a move away from paper processes.

That could be changing, though. The research also showed respondents believe the reliance on paper processes will decrease 27 percent and fully digital and automated processes will increase in two years.

Security and compliance

One of the first places that shift might occur is with electronic signatures ( e-signatures).

Many organizations continue clinging to paper because they believe regulations require them to do so (43%) or because they think there are security risks with going digital (42%), according to the IDC survey. But that’s actually not typically the case.

For instance, Adobe Sign meets or exceeds stringent security and legal compliance standards, such as ISO 27001, SSAE SOC 2 Type 2, FedRAMP Tailored, and PCI DSS. In addition, it can be configured or used in a manner to allow organizations to meet industry-specific compliance requirements such as HIPAA, FERPA, GLBA, and FDA 21 CFR Part 11. Of course, customers still have to ensure they’re configuring and securing their e-signature solution in a manner that allows the organization to comply with industry-specific legal obligations.

Beyond e-signatures, IDC’s Muscolino said digital content workflows have the added advantage of being more trackable and auditable.

“Many content management solutions providers are offering robust security solutions that make it possible to manage access and chain of custody at a very granular level,” she said. “This can all be automated, which is just not possible with paper.”

Dealing with DX fatigue

Multiple studies suggest the time it takes to digitally transform, including work on content-centric workflows, is a major problem for organizations. Some even say it’s leading to DX fatigue.

“DX fatigue is a real thing,” said Solis. “Change is hard, and most digital transformation leaders don’t think about the human side of transformation. We’re asking people to take on incredible responsibility in addition to their everyday workload, which introduces an incredible amount of pressure and uncertainty. The transformation in DX isn’t just the act of changing. That’s change management. The promise of digital transformation is what the transformation becomes. What’s the vision? What’s the future motivating state? Where are we going and why and what does it look like? This is why in every study I conducted on the subject, culture was always ranked as a top challenge. What we’re really talking about is business modernization. And, with that, culture becomes an important, parallel leadership initiative that motivates employees and rewards them for their part in transformation. Just because it’s DX doesn’t mean we can overlook people, how they feel and how we need to empower them to take a leading role in all of this.”

Download the full IDC report here to learn more about the barriers to digital transformation and opportunities to overcome those obstacles.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Future of Work

Products: Sign, Acrobat, Document Cloud