The Evolution of Business Process: Paper to Platform

Business Process Evolution

What would Darwin say about business process?

Transforming a business and its processes is always a challenge, and like anything else over time, process management and the flow of work has evolved.  It’s a balance between cost and benefit, pain and efficiency.  And every business has a complete and total mix of how they get work done.  Paper is still ubiquitous in the business world, as are what I call “Franken-processes”, or those that are a combination of paper, Excel, email correspondence and anything else that might be at hand.  Many drive their critical processes with custom applications, and the lucky ones have fully evolved, and implemented app platforms to drive speed and flexibility.  In this post, I will provide an analysis of the 3 key process solutions:  Paper, Custom Apps and App Platform.

So, as a primer, every process can be evaluated on 4 key axes: Degree of Automation, Scalability, Flexibility and Speed to Implement.  Below is a quick overview of the evolution of business process.



Paperless process with workflow and forms
Paper is fast to implement, but inefficient  (Image from K2 Whitepaper “It’s a BYOA World”)


Paper processes have been part of business process forever, and it is still a pervasive medium for transactions and the flow of work.  Paper forms and documents flow through businesses every day, exchanging hands, passing through in boxes and out boxes, being copied, placed in folders, and ultimately ending up in a file cabinet as a permanent record.  To evaluate paper on our 4 axes, it is quite fast to implement, and can be somewhat flexible.  Just create a form in Word or Excel, kill some trees through the printing/copying process and distribute.   But we all know that processing paper is painful, and about as far from automated as you can get.   Many organizations attempt to add automation to the mix through scanning and capture, but layering of processes just creates complexity, and decreases the ability to scale.  See the chart above for a visual representation of paper process, the lowest on the evolutionary chain.

Custom Applications

Replace custom apps with no code platforms
Custom apps great for automation, but slow to implement. (Image from K2 Whitepaper “It’s a BYOA World”)

For many organizations, the only option, or next step in the evolution of process is the custom-built application, focused on automating a core set of processes critical to the business.  Custom apps can be a powerful technical transformation tool, and although the benefits can be huge, there are some key draw backs.  Using our axes, you can see the prime benefit is automation (as shown above).  But due to the long cycle times for development and updates, plus the requirement to grow and expand features overtime,  custom apps can be a core constrictor on flexibility and adaptability.  In this day and age, custom apps and all their draw backs are becoming and unacceptable way to automate business and drive process, and are just far too costly.

“Traditional mobile-app development typically costs at least $250K and takes more than 6 months for a single app”

Kevin Benedict, Mind the Gap

Business Apps Platform

No code for data, forms, workflow and reports.
No code platforms are the best of all worlds (Image from K2 Whitepaper “It’s a BYOA World”)

Evolution in and of itself, is a process of growth, formation and change based on environmental factors, and the current apex in business process technology is the Business Process Application (BPA) platform.  Built for speed, automation and flexibility, the BPA platform provides a broad reach on all the axes of evaluation (as shown above), and allows agility through a no/low code foundation.

“In the age of the customer, everything runs as quickly as customers and markets – and software delivery must keep up.”

With IT departments struggling with the demands of the business for applications, the market and customer requirements have driven the evolution of BPAs.   With delivery time being reduced by a factor of 3-10x, and beneficial cost reduction, forward-looking CIOs are quickly adapting the platform-based approach to transform the way they automate and deliver applications, workflows, forms and reports.   Below are some great links to more information:

Forrester Report on Low/No Code Platforms

Business Process Apps – No Low Code Webinar



SharePoint As A Catalyst For The Paperless Office

Digital Forms, Workflow and Build Your Own Applications

Forms, Workflow, Scanning and BPA

Presented this overview at SharePoint Saturday in Utah this past weekend.  Some good info on how to drive paperless transformation with 3 distinct technical phases: scanning, digital forms and workflow.  In the end, tie them all together by Building Your Own Apps (BYOA).


What’s Missing From Most Paperless Initiatives?

Paperless Office and BPM

A Phased Paperless Strategy for Success

The Paperless Office seems to be quite elusive for most organizations, and paper processes are still quite pervasive in most organizations.  Why is that?  It seems that predictions of paper’s demise have been around for a very long time.  There are many challenges, some of which are listed below:

  • The Tech Works, But It Is About People – people just love their paper.  For every project I have ever seen, there are some staunch holdouts.  The “Debbie Downers”.   Folks that just won’t give in, and this can be a serious challenge.
  • The “We are Paperless Tomorrow” Issue – the transition to a digital office needs to be slow and planned.  Large scale paperless initiatives always fail.  Small bites will provide the greatest opportunity for success.
  • Lack of Integration – Just buying 3 scanners at Office Depot, and plopping them on desks will not create a paperless environment.  Software is required to facilitate automation, and integrate with existing systems.
  • A Long Term, Phased Strategy – An office with minimal paper can only be achieved through some serious planning, and a phased approach.

So now that we have established some of the common challenges, lets talk about the 3 key phases of any paper eliminating initiative.

  1. Scan/Capture – preventing paper from flowing into your organization requires that you build a policy surrounding key entry points of this efficiency killer.  Most notably, the mail room, key employees and printers.  Examine your processes, and identify the point of origination, and shoot to automate those input points.  Implement scan and capture technologies to kill the paper before it can enter your organization.  Focus on eliminating printed paper that becomes part of any process, and put a keen eye on employee functions where paper is generated.
  2. Implement a BPM/Workflow Solution – We all know that paper processes are extremely inefficient.  What better time to focus on process improvement and monitoring than during the transition to digital.  Along with digitizing the routing, approvals and other pieces of your process, you can now leverage reporting and intelligence within Business Process Management (BPM) suites to improve both efficiency and productivity.  Want to see the difference between workfow and BPM?  See our article here: Workflow vs. Business Process Management
  3. Implement Digital Forms – Now it is time to take on any existing sources of paperwork that lie within your organization.  Creating digital forms, backed by a workflow/BPM solution, will now eliminate a huge source of inefficiency from your organization.

With this phased strategy, you can reduce your paper burden, and create a productive, efficient environment.  Thoughts?  Did I miss anything?