The pandemic caught Mississippi-based Jones College without an alternative to paper-heavy processes. Trouble hit once students could no longer carry pieces of paper from office to office.
"When COVID-19 hit and the offices shut down, we struggled because then papers are everywhere," Paul Spell, VP of enrollment management at Jones County Community College, speaking Wednesday at Laserfiche Empower 2021.
The company migrated to digital processes using Laserfiche solutions, as employees operate in a mixed model of in-person and remote work. The higher ed institution is now rethinking where technology can help aid processes, including administrative tasks such as graduation approval and work study onboarding.
"We have totally changed what we do, and now that has put us on the path to look for new ways that we can do things," said Spell.
The pandemic made decision makers say yes more often, supporting their organizations as they learned which digital tools helped operate successfully. Now, with lessons learned from the rushed changes, businesses are figuring out which reimagined processes have staying power, with competition and user demand as additional stressors.
Businesses struggled to operate through the hurdles of last year, but challenges are far from over. Despite accelerated tool adoption, four in 10 businesses say they won't feel ready to operate without a central physical hub until the end of 2022, according to a report from Info-Tech Research Group.
Add to the tool challenges the fact that, in previous business continuity planning, companies rarely contemplated a pandemic scenario.
"We don't prepare to send our entire workforce 100% digital," said Ryan Raiker, director of digital marketing at ABBYY. "We don't plan to remove all of our paper processes and interactions in person. Generally, that's not something that we're finding in our pre-planning."
But the pivot to streamlining processes with a side of digital has benefits beyond the ability to operate. In a remote model, and with support from digital tools, the City of Tucson was able to better track and measure outcomes, leading to more accountability.
"We've had five or six discussions inside of the City on developing KPIs and metrics on how things are moving and how do we make sure that the citizen experience and experience internally is at the highest level," said Collin Boyce, CIO, City of Tucson.
Tucson now has "dashboards for just about everything," said Boyce. In one process shift that delivered more accountability, the department in charge of building permits has a platform to evaluate how many permits are in the system and track their progress. If something falls behind, the city manager and council members can reach out and ask for an update, Boyce said.
"While [COVID-19] is a horrible experience, the bonuses are we're doing things to address digital divide and automating technology that we were not able to before," said Boyce.
In deciding on whether to invest in improving business processes with technology, there's a higher chance that leaders now approve projects if they see them as essential to operations, said Raiker. That shift in attitude is opening up opportunities previously unavailable for people hungry to think about the future of their organizations.
"Right now, the acceleration is that if you do not make this happen, you will not survive the next year," said Raiker. Competition, as well as customers, will begin to demand a certain level of modernization.
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the name of Jones College. The institution is also in Mississippi, not Missouri.