The Evolution of IBM i Paperless Process Management

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Organizations seldom jump directly from traditional IBM i manual document processing to an automated paperless processing solution. It takes evolution to replace paper-based distribution with digital processing for IBM i reports and forms.

Most organizations go through four levels as they mature and implement IBM i report automation and document management solutions to create a paperless processing environment.


Paper-based manual processing (Level 1) is the jumping off point for IBM i paperless processing. This is where most companies were in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Columnar reports are printed on green-bar, blue-bar, or blank continuous forms and are manually delivered. Forms such as invoices, purchase orders, bills of lading, and shipping documents are printed on multi-part pre-printed forms, bursted, and manually delivered, often by people whose primary job includes managing these volumes of paper.

evolution_of_ibmipaperless.pngThere is very little document automation in Level 1, and reports and forms are seldom converted to digital formats or delivered via email or other electronic methods. My guess is there are very few companies operating in a totally manual processing mode today, although some Level 1 elements are still in use (such as printing shipping documents and invoices on pre-printed forms). However, it is very expensive to perform manual paper-based processing and companies can save significant amounts of money moving to paperless processing.

Paperless manual processing (Level 2) improves on the Level 1 situation but still involves significant manual processing. In this phase, existing paper documents are digitized by either physically scanning the document (usually using a networked copier/scanner) or by manually exporting IBM i data into Excel, PDF, or another format. Conversion to popular digital formats may use DIY software or IBM functions, such as native PDF conversion. But documents are still physically handled and Level 2 is a labor intensive process, from both a user and an IT viewpoint. It’s still common for people to scan and archive paper documents or email scanned documents to outside partners. Many organizations still use Level 2 paperless processing in some way, but its usage is shrinking.

Paperless automated processing (Level 3) is the big leap forward. In this phase, IBM i-based organizations start taking advantage of report automation software such as my own SpoolFlex software. Report automation software automatically converts existing IBM i reports to popular digital formats such as PDF, XML, Excel, and HTML. In Level 3, organizations can “set it and forget it” and have their existing reports automatically converted to digital formats and delivered via email or posting to Web sites and file servers.

Born digital (Level 4) extends level 3 processing to document management. Where Level 3 concerns itself with converting existing IBM i reports to digital formats, Level 4 automatically creates and delivers digitized forms that have graphical elements, such as purchase orders, invoices, patient forms, and customer statements. Digitally born documents are merged with IBM i data using electronic form templates generated in packages such as DRV Tech’s FormFlex software. Digital forms eliminate the need for pre-printed forms and for manual scanning that we see in Level 1 and Level 2. Born digital documents are valuable in industries such as banking and healthcare or in manufacturing and distribution environments using ERP software, that need to deliver non-structured reports to customers and business partners.

Most organizations pursuing IBM i paperless processing have gone through several of the steps listed here. Many of these techniques (such as manually digitizing and emailing documents or printing documents on multi-part pre-printed forms) still remain active, but the march towards paperless processing continues. In the long run, more companies will use IBM i paperless processing software to free up employee time, deliver critical data in user-friendly formats, and produce an immediate return on eliminating manual paper processing.

There are many affordable third-party packages that can bootstrap your organization into the higher levels of paperless processing. For more information on paperless processing, check out the blog posts I’ve linked to below.

See our IBM i Paperless Processing Solutions in action!

Request a 15-day trial of any of our products today!

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