/ White paper Automating Document Workflows in the Future Workplace

By Holly Muscolino and Robert Palmer, IDC

IDC analyzes the next wave of document workflows

Digitally Determined or Digitally Distraught?

IDC defines digital transformation (DX) as the application of 3rd Platform and related technologies to transform decision making. DX remains a board-level initiative, and it is at the heart of business strategies for companies of all sizes. Worldwide spending on the technologies and services that enable the digital transformation of business practices, products, and organizations is forecast to reach $1.97 trillion in 2022. However, in our analysis of data from IDC's annual global study of business decision makers, we noticed a divide between organizations that are digitally transforming and those that are struggling with scaling DX initiatives. The research showed that 46% of organizations worldwide are making the strategic, organizational, technology, and financial decisions that will set them up to digitally transform their organization in the next several years. We refer to these organizations as "digitally determined" (see A DX Blueprint from the Digitally Determined, IDC #US44321118, October 2018). We call the remaining 54% organizations "digitally distraught."

Where is your organization on its digital transformation journey? The defining characteristic of the digitally determined organization is a single enterprise-wide strategy as opposed to multiple digital strategies rooted in the various lines of business. Digitally determined organizations are two times more likely to have digital embedded throughout the organization as opposed to residing in a central digital group. These organizations understand that transformation means reviewing and potentially revising and reengineering processes enterprise-wide, not simply creating digital copies of siloed departmental activities.

In addition, 73% of digitally determined organizations are funding their DX initiatives through a long-term venture as opposed to short-term funding mechanisms. Digital transformation is an ongoing journey of continuous improvement, not a one-time project, and it requires ongoing, dedicated investment. That investment includes working toward an enterprise-wide integrated digital platform — 33% of digitally determined organizations are making these investments versus only 9% of digitally distraught organizations. This includes a shift from monolithic, on-premises applications to a platform approach that enables the creation of purpose-built solutions focused on use cases to solve specific business problems and to deliver great customer and employee experiences.

A Framework for the Future of Work

IDC's research shows that 46% of organizations worldwide are making decisions, investments, and changes that will set them up to digitally transform their organization in the next several years. However, only one-third of organizations have an established strategy for employee experience and work transformation, a key tenet of DX. What is work transformation? From a personal perspective, we all can attest to the fact that 3rd Platform and related technologies such as cloud, mobility, and social business have changed how we work on a daily basis. However, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, robotics, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), and intelligent process automation (IPA) (including intelligent Capture Software) are rapidly changing who — or what — is doing the work. The growing presence in the workplace of technology that is automating tasks, processes, and jobs is driving what IDC and others are calling the "future of work." IDC defines the future of work as a fundamental shift in the creation and delivery of goods and services that:

  • Fosters human-machine collaboration
  • Transforms worker behaviors and skills as well as organizational culture and employee experience
  • Supports a dynamic work environment, not bounded by time of day or physical space

IDC believes that organizations that embrace these technological changes and cultivate an agile, dynamic, employee experience–centric environment will gain a competitive edge. Of course, work transformation is integrally related to other tenets of digital transformation, including improved ability to use information to drive better decision making; optimized, resilient operations; and delivery of a differentiated customer experience.

Future of Work

IDC developed the future of work framework to help organizations construct future of work strategies and scope future of work initiatives. The future of work framework takes a holistic, integrated approach, encompassing three interrelated and interconnected pillars (see Figure 1).

Technologies such as AI, robotics, AR/VR, and IPA (including intelligent Capture Software) are automating and augmenting the tasks and processes traditionally accomplished by human workers. The workforce pillar of IDC's future of work framework is about enabling and empowering this new digital worker and embracing opportunities for human-machine collaboration. These opportunities encompass both information work and operational work and apply to both knowledge/information workers and frontline workers.

To fully leverage automation, augmentation, and human-machine collaboration, organizations must have the relevant and required human skill sets. These skill sets may be sourced externally, and/or they may be developed in current employees via training, development, and reskilling programs. In addition, the consumerization of IT and a multigenerational workforce mean that companies need to support multiple workstyles. Further, this new world of augmented work and rapidly changing technologies requires business agility, enabled by flatter organizational structures and empowered cross-functional teams. This is all encompassed in the work culture pillar of IDC's future of work framework.

In addition, the work environment must adapt to support the new workforce and new work culture. The environment itself must be intelligent and agile, connected and secure, and independent of a physical place or specific time of day. The workspace must enable access to corporate resources and support collaboration to allow all workers to contribute effectively, whether they are full time or part time, local or remote, or permanent or temporary — and whether they are human or machine. This is the workspace pillar of IDC's future of work framework.

The modern work culture and the modern workspace further enable human-machine collaboration — hence the cyclical nature of our framework.

Though work transformation is lagging behind digital transformation in maturity, our research shows that organizations are developing the strategies and making the investments required to catch up. In IDC's 2018 Future of Work Survey, 92.5% of respondents indicated that their organization had allocated funding for workplace transformation initiatives, and 45% of those respondents indicated that the budget would increase by 20% or more in the next 12 months.

Work Transformation and Intelligent Automation

Intelligent process automation technologies are playing a key role in driving work transformation and the future of work. IDC defines intelligent process automation as the group of software technologies that individually or collectively manage, automate, and integrate processes to improve quality and speed while driving down operating costs per unit of work. In-scope technologies include business process management (BPM) and robotic process automation (RPA). A critical intelligent automation technology for document-centric processes is Capture Software, which converts unstructured and semistructured documents into structured data that can be consumed for downstream processing (perhaps by a BPM solution or an RPA solution).

However, IDC research shows that less than one-third of organizations have deployed intelligent capture solutions, which include automated document classification, data extraction, indexing, and verification. In fact, IDC's 2018 Content-Centric Workflow MaturityScape Benchmark Survey shows that a majority of businesses remain at the middle level of maturity or at lower levels, indicating substantial room for growth and development in transformation and optimization of document workflows (see Figure 2).

MaturityScape Benchmark

Document Workflow Challenges

Paper remains entrenched in most businesses today, and IDC's research shows that organizations continue to struggle with converting from manual, paper-based processes to digital workflows. Information is the lifeblood and the most valued asset of any organization. Companies invest millions in information management systems designed to facilitate controlled storage, organization, and distribution of business-critical content. Improving information management practices is a key focus for businesses of all sizes, fueled by desires to drive operational efficiencies, improve worker productivity, and support various regulatory compliance initiatives.

In today's business world, however, how we work with information is rapidly evolving. The centralized "print and distribute" model that propagated the early days of the structured office environment vanished years ago with the emergence of the network computer and the internet. The proliferation of smart MFPs, desktop scanners, and network scanners has allowed organizations to take advantage of information trapped in paper. Today, business information flows from both the top down and the bottom up, creating an environment where content creation is no longer departmentalized but is much more collaborative in nature.

Documents and business-critical content have moved closer to the point of need, but with increased convenience come new complexities. Knowledge workers today are capturing, creating, consuming, and distributing massive amounts of content, forcing businesses to find a proper balance between the need for information access and maintaining worker productivity. According to IDC's June 2019 Document Processes Survey, employees spend more than 32% of their time each week on document-related tasks. More importantly, over 53% of the time knowledge workers spend on document-related tasks is focused on information dissemination: publishing, sharing, emailing, collaborating, printing, and mailing (see Figure 3).

Document Applications

Unlocking the data remains a significant roadblock for most organizations. Typically, business information is stored across a host of on-premises and offsite applications and document repositories, including information management systems, content sharing and collaboration solutions, local and network file folders, email, and hardcopy documents. The need to marry multiple input sources with various data destinations creates challenges when it comes to workflow automation. Previously published digital documents (internal and external) are identified by knowledge workers as the top input source for data extraction, followed by CRM repositories, web-based content, and paper documents.

Lack of integration and interoperability between disparate systems and various information silos continues to hinder DX initiatives. In fact, employees spend an average of 3 hours and 27 minutes per week simply searching for documents and content. Along with data accessibility, businesses cite several factors that contribute to making daily document workflow tasks less efficient, costlier, or less productive. These top factors, from IDC's recent Document Processes Survey, are shown in Figure 4.

Workflow Challenges

Data processing errors remain a key pain point for businesses struggling to migrate to digital workflow and process automation. Transcription errors that occur during data entry are particularly troublesome. These errors are caused by either human errors related to manual data entry or the misreading of data during the capture process, often the result of a legacy or poorly implemented optical character recognition (OCR) solution and/or low OCR read rates.

Benefits of Scanning and Capture in Business Workflow

Scanning used to be mostly a back-office requirement; however, in today's business climate, the technology is utilized by nearly every office employee. The value of scanning has transitioned far beyond paper-to-digital conversion and document archival purposes. As previously mentioned, the ability to use information to drive better decision making and optimized business processes is a crucial part of digital transformation. For many organizations, the challenge lies in putting the proper systems in place to access, capture, manage, and process structured and unstructured data so that it can be leveraged in meaningful ways and translated into business insights.

Coupled with intelligent Capture Software, businesses are using scanners to extract data trapped in paper and convert it into structured information that can be fed into enterprise applications, such as ERP or CRM systems, or other downstream processes. At the same time, once data is captured and extracted, it can be analyzed and used more effectively for cost management, risk mitigation, improved compliance, operational improvements, data monetization, and better overall decision making.

Increasingly, data captured during the scanning process is now being fed directly into intelligent Capture Software and other intelligent process automation technologies to automate document identification and classification, to label and tag documents, and to trigger complex workflows. Yet the same data processing challenges continue to impact the reliability and performance of these technologies. To maximize return on investment (ROI) in intelligent process automation technologies, businesses must ensure that the Capture Software deployed is dependable and reliable when it comes to data accuracy.

Capture Software Trends

Capture Software converts unstructured and semistructured documents to structured information that can be passed to another enterprise application and/or consumed by a downstream task or process. It includes the following capabilities:

  • Physical scanning of paper documents
  • Image preprocessing to improve downstream OCR
  • Conversion of images to machine-readable text via one or more embedded OCR engines or equivalent technology
  • Classification, which automates the categorization of documents and enhances metadata, enabling documents to be automatically routed to appropriate subprocesses or applications
  • Data extraction and validation, so that the information can be mapped to enterprise applications and/or leveraged by process automation solutions without manual keying

In addition to the aforementioned capabilities, Capture Software may include workflow capabilities and/or specialized recognition engines for handwriting recognition, check processing, and other use cases.

Capture Software is capable of consuming unstructured information from a broad variety of sources, including paper and digital documents, email, social streams, and web, and it includes text, images, audio, and video.

Capture use cases can generally be categorized as follows:

  • Back office. Back-office use cases most commonly involve the processing of high-volume semistructured documents. Key examples include backfile conversion, invoice processing, loan servicing, claims processing, and handling of other financial documents.
  • Front office. Front-office use cases are more frequently ad hoc and include lower volumes of both semistructured and unstructured documents. Examples include loan applications, employee onboarding, patient admissions, sales order processing, customer correspondence, and contract management.

Several key trends are driving the growth of the Capture Software market. Most importantly, the integration of cognitive technologies including machine learning and natural language processing increases accuracy and minimizes exceptions (i.e., the "intelligence" in intelligent capture), increasing the value of capture in process automation use cases. Additional important trends are:

  • The growth of front-office use cases is causing a shift of the technology buyer from operations and IT teams to lines of business.
  • Increased focus on privacy and regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act are driving increased requirements for organizations to find and securely manage personal information embedded in document repositories.
  • Data mined from unstructured documents can support business intelligence initiatives, training of machine learning models, and even data monetization opportunities.

Driving Smart Workflows with Smart Scanners

IDC sees an emerging opportunity for a new product category called the Smart Scanner to further enable workflow automation. Like the Smart MFP, which has become ubiquitous in the office print market, the Smart Scanner is a solutions-enabled platform that allows the scanner to be programmed to perform customizable functions (e.g., addressing specific customer workflows). These functions are driven by software that is either embedded on the device or server based (on-premises or in the cloud).

The Smart Scanner is part of an "ecosystem" that enables workflow automation while providing an on-ramp and off-ramp to business-critical information and third-party solutions/systems. Unlike most document scanning and data entry solutions on the market today, the Smart Scanner is a PC-less system. As a result, there is no requirement to connect the scanner to a local PC for data processing. With bidirectional communication between the scanner and the hosted capture solution, users are immediately notified of any errors in data entry, discrepancies, or missing documents, which means data validation and exception handling could be performed at the device.

As a standalone network scanning solution, the Smart Scanner provides a closed-loop system for converting unstructured content into usable, valuable data that could be fed into and utilized by downstream business processes. At the same time, the approach provides significant benefits in secure document capture by reducing the number of touch points during data processing. This helps not only minimize errors but also mitigate risks through secure data transfer. Bidirectional communication also enables the Smart Scanner to operate within a fleet management system, providing for remote monitoring and management. As a result, IT managers could more effectively manage device usage, deployment, installation, setup, and service/support.

The Smart Scanner could take on a more prominent role in helping businesses transition to 3rd Platform technologies (mobile, cloud, and data analytics), providing a foundation for intelligent process automation, work transformation and improved employee experience, superior customer experiences, and overall digital transformation.


The digitization, automation, optimization, and eventual transformation of content-centric workflows are foundational components of an organization's overall digital transformation strategy. This is particularly true as these initiatives progress from tactical improvements in productivity, compliance, and user experience to more strategic operational improvements and eventually to improved decision making and insight — where disruptive transformation occurs.

For many businesses today, content-centric workflows are largely paper based and highly manual, with nominal integration between human and/or computing resources. There is no overarching strategy, targeted funding, or high-level management support. The content itself is randomly distributed across digital repositories including email, shared drives, thumb drives (and other physical media), and possibly personal/consumer cloud content sharing and collaboration solutions. The repository dictates access to content and the security of that content.

The first step for many organizations is to digitize existing paper-based information. Unfortunately, businesses often fail to recognize that fully enabled digital workflows involve much more than simply scanning paper documents and converting them into electronic files. A truly integrated scan/capture workflow solution will allow businesses to work with data from scanned images or documents in much more effective ways to reduce the manual steps, free up valuable business resources, and make better-informed business decisions.

Even in cases where workflow automation technologies and practices are deployed, results are limited because of the lack of integration and cross-departmental strategies. Siloed teams and/or functional areas conduct individual efforts, supported by "shadow IT," with little communication or collaboration with other groups. Digitization may occur via ad hoc use of scanners, MFPs, and mobile devices, but the lack of a specified budget or strategy makes it challenging to expand these efforts to develop a broader workflow platform.

To effectively optimize content-centric workflows, organizations must recognize and understand the content-centric use cases and the supporting business processes within their own businesses. They must adopt consistent practices for investment and for developing purpose-specific instantiations of content-centric workflow automation, driven by organizational priorities. This is best accomplished by including content-centric workflow as a core component in the larger digital transformation initiatives of the organization. Businesses should look to invest in key technologies to identify process pain points and enable workflow automation, including advanced Capture Software and Smart Scanning platforms.

Deploying these technologies as part of a cohesive digital transformation strategy could provide dramatic results. Even at earlier stages of maturity, the transformation of content-centric workflows offers organizations increased process automation, efficient information access, improved compliance, and superior experience management. IDC research has shown that organizations that had deployed technology to digitize, automate, and optimize content-centric workflows reduced the average time information workers spent on document-related tasks by over 17%. On average, productivity increased by 41% and errors were cut in half.

About IDC International Data Corporation

(IDC) is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets. IDC helps IT professionals, business executives, and the investment community make factbased decisions on technology purchases and business strategy. More than 1,100 IDC analysts provide global, regional, and local expertise on technology and industry opportunities and trends in over 110 countries worldwide. For 50 years, IDC has provided strategic insights to help our clients achieve their key business objectives. IDC is a subsidiary of IDG, the world's leading technology media, research, and events company.

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