Touchless technology isn’t a twenty-first century innovation. Automatic sliding doors were ubiquitous long before the “Star Trek” set designers included them on The Enterprise. But now in the COVID-19 era, zero-touch technology has come to the forefront as one of the ways reopened businesses can reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Current research shows that the coronavirus enters the body through the mouth, eyes, and nose. One of the ways virus particles are carried to those entry points is by our own hands; we touch contaminated surfaces then unconsciously touch our faces.
Think of the number of surfaces you touch in the workplace: door handles, chair backs and arms, desktops, pens, notepads, keyboards. And that’s all before you go to the break room and pick up the coffee pot which may or may not have been touched by someone else who may or may not have clean hands. It’s enough to make us all germ-phobic!
Good news: New applications of touchless technology are helping us get back to work without spreading the coronavirus on high-touch surfaces. As reported in Fast Company, voice command technology is one solution that many designers are extending into new areas. Elevators, for example, can be controlled via voice command using technology that already exists. Another touch-free technology: Gesture readers. Retrofitted touchscreens can read gestures without a user actually touching the surface – a big help for retail and museum settings where touchscreens are in common use.
In offices, zero-touch technology is already available. Touchless lockers are one way to keep work areas both uncontaminated and uncluttered. Staffers use RFID-enabled ID badges to unlock their assigned lockers. When these lockers are configured into full height or counter height partitions, they control foot traffic and maintain social distance.
Voice technology, too, is finding its way into offices. Voice commands can link together computers, monitors, and conference systems for presentations and meetings. Presenters avoid manual contact with cables or keyboards.
Everyone is pledged to new cleanliness strategies to reduce the risk of virus transmission as businesses reopen. However, it’s not practical to disinfect every surface continually throughout the day. Zero-touch technologies like touchless lockers, voice commands, and gesture readers are helping to make safe reopenings a reality.
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This is the third in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.
Resilience is innate to us all. We have built-in mechanisms to endure and recover from physical challenges, and we can strengthen our physical resilience, as any athlete will tell you. We can strengthen our psychological resilience too, by connecting with others and doing something meaningful every day.
The ability to adapt to challenges and novel circumstances is the hallmark of resilience, not just for individuals but for businesses as well. But unlike human resilience, business resilience is not innate.
Most businesses have provisions for sudden disruptions to supply chains and operations, but few have the same resilience built in to the business model itself. Your old business model may not be holding up well to the challenges of today. But you can modify the model to add a measure of resilience that not only helps your business survive, but thrive in the “new normal.”
The business experts at Gartner offer a five-step approach to improving business resilience:
- Define the current business model.Customers, value proposition, capabilities, financial model – what have they been, up to this point? What has changed in the current crisis?
- Identify uncertainties. What uncertainties are likely to affect the business? Define the disruptions.
- Assess the impact. Create a Business Impact Analysis that covers the categories of impact, the time frame and cycles of impact, the relative weights of different types of impact, and the dependency risks.
- Design the changes to the model. An example: Some organizations are changing to fully remote work, supported by imaging (document conversion) to maintain productivity. Focus on what would need to change in your organization’s model to meet Step Three’s impact; no idea is off limits here.
- Execute. The four previous steps inform the decision-making process. Once decisions are made and the new business model is defined, take an agile approach to execution. Ensure that all department leaders, from IT to customer service, have bought in to the new business model, and are integrating it into their operations.
The same is true for business organizations. Change is inevitable, but it is usually slow and gives plenty of notice. In a crisis, however, change doesn’t wait. No business can be entirely shock-proof, but those which add resilience to their business models can meet the challenge: endure, adapt, strengthen, and thrive.
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Telework has unquestionable benefits – employee satisfaction, health, and productivity are often cited – but without easy access to business documents, those benefits may not be realized.
Forbes reports telework savings averaging $11,000 per employee per year, including the value of healthy, productive employees and the cost savings of reduced real estate and other facilities expenses.
But teleworkers need access to information in order to work efficiently, and that includes access to data which may currently be available only in paper form. Remote sharing of physical documents is obviously unwieldy. Teleworkers must to come to the documents’ location or the documents must be delivered to the remote workers. And if teleworking team members all need the same documents, the logistics get even more complicated and expensive.
All the teleworking productivity gains are wiped out by the paper document bottleneck.
You might think that a simple PDF of a physical document would be easy to share with any teleworker who needs it. That’s true. But what if there are hundreds or thousands of pages that teleworkers need to access? Further, what if they need to search for specific individual elements within those many documents?
That’s where enterprise-level imaging becomes a vital component of teleworking productivity. Imaging, also termed document conversion, creates “smart” digital documents – secure, searchable, and shareable via cloud computing. When paper documents are converted to a smart digital format, teleworkers’ productivity is preserved. Digital documents remain secure (have paper documents ever been lost or destroyed in your business?). And managers can monitor staffers’ work and support their collaborations remotely.
Some businesses have the time, expertise, and resources in-house to plan and execute a comprehensive imaging program. For many, however, an experienced outside vendor saves them the time and cost of a long learning curve and the personnel to administer an imaging program. If your business is making a move to telework, and time is of the essence, talk to a trusted imaging vendor about the best way to convert your paper documents and avoid the information bottleneck.
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Research firm Gartner estimates that as much as 3% of a company’s revenue is spent on business paper. Copy paper, note paper, invoices, letters, file folders…it all adds up, and it’s easy to quantify. But that’s just the hard costs. What is rarely calculated are the hidden costs all that paper generates.
A few statistics from a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study:
- 8 hours– the amount of time an employee spends managing paper documents each week
- $122– the cost of finding a single lost document
- 750– the number of lost paper documents per year, per mid-size business
There’s a dollar figure attached to this kind of lost productivity. Even though the math may not show up on a spreadsheet, lost documents alone can be calculated to cost the average mid-size business $91,500 per year.
And that’s before calculating the cost of office space to store all those documents. Paper is undeniably bulky. Just 250 standard file cabinets take up 2,500 square feet. That adds up to a significant sum, too: $135,000 per year, on average.
Knowing those costs could make you think twice about using – and retaining – all that paper. But do you have a choice?
Imaging is the alternative. Converting paper documents to digital documents saves businesses the cost of all that storage space for physical documents. The contents of those 250 file cabinets, after conversion, will fit onto a single hard drive. With imaged documents safely stored on a drive, lost documents are a thing of the past, as is the cost of finding those lost documents.
Even better, businesses can take advantage of the cost savings of a remote workforce. Digital documents, unlike paper documents, can be shared readily with members of a distributed team. And remote teams require less office space, adding to the cost savings.
Of course paper still provides a valuable function even in the digital era. People have a positive response to information presented on paper, and they absorb and retain that information longer. Sales and marketing materials, for example, have a greater impact if they’re presented on paper.
But for many other areas of business operations, imaged documents present a significant value in the form of reduced real estate costs and improved productivity. Take a look at how your enterprise uses paper, uncover the hidden costs, and make a profitable move to imaging.
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In almost every industry, business owners are considering ways to outsource some business functions. Others are looking at bringing everything in-house. It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. How do you decide?
Home Depot, for example, has taken a big step toward moving its entire supply chain in-house. The building-supplies giant recently opened an 800,000 square foot distribution center in Dallas, Texas, with the goal of being able to provide same day/next day delivery to 90% of the U.S. This new distribution center gives Home Depot “the opportunity to own its entire supply chain,” according to SVP of supply chain Stephanie Smith.
Outsourcing has its own set of benefits, however, and the risks and rewards have to be evaluated for each unique situation, according to Micah Pratt, writing in Business.org. The upside of outsourcing includes:
- Expertise without the learning curve– Business functions from accounting to document imaging, inventory systems, and facilities management all require a fair amount of expertise to establish and maintain. Outsourcing provides immediate access to expert professional services without the delays of the in-house learning curve.
- Focus on core business– When you outsource some functions, you can turn your attention to the important tasks of sales growth, customer retention, and innovation.
- Lower-cost growth– Outsourcing to a professional-services provider allows businesses to grow without all of the capital costs and operating expenses associated with expanding those functions in-house.
Outsourcing is almost always a cost saver. Some business owners and managers worry, though, that they will lose control of essential information or product quality.
If reduced oversight and control is a concern, look for a single vendor who can provide more than one outsourced function. A vendor who provides storage products, professional services, and inventory systems, for example, will be easier to monitor than three different vendors for these three different functions. Start off with a single project, and as a vendor proves to be trustworthy, add more functions to the vendor’s outsourcing contract.
A careful cost-benefit analysis yields useful insights into the relative value of outsourced vs. in-house, and accounting expert Kenneth Boyd offers a template to help weigh the pros and cons. As businesses everywhere face downward pressure on costs, now is the time to evaluate whether some business functions should be in-house, and others can be beneficially outsourced.
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The benefits of digital asset management (DAM), including RFID, are a hot topic these days. RFID applications are available for any sort of business. But owners and managers of organizations in the service sectors, from finance and law to healthcare and education, may think RFID is just an inventory tool for the retail and logistics sectors.
If you think your enterprise couldn’t benefit from RFID, think again.
- Asset Tracking – Ever notice how there are never enough chairs in the conference room? Furniture, laptops, and other work tools have a way of wandering from their assigned locations. RFID tags keep tabs on the location of these peripatetic items, as well as providing information on their age and condition. Office and facility managers can easily identify aging furnishings that need repairs or replacement, and pinpoint the location of every physical asset. Plus when inventory time comes, the RFID system can deliver a document listing the assigned value of each item currently in the facility, making financial reporting quicker and simpler. What is does it cost your business to update capital inventory records by hand?
- Personnel Tracking – In busy public settings like hospitals or schools, knowing the location of key personnel can save time, or even save a life. RFID-enabled personnel badges keep track of people’s movements and current whereabouts so no time is wasted when someone is urgently needed. RFID personnel badges work with an institution’s security system to manage access to restricted areas and maintain safety. And in emergency situations, an RFID system can tell first responders who is inside and where they are. What is the dollar value of RFID-managed security and safety?
- Document Tracking – We always advocate converting paper documents to digital documents via a well-planned imaging program; imaged documents are secure, shareable with teams, and save the real estate costs of large file rooms. But in many offices there are documents that need to be retained as paper even if they have been imaged. Paper files are easy to lose or misplace (one of the advantages of imaging), but with the addition of small, inconspicuous RFID tags, the location of a file can be tracked throughout an office. Doorway RFID readers monitor the movement of files from one room to another, and files can be located with a quick look at the tracking record. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates an average of 25 extra hours to recreate a lost document; how much would that cost your business?
Keep in mind that RFID, unlike bar codes, doesn’t require direct sight lines to record and track business assets carrying RFID tags. Once items or personnel are assigned their unique RFID tag, doorway readers track their movements automatically as they pass from one room to another. And inventory updates can be as simple as walking into a room and pressing a button on an RFID reader. You’ll instantly collect data on all the capital assets the room contains; no need to look through cabinets and underneath furniture to read bar code IDs. RFID is a timesaver, and like its other benefits, that translates into money.
RFID systems come in many shapes and sizes, and can be scaled up or down to suit your organization’s needs. When you start adding up the costs of lost documents, lost equipment, and lost time, it’s clear that you shouldn’t miss out on the benefits of RFID.
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