Office Automation and the Changing Face of the Workplace
Table of Contents
Office activities in the U.S., as well as in all the developed countries, are performed by means of documents that are a source, a tool and a result of work at the same time. Currently, the document is the primary way to present information at any modern enterprise. Therefore, the importance of its safety alongside with the skillful use of information resources of the enterprise is undeniable. The ability to make the right decision and react to the situation, as well as respond flexibly to market changes depends not only on the talent and experience of the managers. The effectiveness of enterprise management depends on the organization of document management. In fact, the inefficient use of accumulated information (or, even worse, its loss) may result in loss of the entire business.
Any enterprise that actively works with various documents will at some point of time encounter the problem of ordering, processing and safe storage of large volumes of information. Therefore, document management systems (DMS) play an important role in the optimization of the enterprise activity of any size and profile. With the development of scientific and technological progress, the new information technologies have rapidly expanded to various aspects of human life. Thus, it is not surprising that such important part of the administration as documentary management software has also implemented new technologies for the automation of the office work. However, such process can be rather challenging, as it often results in significant changes in the organizational structure of an enterprise, as well as the emergence of the new issues and challenges for the company. Nevertheless, in the modern conditions, office automation has become an important factor ensuring the firm’s success. Therefore, the following research is dedicated to the study of the effects of office automation on the enterprise, as well as the challenges that may be encountered during its implementation.
The Benefits of Office Automation
Currently, office automation at the enterprise is as necessary as that of accounting in the mid-nineties for many reasons. First, the information must be processed as quickly as possible, and data flows are often not less important than the material ones. Secondly, the loss of information or revealing it to the third party can have negative consequences for the firm. In general, there are many problems that are common to the organizations working with documents in traditional way (Kehal and Singh 32). They are as follows:
- The loss of documents;
- The accumulation of documents of unclear destination and source;
- Documents and the information contained in them may be revealed to the wrong people;
- Much time is spent on finding the right document and the formation of a documents collection;
- In case of multiple copies creation of the same document, the firm has to spend more money than usual;
- The preparation and approval of documents requires much time.
The introduction of electronic DMS allows solving all the problems, as well as (Kehal and Singh 41):
- Ensure the smooth functioning of all departments;
- Simplify the paperwork and increase its efficiency;
- Improve the employee productivity by reducing the time of creation, processing and retrieval of documents;
- Increase the efficiency of access to information;
- Differentiate employees’ access rights.
As a result, office automation is necessary for any organization regardless of its size, type and sphere of activity.
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Problems of Transition to Paperless Work
Despite office automation becoming an important component of the success of any company, the process of transition to a paperless work may be difficult. In particular, it should be noted that electronic DMS have a specific feature: the system must be implemented in all workplaces that are related to the creation, editing and storage of information. In other case the efficiency of its use will be minimal. Such feature immediately reveals one of the major problems of DMS implementation: there are people in any organization who want to avoid changes. Such conservatism is usually caused by the reluctance of the staff to be trained and retrained, as well as the low level of education. Such problem may negative influence the whole process of DMS implementation. It is especially true for the organizations with conservative personnel policy, where even the manager is not free to fire or refresh the staff (Oliveira 37). In order to resolve this problem, one should remember that work with people always includes the policy at the level of organization and psychology at the level of individuals. In many cases, an individual approach to each person is required. It is necessary to understand that it may be difficult for people to change their old way of working to the one that is totally unfamiliar to them in the result of automation. In such situation it is important to make the process smooth and well-organized without reducing the workload. Therefore, the transition must be gradual. For example, at first, one may introduce only the e-mail system of information transfering. Its model is clear and people can easily implement it into their work. Later, it is possible to build a simple intranet system and gradually accustom employees of the organization to the need to look for reference material (internal phone number, date and agenda of meetings, reports, orders, regulations and by-laws) on the internal intranet server. Such approach reduces the duplication of paper documents and facilitates their update (Oliveira 49).
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In addition, large commercial enterprises, such as General Motors, usually have the following problems during the transition to a paperless work. With current trend of manufacturing and financial conglomerates creation, there is often a problem of territorial fragmentation and the heterogeneity of the various parts of the structure, each having its own background. Such diversity is manifested in the organizational structure and business processes, as well as in the information infrastructure. In addition, it is combined with the decentralization of management. Thus, many issues can be addressed but not brought to the level of the central administrative apparatus. Such factor leads to difficulties with the implementation of a common technology. However, such factor is also objective, and there is only one method to solve it: to overcome it. Its effect on the project depends on a particular situation (Archambault 52).
Another frequent problem is overrating the managers’ level of qualification in the field of information technology. As a result, managers are trying to participate in the decision-making process, for which they are not fully prepared. It complicates the work, leading to undesired conflicts. An excessive interest on the part of management to information technology is as dangerous as lack of it. The best way to cope with such problem is the creation of the so-called decoys. The management can distract employees’ attention by inspiring them with more interesting and promising ideas for the future and arrange meetings on the issue, so that they were ignorant of the ongoing work to the extent that it is required. In addition, it is possible that such discussions and plans will serve a base for the new interesting projects (Archambault 39).
The final problem is the unwillingness of many companies to make strategic investments, even when there is a need for them. They postpone with decisions and actions in anticipation of the most appropriate time. Generally speaking, with minimum investment activities in the country, such strategy is justified, but, on the other hand, the improvement of the efficiency is crucial for the survival of the enterprise. Therefore, it is necessary to find a compromise, as in case of such passive behavior the best possibility may be lost (Archambault 42).
The Impact on the Company’s Internal Environment
It should be noted that in addition to its effect on productivity of work, office automation also has an impact on the organizational structure of the entire company by completely changing the relationships between superiors and subordinates. First of all, the automation of the workplace will drastically reduce the number of offices required by the company. The entire office will be served by several people. Moreover, it often leads to a physical separation of the employee and the employer (Oliveira 25). As a result, it will require the corresponding reorganization of the management from the company’s administration and a productive work in the conditions of a complete independence from the staff. Moreover, the company will need the new feedback mechanisms so the employer could adequately assess the quality of the work performed by employees. As a result, the so-called middle management, with the primary task of information transmission up and down the chain of command, will stop playing the same role within the organization. In particular, thanks to e-mail, there will be no levels of management between senior managers and their subordinates and many decisions will be made immediately, i.e. the organizational structure of the firm will become decentralized. Therefore, office automation can be a powerful factor in the reduction of administrative hierarchies of any company (Balachandran and Chandrasekaran 36).
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Due to the high level of autonomy and decentralization, the company will require workers that are more capable of self-employment, i.e. more resourceful people rather than those unquestioningly following the instructions. In order to prepare such workers, schools will have to stop using modern teaching methods, not to mention the ones that have been called to prepare employees involved in monotonous work. Under the influence of automation, the company will start the revaluation of personnel problems, such as the optimal number of employees of the subsidiary departments (legal or financial), reconsidering all the advantages and disadvantages of their work. Moreover, during the periods of high activity, the firm can easily seek the help of professionals without hiring more staff and opening new offices. The companies that have successfully learned to attract human resources available on the network will work more efficiently and force the others to follow their example. Finally, the leader, trained to focus efforts on one main problem, will be responsible for the work of several people. The automated organization often rejects the idea of undivided authority. As a result, almost all the company’s staff becomes involved in the decision-making process (Balachandran and Chandrasekaran 41).
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Until recently, the concept of secure electronic document was vague and incomplete, claiming that entire data protection is based on the use of digital signatures. However, nowadays the task of protecting electronic document has become relevant. In particular, there are several major reasons for the attention to data protection in the automated offices:
- In the terms of the U.S. public policy, the direct involvement of top officials in the process of office automation leads to the intensive development of public services provided in electronic form. As a result, the exchange of electronic documents quickly reaches a critical volume, at which the question of confidential information protection, in particular personal data, should be raised (Thorsteinson and Ganesh 52);
- The need to implement electronic DMS in government organizations working with citizens and legal entities, the application of remedies to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the information contained in electronic documents, as well as the acknowledgment of their authorship (Thorsteinson and Ganesh 55);
- The adoption of laws on the use of digital signature, which enables broader approach to the protection of electronic documents, in particular, the use of different technologies depending on the background and other conditions (Thorsteinson and Ganesh 56);
- The need for understanding the mechanisms of giving legal effect to electronic documents compared to the paper ones.
As a result, it is necessary to shift the paradigm of protection. Earlier, electronic documents or information resources, containing them, were subject to protection. However, nowadays the main vector of attack and, therefore, the object of protection have changed. In addition to traditional attacks on information resources, the interactions of a person with an electronic document or resource also become targets. Thus, it is necessary to protect not the files but the systems of transmission, processing and storage of electronic documents during the access of legitimate users to them (Thorsteinson and Ganesh 73).
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It is clear that the interaction is a process which lasts for a certain period of time. The task of protecting the interaction, as well as its process, is divided into stages. One of the most important is the procedure of the direct access to the system, processing tools and documents. For example, the access control system should minimize the access rights of each user on the principle of sufficiency to perform direct service functions. It is important to provide secure access to the application as two-way and two-factor authentication mechanisms for electronic DMS. In order to do it, it is required to build a public key infrastructure, private key management system and use the protected media. In turn, such measures will protect the user’s interaction with information resources and documents contained in them (Thorsteinson and Ganesh 47).
In addition, each electronic document must be checked to confirm its authenticity by means of verification of its digital signature. Authentication of electronic document is carried out by its recipient using the tools given to him by the sender or distributor. The authenticity of the electronic document is considered to be confirmed if the recipient has verified the immutability of all its details. In case of the scanned documents (birth certificate or signature), the digital signature is unusable. Therefore, the scans must bear the stamp of the company or a notary (in case they are presented by an individual) (Thorsteinson and Ganesh 58).
As a conclusion, it is possible to say that office automation brings numerous benefits but, at the same time, it presents new challenges for the company and its staff. The introduction of office automation systems and electronic DMS faces various problems such as lack of universal system of their implementation for any enterprise and the problem of human resources. Of all types of technology, the IT in the area of management has the highest requirements to the human factor. It exerts a major influence on the professional qualification, the contents of work, physical and mental stress, job prospects and the level of social relations. The optimal information technology, which has high flexibility, mobility and adaptability to external influences, is a prerequisite for improving the efficiency of administrative work at any office. Therefore, the main condition for a successful office work becomes the ability to use the computer to process information. Since the office automation results in redistribution of labor from the areas requiring lower skills to the areas requiring higher qualifications, the presence of a significant technological potential both at the level of the company and an individual employee creates the conditions for absolute growth in labor productivity.