Saving bucks with digital treasuries

Electronic document management providers seek to de-paper Asia’s corporate treasuries.
Phyllis Chen
Phyllis Chen

The typical office worker generates nearly one kilogram of paper every day. Multiply that by the millions who work in Central in Hong Kong or on Raffles Quay in Singapore on a daily basis and you've got a heck of a lot of paper.

Finance departments are especially subject to high volumes of paper traffic. "Think of the financial department in your company, they're inundated with documents," said Phyllis Chen, Asia director at enterprise content management provider Laserfiche. "If you look at the financial reporting system, the accounting system is [typically] electronic but all the invoices and the purchase orders that come along with those reporting systems are paper. Even if you're sending out an electronic purchase order, other people are sending you a paper invoice."

Document management systems seek to solve this weighty problem. Providers claim that with their electronic solutions, customers will be able to digitise all of their office documentation, store it on a server instead of in a filing cabinet and recall it to various degrees of searchability. These are useful attributes to any corporate treasurer who processes numerous paper-based payables and receivables on a daily basis.

"Our system enables you to scan in all invoices and documents," said Chen. "It records every little scribble mark in its original form, so each time you want to see it, you can pull it up on your [computer] screen." In addition to preserving documents, Laserfiche's system provides a user interface in 10 languages (including simplified and traditional Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese).

The basic cost to install the Long Beach, California-based vendor's Avante solution (designed for enterprises of up to 100 named users) is about $10,000 for a business with five to 10 named users, according to Chen. She said the system can reduce a customer's overhead by as much as 45%, not including workflow productivity improvements.

A white paper by Laserfiche estimated implementing a digital document management solution could save financial firms up to $300,000 per annum in operational costs.

Other vendors offering document management services in Asia include well-know names such as HP, IBM and Oracle, and smaller providers like Esker and Newgen Software. Document and payment processing outsourcing operations run by banks, for example Wells Fargo's trade document centre in Hong Kong or Citi's regional cash processing management unit in Singapore, do not compete with these vendors but often employ their services.

"Using sophisticated scanning and decoding technology, we convert the payment data in our secure processing system, and ultimately process these transactions within a shorter turnaround time, and in a more secure and straight-through manner," said Umang Moondra, global transaction services operations head for Asia-Pacific at Citi. He would not disclose the particular software it uses to digitise payment processing for clients.

Wells Fargo said it uses IBM's FileNet for its enterprise document management needs.

As in so many other industries, Asia is a growing market for document management services. According to CMS Wire, market intelligence provider IDC predicted the document and record management software market in Asia ex-Japan will grow by 7% per annum until 2013 when it is estimated that it will be worth $308.4 million.

"I believe this market [Asia-Pacific] is about 10 years behind the US," said Chen on the current state of enterprise document automation in the region. "I can't force people to think about things they will need five years from now; I can only help them with what they need right now and what they need right now is to manage all their boxes and boxes of paper." She added that the company currently has a "couple hundred" clients in Hong Kong but hopes to grow that to about 50% of US revenues by 2015. Global revenue outside the US currently amounts to about 15% of total revenue.

"We see Asia as the growth [market] for the next 25 years," said Chen. "If you look at the population and infrastructure growth, it's really taking off and we've got to ride that take-off." She added that they focus on providing solutions to the finance industry.

Laserfiche upgraded its Shanghai representative office to a wholly foreign owned enterprise last week and opened its international headquarters (responsible for everything outside the US) in Hong Kong last September. Existing clients in the region include Asia Airfreight Terminal, Hong Kong Post and Veolia Environment.

"Hong Kong is our litmus test," said Chen confidently. "If we can make Hong Kong a business success, we can do it elsewhere [in Asia]." 

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.

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