Can We Learn from History?

Much has been written about the global economic meltdown of 2008 and its impact on business. As business leaders, have we learned anything? Are we doing anything now to better prepare for the next downturn?

I found the responses to one question in a recent Ricoh-sponsored study encouraging: 76 per cent of business leaders said they could have learnt from the previous recession and reduced the impact of the current one if they had better access to historical data.1


Source:  The Big Picture on Bigger Data, Ricoh, 2013:  Click here to view the complete infographic.

It is understood that a lot of this historical data remains locked away in paper documents, or may be digital but is unstructured and effectively unavailable to support better decision making.  These information assets range from orders and invoices in Finance, employee records in Human Resources, not to mention customer-facing documents like contracts, warranties and service agreements.

See a short video on The True Value of Digitising Business Critical Documents.

I’ve addressed in previous blogs and articles (see sidebar) the range of challenges – and benefits – of unlocking the value of information hidden in business critical documents, usually as part of a big data initiative. The good news is that business leaders do seem to be learning from history. Many businesses are putting a higher priority on the digitisation of hard copy business critical documents, and are incorporating unstructured information into big data initiatives, for access to even “bigger” data.

The same study showed six out of ten respondents (57 per cent) expect to have completely digitised hard copy assets within the next three years. Your timetable may not be quite as aggressive—but one thing is certain:  valuable data, hardcopy or digital, flows through and is changed by your business processes.  To ensure that you get not only bigger data but better data moving forward, you need to take a close look at how accurate, timely and accessible information is in your current processes. 


Before, not after you digitize, is the time to fine-tune processes so that you get the most value out of the information. Only then can you effectively evaluate how to re-engineer information processes in light of the questions you’re going to want to answer tomorrow. This is one lesson it appears we have learned from recent hard economic history.

1 The Big Picture on Bigger Data, Ricoh, 2013.  See a short video on The True Value of Digitising Business Critical Documents.

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