European financial services organisations have made bigger strides towards unlocking the bigger data opportunity – the digitisation of business critical, hard copy documents for business decision-making – than any other industry, according to new research commissioned by Ricoh Europe and conducted by Coleman Parkes Research.

“Big data is definitely a trending topic in corporate South Africa, but adoption and application are somewhat laggard,” says Richard Pinker, MD of Ricoh SA.

“However, the financial services sector leads those actively pursuing the big data end goal in South Africa. And when it comes to bigger data the financial services industry has been digitising documents for some time with major projects to bring paper into electronic format, even legacy documents, going as far back as 2005.

“The most recent trend is to bring business processes up to speed by digitising the paper trail in key operations where it makes fiscal sense and promotes business efficiencies.”

He adds: “South African businesses have always had a tendency to lag adoption of new technologies, but when they do begin adoption it is normally swifter across industries than is the norm in Europe or the US and we see this trend continuing. That’s what makes the findings of this research so interesting to local businesses because we expect them to follow suit in the very near future.”

Half of the financial services leaders surveyed by Coleman Parkes (49%) said that their organisation now has less than 10% of business-critical data stored only in hard copy format, compared to those working in education (37%), healthcare (39%) and the public sector (41%).

The move to digitise more information is likely to be driven by recognition of the significant value lying dormant in hard copy documents that could enable organisations to make more informed business decisions.

Almost nine out of 10 (86%) financial services leaders believe that having access to historical data from the previous economic downturn would have helped them to better manage the current one, compared to leaders working in the public sector (77%), education (78%) and healthcare (79%).

Digitisation of business critical documents has also had a significantly positive impact on operating costs. More than a third (35%) of financial services organisations reported that they have reduced the costs of storing hard copy information to less than five percent of turnover, again surpassing those in education (11%), the public sector (13%) and healthcare (26%).

Carsten Bruhn, executive vice-president of Ricoh Europe, says: “The focus on optimising business-critical document processes will unlock valuable business insight to support better financial and risk management.

If integrated effectively with other data from across the business, the trends and insight that can be derived from business-critical, historical data can aid key decisions relating to areas such as forecasts and investments, helping to ensure that the financial services industry is well prepared for the future.”

Financial services organisations look set to continue digitising hard copy business-critical data faster than their peers working in education, healthcare and the public sector. One in five financial services leaders expects their organisation to have completely digitised these documents within the next year, compared to 7% of healthcare and education leaders, and 9% of those in the public sector.

As a result financial services organisations will continue to reduce costs, with half (48%) expecting to save between five and 10% of annual turnover.

Bruhn continues: “Now is the time for financial services organisations to ensure all business-critical processes are fully optimised as part of the digital transformation process. In addition to the significant cost savings, it will enable professionals to not only access information more readily, but share it much quicker than before to improve responsiveness and internal collaboration.

“By reviewing the relevant processes, technology and the access employees have to data, financial services organisations will position themselves to become more agile and competitive as they make progress into the digital era.”