There is a warm nostalgia attached to the pen and paper format, especially since the digital era has mostly swallowed it up.
The art of writing letters has been replaced by emails and texting. People tend to type instead of using a pen and paper to take notes. Even shopping lists are becoming digitised with apps.
Yet, when it comes to safety inspections, somehow, the pen and paper have survived! Is this because it’s an adopted legacy system that is difficult to replace, or do physical inspection forms have an advantage?
We believe that pen-and-paper forms used to have an advantage, but new technologies have eliminated these advantages.
This article explores ten reasons why every company should consider ditching the pen and paper and switching to digital inspection systems.
The Advantages of Physical Inspection Forms
Inspections are essentially checklists of items to check or standard procedures that uphold standards for quality, safety, audits, and so on. They are an important aspect of almost all industries and occupations.
Inspections must occur regularly and on a systematic basis to uphold the company’s standards and meet compliance. One of the most common tools used to conduct inspections is physical forms, which remain popular to this day due to:
- Cheaper upfront costs
- Low training due to familiarity
The third reason, mobility, is probably the main reason why inspection forms have remained popular despite rising digitalisation in almost every other aspect of our lives.
When computers, and later laptops, first entered the mainstream market, they were still too bulky to be practical enough to carry around for inspection purposes.
The pen-and-paper checklist was easier and lighter to carry and did not rely on batteries or power sources. This meant it could be carried into practically any working environment, from high construction sites to underground tunnels.
However, digital tools have become smaller, lighter, and more powerful since the turn of the century. The advantages of paper-and-pen systems have become dwarfed by the speed and convenience of mobile devices, cloud-based SAAS, and digital apps.
10 Disadvantages of Pen & Paper Inspection Forms
With more powerful mobile technology being part of our modern daily lives, pen-and-paper inspection forms are quickly becoming obsolete. Here are ten disadvantages of pen-and-paper inspection forms that you can no longer ignore.
- Paperwork can have security issues
Protecting data and confidentiality is important for any business, even when it comes to inspections. The data on inspection sheets could contain sensitive information, such as suppliers and inventory, which could hurt the business if leaked.
Paper records can easily be stolen without a trace. Likewise, copies can be made without anyone’s knowledge.
Digital data, on the other hand, can be encrypted and safely stored in hard disks, cloud storage, or other electronic devices. If any digital leak happens, digital footprints can show who has accessed the files to aid in investigations.
- The risk of physical damage
Physical documentation can be prone to damage such as water damage, fire, mould growth, or even termites. That means the only copy you have of vital information could be gone at any moment.
Of course, you could make backup copies of your paper documentation. However, not only would that take up unnecessary time and resources, but it would also compound the next problem: storage.
- Paperwork requires a lot of storage space
You’ve heard the saying that when it comes to business, time is money. There’s also another resource in business that equates to money, and that is space.
The space you use to store paperwork becomes a dormant space that does not generate revenue for your business. This valuable space could be better used to grow your business in other ways, whether directly or indirectly.
For example, it could be used to expand factory or laboratory space. Or it could be transformed into a comfortable space for clients or employees to raise morale and boost productivity.
- Lack of accessibility and real time visibility
One of the most critical factors in business is time. The faster you can access information, the faster you can address issues, prevent incidents, or gain a competitive advantage.
However, unlike digital records, physical inspection forms can only be seen by the person holding that piece of paper.
This restricts accessibility. Thus, you will require a chain of events for others to access the information, such as creating and sending physical copies, digitising the information to be sent electronically, or relaying second-hand information via messaging or phone calls.
Without accessibility and real-time visibility, it will take more time for information on inspection sheets to reach the hands of the people who can take the proper corrective or preventive actions or important business decisions.
- A difficult and tedious collaboration process
When you lack accessibility and real-time visibility, collaboration becomes a much more difficult and tedious process.
For collaboration to happen with pen-and-paper inspection sheets, you will need to either digitise or create multiple copies of the paperwork and distribute them to the team members involved. You may even end up having to schedule meetings so everyone can access and discuss the documents simultaneously.
Again, this creates delays and unnecessary meetings. Furthermore, any collaboration or decisions made would not reflect on the original copy and must instead be appended to the original copy, creating a paper trail that just gets thicker and thicker.
- Difficult to edit or follow up on tasks with no history log
Digital files are easily editable. When it comes to paper, editing with a pen can get very messy (not to mention illegible handwriting that can be hard to read too!) More importantly, there is no history log of who made the edits and when, which can be vital information.
It’s also harder to create a history log of follow-up actions on paper inspection forms. Appending follow-up forms adds to the paper trail that can add confusion, make the entire process more tedious, and create more paperwork for storage.
- Difficult to search for information
Digital inspection systems make it much easier for you to search for information, spot trends and create reports with just a few clicks of the mouse.
When your records are digital, you’ll be able to search for information based on any factor, such as location, date range, department, or employee. Trying to do this manually when you have a mountain of paperwork to sieve through can take hours or even days.
- It is more time-consuming and prone to error
Everything that we’ve mentioned thus far all have one thing in common: they require time.
Digitising paper forms, creating copies, conducting meetings, appending follow-up forms, searching for records, analysing data to find trends, creating summary reports — all of these take up a lot more time because of the manual processes involved.
On top of that, when processes become time-consuming and tedious, they also become more prone to human error.
Digital records, on the other hand, will save your company a lot of time and reduce human error, allowing everyone to focus on the more important tasks that can grow your business.
- Lack of Flexibility
It is difficult to update your safety processes when you rely on pen-and-paper inspections. This is because every change you make will require changing the forms, which means redesigning, reprinting, and distributing new forms.
Digital inspection forms are not restricted this way. You can make changes any time, and instantly the changes will be rolled out and accessible to everyone. Increased flexibility makes it easier for you to customise forms for different departments and uses as and when needed.
- Hidden Costs
While digital inspection systems have higher upfront costs, there are usually no hidden costs that will take you by surprise. With physical forms, there are numerous hidden costs to upkeep: printers, printer ink, paper, storage, transportation, and so on.
If you need to add or update any inspection forms, you’ll face the additional costs of reprinting and distributing. Furthermore, any old forms that were already printed end up going to waste.
How to Seamlessly Transition to Digital Inspections
With current technologies being more affordable and user-friendly, physical inspection forms are falling out of favour.
Many industry leaders have switched to digital inspection systems that provide benefits like better work efficiency, greater accuracy, improved security, greater flexibility, and faster resolution of corrective actions.
Switching systems, however, can be disruptive. To help make the transition to digital inspections as seamless as possible, look for systems that offer the following features:
- Mobile-Friendly and an Easy User Interface
Most people are already familiar with using mobile devices, and chances are your employees will have their personal mobile phones with them at work.
By choosing a system that is mobile-friendly, you most likely will not need to invest in other devices because your employees can use the system on their current mobile devices.
Digital inspection systems with an easy user interface, such as intuitive drag-and-drop features and one-tap checklists, make it easy for your employees to learn how to use it. As a result, you will require less onboarding training, and adoption rates will be higher.
- Flexible Templates
There is no one-size-fits-all inspection template. Different industries have different needs, and within each sector, different businesses will have different customisations to fit their processes.
This is why it’s important to look for digital inspection systems that provide a library of templates that can be easily customised to your needs. Systems with easy template builders, such as those that can convert your current physical forms into a digital template, can also help you save a lot of time during your transition.
- Media Upload Capabilities
Digital inspection systems that allow you to upload photos, audio notes, and PDF documents into the inspection report can provide additional context that can be vital information.
Having this contextual information can help you to improve your inspections and resolve issues much faster.
- Integrated Task Management
Finally, getting a digital inspection system with an integrated task management feature will streamline how you follow up on the preventive and corrective actions identified from inspections.
You’ll be able to easily assign tasks and discuss items within the related inspection report, keeping everything in one place so you can quickly resolve issues without having anything slip through the cracks.
Discover a Simpler & Better Way to do Inspections
Digital inspections are becoming increasingly popular with industry leaders. These systems help companies manage their compliance, streamline their processes, and improve their business decisions.
If you would like to explore transitioning to an inspection and task management software, get in touch with us to get a free 14-day trial or demo of Workflows with one of our specialists.