A great way to conceive of a new B2B platform is to consider a simple question:  What ubiquitous business document exists today primarily in paper or PDF form?  If this business document is mainly paper (or an image), there is likely an opportunity in digitizing, or dematerializing, the document.  (Dematerialization is a word used in Europe to describe the digitization of invoices. (The word reminds me of the teleportation machine on Star Trek.)

Dematerialize the Document then the Business Process

Once you identify a document to dematerialize, you can often digitize the business process associated with that document.  If the document (and its related workflow) can be digitized all sorts of very familiar benefits ensue.  With digitization comes:

  • Real-time monitoring and visibility
  • More in-depth workflow
  • Better, more granular analytics
  • Distributed ledger opportunities (single-source of truth)
  • Elimination of processing and archiving costs


Examples of Business Document  Dematerialization

Almost every great B2B platform started by digitizing one or two very pedestrian paper documents:

  • EDI networks (PO and Invoice)
  • Outlook (Email and Calendar)
  • Ariba and other Procure-to-Pay vendors (PO and Catalog, later invoice)
  • Docusign (Signature pages)
  • Building Information Management (BIM) vendors (blueprints)
  • Electronic Medical Records (EMR) vendors (patient charts and records)
  • Procurement card or e-payment vendors (Checks)
  • E-sourcing vendors (Requests for Quotes)
  • Global Distribution Systems (plane tickets and OAG guides)
  • DealerTrak (vehicle registration and titles)
  • Textura (construction payments and lien waivers)
  • SAP Concur (expense reports)
  • SAP SuccessFactors (performance appraisals)
  • ISNetworld (safety documents and insurance certificates)
  • Cvent and Eved* (meeting and event registration and bills respectively)

The list goes on and on.  The common theme is that these platforms started with a basic document and workflow and still grew very big.   Consider SAP Concur. Concur was laser-focused on the “lowly” expense report and the company eventually sold for $8.5 billion.  The Keep-it-Simple Stupid (KISS) approach really does work.

Where are the next opportunities for Dematerialization?

There are still many opportunities in:

  • Commercial and residential real estate transactions
  • Global trade and cross-border payments
  • Construction-related documents beyond blueprints
  • Almost all elements of the public sector–licensing, taxes, titles, identity documents, certifications, etc.
  • Product Warranties
  • Technical Standards
  • Insurance certificates

I’m sure many companies are working on these document types.  What examples do you have of paper or PDF business documents that drive you crazy?  Chances are there are opportunities buried in that frustration.

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