Zero-in on Paperless Productivity | 5 minute read
Many companies generate hundreds of thousands, in some cases millions of documents. While some of these documents may be born digital and stay digital for their lifetime, the fact is that many get printed out onto paper at some point in their lives. While we advocate for digital documents and paperless offices, sometimes a hard copy makes more sense. For instance, I find that sometimes a large, complicated document is just easier to read and make notes on in its printed form. Most of the time it’s easier to share a printed document when sharing information with a large group of people in a meeting.
I’ve also learned that when traveling to a rural or remote location where Internet access may be sketchy, it’s a good idea to have at least one hard copy with me. And, even though digital signatures are perfectly legal today, many financial institutions and medical facilities still require a signature on paper.
But, overall, digital is the way to go. Electronic documents have two huge advantages: ease of retrieval and access. Unlike paper files that must be searched manually and often by memory, electronic files can be retrieved using keywords included in either the file name or the content, no matter where the document is located.
With cloud document management, accessing documents from a mobile phone or tablet while you’re on the road is just as easy as accessing documents from a PC in the office. For this reason, digital is preferred for distributed work teams.
Moreover, if storage space is an issue (when isn’t it?), digital documents and files win again. Paper takes up space, and office space comes at a premium cost. While off-site storage may be more fiscally economical, the aggravation of retrieval is a huge price to pay. With low cost Cloud systems, the cost of online storage is a bargain, even with the initial cost of document conversion added.
Both digital and hard copies have their place. The key is implementing a system that ensures you have the right document in hand when you need it, and that you can rest assured that your information is secure. Many organizations have one additional concern, and that’s waste and
But, these few instances don’t account for the enormous amounts of paper that are still used every day in offices and businesses throughout the USA. In this digital age, these are startling numbers:
- The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.
- 45% of paper printed in offices ends up in the trash at the end of the day.
- A typical employee spends 30-40% of their time looking for information kept in filling cabinets.
- Each four-drawer file cabinet holds an average of 10,000 to 12,000 documents, takes up to 9 SF of floor space and costs $1,500 per year.
- More than 70% of businesses would fail within 3 weeks if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records due to fire or flood.
- The average businesses paper consumption grows by 22% per year, meaning in 3.3 years your paper consumption will double.
- Currently, nearly 4 billion trees or 35 percent of the total trees cut around the world are used in paper industries on every continent. That equates to about 2.47 million trees cut down every day and growing!
Are you doing enough to protect both your paper and electronic documents as well as the environment?
All Organizations are Different
While we can quote statistics about average workers and average offices all day the truth is that there is no such thing as an average worker or average office. The real issue is any organization is how paper is being used. For instance, paper-based processes are notoriously error-prone and in efficient.
While many paper-based processes are, at their core, essential to a business’s operation, they nearly always can be improved when transformed into digital processes. That’s why it’s important to go beyond your old document management system (or outdated paper system) and look at your business processes to see how they can be better managed using today's technologies. The benefits are electronic, automatic workflows and artificial intelligence are!
Digital Business Process Management
Digital Business Processes Management (DBPM) is a systematic approach to making an organization's workflow more effective, more efficient and adaptable. The goal is to reduce human error and miscommunication and focus stakeholders on the requirements of their roles.
A document-centric Business Process Management system is one that focuses on the management of documents within the context of the business processes that the documents fulfill. For instance, a legal document may require editing by an administrator, review by a legal assistant, case law research by a legal intern and final signature by a partner. The document needs to be managed as it goes through the processes to its completion.
The paper-based way of doing this is by moving a paper document from one desk to another. A more advanced way is with an electronic document that is emailed from person to person. The problem with either of these methods is the human element.
A more effective way is to remove the human element from each transaction by creating business process rules that “move” the document seamlessly from one person to another. This rules-based workflow allows an administrator to create a rule that dictates the flow of the document through an organization: for instance, an invoice passes through an approval process and then is routed to the accounts-payable department. Dynamic rules allow for branches to be created in a workflow process. A simple example would be to enter an invoice amount and if the amount is lower than a certain set amount, it follows different routes through the organization. Advanced workflow mechanisms can manipulate content or signal external processes while these rules are in effect.
Limitations of a Paperless Office
While moving from document-centric processes to digital processes is a huge step toward the time and cost savings envisioned by the concept of a paperless office, the truth is that while you can impose some control on the use and flow of paper within your office, you can’t control the paper that comes from outside every day in the mail.
Therefore, organizations must be realistic. Completely eliminating paper may not be economical or even practical for everyone. The realities of paper in our society force even the most tech-savvy businesses, even start-ups with no legacy processes and habits, to contend with external forces such as client needs and regulatory or legal requirements. Moreover, industries such as law and auditing may not be good candidates to go paperless due to the historical prevalence of paper.
Going from paper-based processes to paperless processes is a major overhaul in the way you do business. It will take some training and adjustment for you and your employees.
BUT…it doesn’t have to be painful. It doesn’t have to take you and your employees away from your core business duties. So…just HOW do you go about converting to paperless processes without disrupting your current business flow?
Start with a paper-intensive department. Many companies find that accounting and human resources are great places to start because they already have clearly defined processes and requirements that are easily transferable into a paperless workflow. Then talk to at least three different vendors of paperless solutions and ask them how they would go about converting your chosen department to a paperless department. Make sure they describe the types of workflows their solution can provide, as well as their capabilities to meet required compliances for your department.
Make sure to also find out about charges and methods for converting existing paper into the new digital solution. And, don’t forget to ask about security, redundancy and compliance in the solutions they recommend.
Finally, remember that successfully reducing the use of paper isn't a one-time event in one department. Maintain a continuous effort across the organization to move away from paper and establish a culture that frowns on waste. Re-architecting business processes ultimately results in greater efficiency and productivity while cultivating improved relationships with employees and customers.