Despite abundance of ways to cut down on paper use, most businesses even with digital transformation efforts under way still have a long way to go in optimizing their methods of moving everything paper-based to digital as quickly as possible.
Paperwork is an integral part of doing business, but physical paper is not. In fact, reliance on paper documents results in millions of dollars of waste, which could be eliminated or at least radically reduced by going paperless. As your physical paperwork piles up, so will your issues:
- Slower time to complete routine tasks that rely on paper as an input
- Increased risk of a security breach through lost or stolen documents
- Potential for data entry errors from hand-keying information into systems
- Wasting money on office or offsite storage space just to keep paper copies
For these reasons and more, all kinds of businesses and public agencies are working towards paperless processes. Here are some practical ways to get started with taking the business paperless.
The Worldwide Effort to Go Paperless
The ever-increasing flood of data, and how we manage it, is one of the greatest opportunities facing businesses and governments in the 21st century. Data is ubiquitous and is embedded in countless formats. It’s in our email, paper documents, online posts, videos and more. Most of that data is unstructured. Of course, this makes document management chaotic. The chaotic world of business data finds its resolution in Digital Transformation, and the first step in this journey towards digitization is to go ‘paperless’.
“There are many productivity resources for reducing one’s personal paper usage, but taking a closer look at how paper is used across an organization will have the greatest impact.”
Vice President – Information Management
Kodak Alaris India
AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management, is leading the charge in the paper-free effort. Their annual World Paper Free Day encourages companies to go paperless for a day to reduce the amount of paper generated by people in their everyday work and personal life.
Every day is so permeated with paper that we don’t even think about it. For plenty of businesses though, there are ways to minimize the use of paper – or digitize business documents upon receipt. Digital documents are easier to access, store, and share. So, why aren’t we paperless yet?
Despite the optimism and the abundance of ways to cut down on paper use, most businesses and public agencies have a long way to go. Even those that have digital transformation efforts under way still have many opportunities to optimize their methods of moving everything paper-based to digital format as quickly as possible.
In many ways, businesses that are in the process of going paperless are navigating through different ‘ages’ of digital – the journey from analog to digital information management is far more than a single step due to the complexity of this transition.
Why Paper is Still So Prevalent
- Convenience: Working with paper documents is a given in most offices, as well as during business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions. Team members can come up with lots of justifications, like “this is easier to read”, “I need to file it”, “we need to archive it”, or “we have always done it this way”. Formats like JPEG and PDF are well on their way to outlasting many of the different businesses that use them. It is true that some older computer records can be difficult to access for now, but with standard migration efforts and long term preservation processes they can be handled as part of the document life cycle management.
- Compliance and Regulations: For many years, paper documents were required to complete some kinds of business transactions, especially those that involved a signature in order to be binding or those used to prove something in court. Many significant moment in a consumer’s life require paper, often for a signature. Big events like selling a business, applying for a loan, or signing off on a car purchase are examples. The specific requirements for digitized or digitally created documents to be accepted in court vary by country and document type, but government regulations often involve requirements that can only be met in a digital process that maintains a complete chain of custody.
- Perceived Affordability: At a glance, paper seems to be a more affordable option. Accepting this belief is a mistake with a heavy price tag. The total cost of operating a primarily paper focused office comes with a list of externalities including printers, network connections, ink, toner, the paper itself, and the maintenance of all of these. As your business grows, so do these costs. At the enterprise level these costs are scaled up only to culminate in waste. When paper is a part of a business input, like an insurance claim form or paper survey submission, there are still significant labor costs needed to manually process information coming into the business.
The Benefits of Going Paperless
- Organization: No more piles of paperwork on the desk or shelves. No more clunky filing cabinets, either. This avoids misfiled or misplaced documents that take up valuable time that should be spent serving customers or working on other business priorities.
- Efficiency: Digital documents are much easier to manage, store, and retrieve than paper ones. Having documents available to access and share with customers regardless of the location, improves team productivity and brings a better customer experience. Extracting required data from a document (through automated recognition of machine print, handwriting or optical marks) is much quicker and less error prone than keying from paper.
- Scalability: Without rows of filing cabinets towering throughout the office, a paperless operation requires much less space. Personnel required for handling high volumes of business inputs during peak times or during a business expansion is hard to scale, while it is an easy task in a digital environment.
- Environmentally Friendly: Reduced printing means fewer trees will be cut down to produce paper. Paper is also highly energy consumptive both in production and transportation. The eco-friendly aspect of going paperless is a popular and relatively easy concept to garner support from your employees.
- Faster Communication: Unless you’re footing the bill for overnight delivery, such as when insurance claims need to be processed quickly and the agent needs to rush the documentation to a claims expert, paper documents will take at least a day to transfer from Point A to Point B. Even then there may be delays, misplacement, or complete loss. Once digitized, a document is available where it is needed, instantly.
- Document Backup and Recovery: It is costly and time consuming, or in many cases impossible to replace a paper document when it is damaged or misplaced. Your stakeholders may never be able to access important documents because someone misplaced a file, or when disaster strikes, like a fire, or floods damaging 200-year-old documents. With the paperless office, documents are stored electronically for simple and easy backups to a remote server or cloud repository that safely stores your essential information.
- Less Costly: Storing documents is costly, especially for businesses in prime locations. Printing costs money too; you pay for the paper itself, plus the printer, ink, postage, and printing equipment maintenance. Businesses can eliminate storage expenses by shifting to digital documents. With reduced, or eliminated need for storage of paper copies, your business may be able to move into a smaller location with lower rent to save even more by going paperless.
There are many productivity resources for reducing one’s personal paper usage, but taking a closer look at how paper is used across an organization will have the greatest impact. A key place to start looking is the point where paper comes into your organization, and digitizing it on entry.