THE PAPERLESS OFFICE
Combined, U.S. offices generate almost four million tons of paper waste each year.
The American Forest and Paper Association
We live in an “e” age. Email, eMusic, eDocs, eBooks. All this e-technology has infiltrated our personal lives as well as our professional lives. The promise of an eOffice – also known as a paperless office – always seems to be lurking just beyond the next new e-tool. A 2010 Pew survey on science and technology found that more than 60 percent of Americans think our future will be at least partly free of paper. In 2009, the U.S. government began pushing an entire industry in that direction. The healthcare industry has been tasked converting and storing their medical records electronically and has been held to account through compliance mandates.
Will the rest of us ever be truly capable of getting there?
There are numerous reasons for wanting to get there. In theory, the environmental argument alone is reason enough for most people to push for a paperless office. In 2006 alone, it was estimated that U.S. companies printed 1.5 trillion pages(1).
Within an office environment, the continual chase to optimize business processes, reduce costs and improve workflow efficiencies also drive the adoption of digital-only technologies.
So what’s keeping us from adopting a completely paperless office?
Similar Issues and Bad Habits
No doubt that your company has by this time adopted a digital filing system that augments – but rarely completely replaces – an analog filing system. And no doubt you still face the same problems with both. Which folder is that document in? Is it the right version? Is it the latest version? We’ve moved from one platform to the other, but our organizational bad habits remain unchecked. Much as it did when our offices were paper-only, document workflow often remains unmonitored. Jack might store his documents one way, while his co-worker Jill has her own method.
Access points can also keep efficient document workflow at bay. In a paper-only office, there was usually at least one person who understood the filing system and had the ability to retrieve the required document. Today, an employee out in the field might need to access your company’s cloud-based document storage on their mobile phone. For their sake, let’s hope that at least a bit of thought has gone into mobile access.
Security issues are more relevant today than they ever were before. In the days when filing cabinets held a prominent place in every office, security measures were simple – locks on the doors and locks on the drawers. Effective? Usually, but not always. These days, of course, security issues come at us from many more angles. From the outside – online maliciousness is rampant. Viral programs such as malware can creep in through the smallest security gap. From the inside – employee driven security issues, both intended and unintended, are a constant concern.
Our bad habits notwithstanding – there is also still a very real, tangible reliance on paper as a backup to our digital workflow. How many of us still print out a copy of that email, or that report, or that spreadsheet, even though we don’t really have to? And when that same salesperson out in the field wants to leave something with a potential client, or when a company needs something to hand out at a tradeshow, how often is that something a digital document?
Although most legal mandates are ambiguous on the subject of analog versus digital record keeping, some offices may only have the ability to remain compliant of those legal mandates by providing analog versions of their output. Paper is also almost universally accepted as valid for contracts and other legal documents. Analog signatures are far more familiar and usually more than any sort of digital signature.
In some instances, utilization of electronic record keeping have actually led to the generation of more printed documents. Some industry regulations require such extensive record-keeping that every electronic record has to have a paper duplicate. Some digital record systems don’t always work well together, so when documents are ported from one system to another, printed versions are often relied upon to complete the transfer.
A paperless workflow, it seems, does not yet seem to have the capability to completely negate our reliance on at least some paper-based output.
Many businesses have adopted the much more realistic and prudent goal of reducing their reliance on paper output, as opposed to completely eliminating it. In cooperation with a properly designed managed print service, eTechnologies do, ultimately, facilitate easier access to documents, help employees work smarter and more efficiently, and enable a company to make better decisions and provide a better service to their customers by enabling them to be more responsive.
So we are still moving toward the paperless office, just not as fast as some people might have anticipated. In 1975, Evelyn Berezin, president of Redactron (the second-largest supplier of word-processing typewriters behind IBM), said “It always takes longer than we expect to change the way that people customarily do their business.” She was right.
Even the most paper-light office will need access to proper management of its print and output environment. Managed Print Services from Capital Business Systems assess, and when appropriate leverage, your existing investments in printing technology while continually monitoring hardware usage, so that your document creation process matches your business requirements and budget.