Do you still print every report, document, email, etc.?
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, document imaging was introduced to businesses and everyone thought we were headed for a paperless society. Since then, advancements in scanning hardware, software, and workflow processes made it easier to create paperless offices with greater efficiency and dramatic cost reductions. In addition, document management systems, electronic filing, and email have contributed to that effort. The days of printing paper and copying large scale document productions are over. Or are they?
According to AIIM Industry Watch titled: “Paper Wars 2014 – an update from the battlefield”, over 50% of the respondents still print documents to take with them to meetings or for adding a signature, and the most resistant to go paper-free are those in legal and finance. That makes sense because there are a lot of paper filings in legal, and various paper receipts, forms, invoices, etc. flowing through finance. Even with electronic filing systems in use for over 10 years in many federal and state courts, document management systems in the cloud or behind a firewall, and electronic workflow solutions available for capturing costs and expenses, the legal profession and finance still rely and prefer working with paper copies.
The incentives to reduce paper use in the workplace are still significant. From an environmental point of view, Gartner estimates that the U.S. spends $25-35 billion a year filing, storing and retrieving paper. Instead of going paperless, however, we are actually accelerating in our use of paper. According to Gartner, the annual growth rate of the amount of paper produced by the average company is about 25%. Each day, an estimated 1 billion photocopies are made.
So why have we found it so hard to break the addiction to paper?
One explanation can be viewed as the result of what is called the “Jevons paradox”. English economist William Jevons noted in 1865 that improvements in the efficiency of coal use led not to a reduction but to an increase in consumption. The Jevons paradox is definitely at work in the use of paper as our exposure and access to documents has increased massively as has the ease in printing and photocopying those documents.
Another element is that although technology has improved to the point where reading a document on a device is almost the same as reading it on paper, it hasn’t improved to the point where it completely replicates the use of paper. To change workflow so as to not use paper requires people to change work practices as a whole rather than simply substitute a computer screen for paper.
So here we are in 2017. Have we achieved the paperless office? Not by a long shot. According to the AIIM report, there is much room to grow toward creating effective workflows to eliminate reliance on paper. One of the areas that could use drastic improvement is in the area of scanning mail, especially for smaller firms. Depending on the volume of mail a company receives on a daily basis, the concept of scanning all inbound mail at point-of-entry and routing it around the business electronically is very attractive, especially if it can significantly reduce or even eliminate internal mail distribution. That process can have substantial savings in time and money. The key is finding the best hardware and software that integrates with the firm’s resources such as financial, records, email, document management, etc.
The report also indicates that the market for capture software is healthy, with most of those surveyed expecting to spend more on workflow and OCR/ICR applications as well as capture systems in general. Although the investment in scanners and capture servers for scan-on-entry systems can be considerable, most of the respondents saw a strong ROI, with 38% reporting payback in 12 months or less, and 60% within 18 months.
The idea of the paperless office shouldn’t be a goal. Rather, companies should strive to become paper LESS, reducing the amount of paper reliance and consumption. Finding the right solution and workflow is key to a successful paperless office. I agree with the findings in the report that indicate change management, integration, and process definition are given as the biggest issues for any size company. Capturing as early in the process as possible is given as the biggest lesson learned. Partnering with a solutions expert that can provide the hardware, software, and workflow expertise is the best way to start. You can save a lot of money, create greater efficiency, remain compliant with legal requirements, and reduce the amount of paper storage and usage throughout your company.