Thirty years ago, futurists predicted that wide adoption of computer technology in the workplace would create “paperless” offices. Like a lot of predictions, this one has not exactly come to pass. In fact, we might use more paper now than before the advent of computers.
On the other hand, though, maybe that’s about to change. Remarkably low data storage prices, cloud data management and storage, and new data processing techniques and technologies are finally making something close to an actual paperless office both achievable and affordable.
Meanwhile, steadily rising paper prices and environmental concerns might make dumping paper and copier costs an attractive goal for small and midsize businesses. So, how can your business make the move to a (mostly) paperless office environment? And should it even try?
The basic format for converting paper documents into digital formats for manipulation and storage has been around for 23 years now. The PDF, or Portable Document Format, not only works like a picture of a paper document, todays’ state-of-the-art PDFs rather easily can be converted into truly digital strings of data for editing, collaboration, transmission, reproduction and storage. All that’s needed is a viable strategy and some rather basic equipment.
Still, transitioning your company to a paperless environment requires careful planning. Not only must hardware and software be bought and/or built to take your company paperless, your thought and organizational processes may well need some overhaul, too.
Going Paperless is Harder Than It Seems
Because all the information your company generated in the past has been stored on hard-to-file, hard-to-catalogue, hard-to-retrieve paper, your company has created included huge amounts of data overlap.
Data in a paperless environment is easy to file, catalogue and retrieve, the need for such massive amounts of data overlap is all-but eliminated.
Thus how data is compiled, catalogued, stored and retrieved can be dramatically rethought in order to achieve efficiency. Also, how different employees around your company access and use data, and how they collaborate with each other in manipulating and making decisions based on that data will change when your company goes paperless.
If those changes are not well thought out – and well-planned – before the move to a paperless office, the result can be a kind of chaotic where no one knows where every bit of data is stored or how to access it all.
A number of well-known Data Management System products and suites of products exist today. Microsoft’s SharePoint, IBM, Google, Jive Software and Box are just some of the better known DMS products on a market that features lots of smaller, niche and business category-specific DMS products as well.
Your Company Needs Expertise in Making the Switch
Each has its strengths and its weaknesses, so it makes sense to engage a team of highly qualified IT pros in helping match your company with the right system, and to help tailor the system you choose to meet your company’s specific needs.
The key element in every good DMS system is the search function. The easier and faster it is for system users to find pieces of data, the more effective and cost efficient the system is. And the more cost efficient it is, the more money it can actually save your company. As it becomes easier for employees to access data on their computer screens than to print it out on paper, your company will begin saving money. And when it becomes easier for employees to access data from home, a hotel room, or their kid’s dance recital via their mobile devices (vs. toting around briefcases full of print outs) your company will begin saving lots of money.
There are hardware and software considerations as well when your company looks at going paperless. What type of scanning devices will work best? What programs will work best? And what kind of digital storage is appropriate? Will your company begin accepting digital signatures? How will you protect client and proprietary data? And how will you backup data to guard against permanent data loss? Those are all questions you company will have to deal with in any case, but how you answer them may change some if you move toward a paperless environment.
So maybe it’s a good time for you to invite a qualified team of advisors look at your company’s operations. Maybe they’ll find that you’re better off by continuing to churn out lots of paper. But perhaps you will be surprised by how much can be saved by making a well-planned-and-executed move to a (nearly) paperless environment.