The Paperless Office – Myth or Reality

The Paperless Office – Myth or Reality

With advent of personal computers some 40 years ago, the first whispers of the paperless office commenced. Technologists believed that the screen and PC would eliminate the need for paper-based documents and records. Fast forward to 2020 and everyone's still talking about it, whilst the overall usage of paper continues on an upward trend. So, the paperless office - myth or are there green shoots that it's finally going to become a widespread reality?

Looking from the outside, the answer isn't a simple "yes" or "no", as it lies somewhere in between. Certainly, with the range of technology available in 2020 (more on this later) it is now realistic to believe it will become much more common to use less paper in the office however it's still unrealistic to think it's likely to ever be completely eliminated.

If we step back into the 1980's the early adopters of personal computers started to understand and visualise the potential for huge productivity improvements through the use of newly emerging software applications. Also the pathway toward digitising many hard copy analogue elements of traditional office workflows started to appear and this is what led to extravagant claims about the concept of the "paperless" office.

As we all know, wonderful theories about workflow, workplace and individual automation are abundant but sadly not all materialise as feasible in the real world. Many obstacles can stand in the way of these theories and usually it comes down to the cost of implementation, preferred habits of employees and the disruptive nature of the “new” great idea.

With the introduction of more economical and accessible storage (think Storage Area Network or SAN, Cloud based applications like Dropbox, external HDDs) the concept of how to appropriately deal with the previously “all important paper documents” was beginning to provide a clearer pathway to more digital options. Not quite the paperless office, but more of a hybrid model. Changes to legislation and regulations also means that many important legal and regulatory documents can now be authorised “on-screen” and submitted electronically. Inexpensive high-speed broadband internet access also makes it easy to share and access electronic files from anywhere that you get online.

To take the radical step of removing all the printing devices from the office with the exception of a stand-alone scanning device to achieve the “Paperless Office”, would be possible and that business may continue to operate without generating any new paper documents. However, the issue that the business owner will be forced to deal with is a group of disgruntled workers forced to do everything onscreen and online - read, review, sign, and process all business documents online. As we know, not everyone is ready for such a radical change in work practices!

However, such a revolution in your business practices is not necessary. What is becoming more commonplace in small to medium businesses (SMB) is that previously manual tasks, which required multiple pieces of paper for approval, are now being automated. Yes, it may mean some changes and some training for staff to embrace the new processes and there will probably be some push back from some staff. However, those same workers resistant to radical change have willingly absorb many new automated work applications and practices because their jobs have become incrementally easier. Just think back to the days of paper-based faxes, statements, invoices, multi-part forms, carbon copies, a multitude of application forms, etc. etc. The list is endless and the greatest change has been seen in business workflow approval automation applications. A paper-based document gets scanned into the application and is then dealt with via the “business rules” that have been developed for that particular type of document. This means that invoices and purchase orders would have different “business rules” within an application.

This is what leads to the final point with regards to why it has become so important for businesses to adopt efficient, electronic workflows. Workflows that reduce the amount of paper in the office but, more importantly, improve the customer experience while simultaneously improving efficiency and reducing cost are what an SMB needs. In business, it's brutal, ultimately only the fittest survive and eliminating waste and inefficiencies become vital requirements for surviving as a business.

Furthermore, as the SMB workforce becomes increasingly mobile, to be calling back to the home office for time-sensitive business information is wasted time and effort. Especially when compared to a quick online search to get what's needed, there's no contest in terms of what's necessary to be successful in today's business environment.

To get started on your journey towards reduced cost and improved efficiency please visit the contact tab at the top right of our website and make this the start point to consuming less paper in your office.

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