Today, the paperless office is still more myth than it is an actual reality. Today's business world still runs on paper, often at a high cost to businesses.
Industry analysts are keen to point out the size and scale of the challenges around print:
Evidence suggests that rather than attempting to become paperless, a more valuable and realistic goal should be to become "paper light". This document considers the challenges businesses face and provides practical guidance on why and how to make the journey to a paper light future, with a focus on security, access and harnessing the value of the information.
Every year at least one study states that organisations are creating and using more and more paper documents than they did the year before.
In fact, the use of paper is actually increasing in a third of firms. Companies are trying to become more efficient, cost-effective and keep their information secure. To do this they must; improve the way they control the inflow of paper, manage documents that are essential to the business and decide how they make use of paper documents.
Trying to impose a complete ban on paper is clearly not the answer – and it doesn't address what to do with the legacy paper archives you've already built up.
At ITQ we believe that the best way forward is to embark on a journey that embraces digital and paper in a paper light environment. Going paper light is about gradually reducing your dependence on paper, introducing a managed and cost-effective digitisation program and taking your employees and processes with you every step of the way. It's about helping your business to release the full power and value of information in a way that is both realistic and achievable.
The first thing to do is to identify and collect the 'inactive' paper – those documents that you no longer need or are unlikely to access. Get them into a secure environment where the paper can be managed against defined retention periods but still accessed if required but scanning is not viable. Then it's time to transform how you handle your active documents across the business. People keep information close to hand because they want to refer to it regularly or get to it quickly. They need to have an acceptable alternative that combines ease of access with the benefit of secure storage and management.
Some employees are confident that, although they have significant amounts of paper documents in the workplace, that the paper is well organised and under control. They feel comfortable that they can access the documents they required easily and that their paper-based information is well managed. However many others are concerned that their businesses are failing to manage paper records securely, leaving sensitive and confidential information at risk of exposure. Situations occur such as confidential employee documents and business records on display in the office, either left behind on photocopiers and printers, or left out on desks. Office workers are typically seeing sensitive documents relating to colleagues' salary or bonus details, performance review or appraisal information and company financial information.
ITQ implemented a network scanning solution that played a major part in reducing the massive postage costs associated with sending printed documentation within the Exclusive Hotels Group. It had been common practice to post invoices and purchase orders. Scanning documents and sending them by email is easier for the sender, faster for the recipient and cheaper for the group. In addition there was an unmanageable print infrastructure. A diverse range of printers and multi-functional copiers the group had used in the four hotels and the fragmented support arrangements each hotel negotiated was replaced by ITQ with a solution that was simpler to maintain, simpler to use and more reliable.
Adopting a paper-light approach is then about digitising the documents that will be needed. It is an approach that saves time and office space. It cuts through the paper chaos, facilitating faster access to frequently needed documents, helping employees to work smarter and enabling businesses to provide a better service to their customers.
The concept of the "paperless office" was popularised in the 1970's and was intended to describe a vision of the future where businesses no longer used paper. This is far from the reality in offices today.
Despite the use of computers, tablets and smart phones and the creation of software solutions that can capture all kinds of information and send it flowing smoothly round an organisation – we simply cannot wean ourselves off paper. Figures from AIIM suggest that the use of paper is actually increasing in a third of firms, three quarters of invoices that arrive in PDF format get printed and almost half of paper documents scanned were created digitally. As you aim to become more efficient, cost-effective and information secure you need to improve the way you manage and use all this paper.
A paper light approach, however, embraces secure storage and document digitisation. This helps you get fast access to documents you need, saves you time and space, allows your people to work smarter and provides a better service to your customers. ITQ believe that a commitment to paper light should go hand-in-hand with a commitment to harness the value of information; the source of "big data".
However, there does appear to be a difference in perception between older and younger firms: those that have been in business for between two and five years are significantly more likely to anticipate a paper free future than firms older than ten years.
What is holding them back? For the older firms, this could include a more extensive back catalogue of paper records and entrenched paper-based business processes. But with more than half of younger firms similarly sceptical about the eradication of paper, there must be more to it than that.
Many organisations are finding it difficult to move beyond the first stage: getting to grips with all the paper they already have. Existing archives are often neglected or mismanaged. Many businesses store most of their paper records on office premises, and significant numbers going so far as to characterise their storage capabilities as 'chaotic', with little if any structure. Meaning some records placed in storage are never to be seen again. Storing documents in the office can be an expensive and high risk approach, with archives using up valuable office space and vulnerable to unauthorised access, heat, damp, atmospheric contaminants and even fire or flood. Half of businesses that suffer a catastrophic fire fail to continue, almost entirely due to lost data. Signatures - A study by AIIM found that the top concern about introducing paper free processes was the need for a physical signature on a form, despite the fact that in many cases electronic signatures are now legally valid. Lack of understanding of the benefits of paper reduction - Companies are failing to understand how reducing the amount of paper can actually help them to achieve other business objectives (such as improving information security). One study found that a paper free environment ranks behind the use of information, information security and the implementation of social media in terms of business priorities.
There is considerable confusion and concern about how to handle the 'hybrid' paper-digital information solution. This is further complicated by the fact that information often moves freely between paper and digital formats, sometimes existing as both at the same time, and often being amended or updated in one format but not in the other.
Research found that around two thirds of firms are concerned about the disconnect between information on paper and in digital form, and a third worry about the resource required to manage the factual accuracy, security and consistency across both digital and paper.
One of the overriding obstacles to paper reduction is the everyday reality of the office – a world where printers and photocopiers hum away in every corner and bins are overflowing with sheets of paper. In one study, it was found that fewer than half of office workers were aware of a centrally managed and secure archive system for paper if one was available, and a fifth say there are no rules and everyone just manages their own information as they see fit. We can confidently predict paper is not going away in the near future and the paperless office is still an elusive dream for many businesses. Recent studies found that almost a third of business executives in midmarket companies believe that the paper free office will not be a reality in the near future. So how can paper be more accessible and useful? Your business will face many challenges but the opportunities are greater. When it comes to paper, the focus turns to the introduction of a scanning, or digitisation programme. The most successful digitisation programmes are those that are designed to meet a wider business objective, such as:
The desire to move from paper heavy to paper light often begins when the business decides to embrace digital technologies more generally across the organisation. Research shows that customer service levels and response times could be improved by nearly a third if staff could immediately access customer and case-related information. Another study found that driving paper out of a process could quadruple response rates and boost staff productivity by a third. Yet more than a third of European executives feel they do not have the access to the customer information they need to provide strong levels of customer management. This is critical for improving customer service, such as speeding up the processing of insurance claims or being able to access in real-time a customer's ensure history with the firm The journey to paper light is not a straight line. Organisations start from different places and have different needs along the way. The information landscape changes so fast that there is also no fixed end point. The most important thing is to begin. To focus on the most important information or functions first (it is expensive and unnecessary to digitise everything and impractical to do> everything at once) and ensure your employees are with you all the way. If staff don't understand or won't accept the change, it will not succeed. The scenarios overleaf illustrate the various stages an organisation goes through on its journey to paper light. One of these should resemble where your organisation is now. Having established that, you can draw on the steps outlined to define how you can best move from where you are to where you want to be.
The Vineyard Group exists to serve customers who are interested in the finest wining, dining and accommodation. Customer service and impeccable presentation are the group's paramount concerns. A challenge for the group was the handling of purchase invoices, they were delivered to the individual hotels but settled by the head-office in Newbury. Copies had to be sent by post, incurring a delay of at least one day. Instead of posting invoices, each hotel now use their ITQ MFPs to scan the documents and email them to head-office. The process is fast, reliable and far cheaper than the alternative. Scan-to-email is far from revolutionary but it can be a complex process; staff might have been asked to type in email addresses, select a file format, scanning resolution, compression ratio and so on. ITQ simplified the process so staff could use single-button shortcuts to send documents to their regular destinations. The process became as simple as basic copying. ITQ's scan-to-email system has been augmented with a network fax facility to route faxes to email inboxes. The combination of the two systems has accelerated invoice processing and allowed the group to offer the administrative service its customers and suppliers expect whilst reducing costs.