About That Paperless Office


by Samuel Greengard

I consider it nothing short of a cruel irony that my paperless office is overflowing with paper. Piles and piles of paper. Documents, invoices, advertisements, catalogs, brochures, business cards, receipts, and assorted flotsam and jetsam. Sorry, I refuse to file things that I'll probably never want to retrieve anyway.

Bulletin: computers are pretty good at handling all this stuff. Everything I actually want stays in the computer, goes on a personal cloud, and it's all accessible via my laptop and iPhone. I have search tools to find data and documents quickly.

Yet, apparently, I'm one of only a handful of people in the Western Hemisphere who hates paper. Xerox found that, on average, U.S. office workers print 10,000-12,000 sheets of paper per year. Paper consumption in the U.S. has tripled over the last decade. We now blast through more than 700 billion sheets of paper annually. Read this.

I still hear about people printing all their e-mails! And how often do I receive an invoice or statement through the mail when a PDF would do just fine? Um...let's see...every single day. Meanwhile, accounts payable departments can't figure out how to set up EFTs and Apple seems to be the only major brick-and-mortar retailer that can e-mail me a receipt.

It's downright pathetic that in an era of business intelligence, document management systems, mobile devices, e-signatures and electronic funds transfers this is the best we can do.

Instead of finding reasons why you can't get rid of paper, let's think about how we can do so--and save a pile of money in the process. Most companies have already figured out that they can post statements online and pocket a chunk of change by reducing mailing costs.

But wait, there's more...

Businesses can crumple the paper jam and reap huge productivity gains by viewing matters in a more holistic way. According to the Association for Information and Image Management, the lifecycle cost of a typical document is over $20.

I'm not advocating the elimination of paper but it is certainly feasible to reduce it, merge two parallel universes, and wind up with more efficient and cost effective processes.

How to transform paper into pixels?

1). Build effective document management systems and develop efficient workflows. Make it easy for workers to transfer PDF files across systems and devices, including smartphones. Click here for more

2). Establish policies that dictate how people will handle documents and data.

3). Make printing a bit of a hassle. If you have to walk across the office you might think twice about printing 22 calendar items on separate sheets of paper.

4). Mandate change. If you make adoption voluntary you can bet people will resist. Yes, there's an adjustment period but people will adapt quickly if they have no choice.

5. Develop a task force or appoint a czar to reengineer long-established processes that nobody questions (i.e. mailing checks to vendors and suppliers and requiring hard copy signatures).

Okay, forget paperless. Just a bit less paper would be a good start.