The Paperless Office – Its Time has Come

Computers have long been slated to replace paper. In fact, Business Week published an article about the paperless office as early as 1975, according to Wikipedia. Three decades later, not only are we are still waiting for the paperless office to manifest, but the same Wikipedia article stated that paper use doubled between the years of 1980 – 2000 due to the use of computer printers and faxes.

Today, with the political and societal push towards green living and environmental stewardship, the paperless office call to action is greater than it has been in decades. The Paperless Project is one coalition of businesses who have joined forces to encourage others to reduce their paper usage and carbon footprint through content management and imaging technologies. The coalition’s web site points to paper as the “number one bottleneck for companies” and has created a “GO GREEN” initiative which “converts common paper intensive processes to automated work-flows.”   

The coalition has its work cut out for it. Paper-full offices have a formidable history and it may take some convincing before businesses and organizations give up their paper. An article titled The Social Life of Paper and  penned by Pulitzer Prize winning author Malcom Gladwell provides a brief history: The use of office paper  accelerated due to increasing industrialization in the late nineteenth century: the monthly sales report, the office manual and company newsletter all grew out of an effort to organize the newly expanding glut of information. Technologies, like the typewriter and carbon paper, contributed to paper proliferation - which called out for a mass filing system. The turn of the century brought the Dewey Decimal System and the card catalogue, courtesy of Melvil Dewey (a man so intent on creating efficiency that he changed his name from Melville to Melvil). 

Since Melville became Melvil, we have become a paper-dependant society. The Paperless Project states that up to 80% of business processes are still being managed on paper. In 2002, MIT social scientists Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper published the book, The Myth of the Paperless Office. The authors outline psychological reasons that humans tend towards paper documents rather than information presented on-screen: paper is tangible; we can pick it up, flip through pages and pick and choose what we read; we can spread pages out on a desk or floor arranging it any way that best suits us. Documents piled on a desk represent a thought process; often it’s easier on the eye to read off paper than the screen. 

But with today’s culture moving towards sustainable living and green computing -- and when one assesses the cost and inefficiencies of paper -- the paperless office starts to look more attractive than ever.  Wikipedia bulleted out a number of pain points for paper-heavy offices. Here are just some examples which contribute to costly and inefficient document management:

  • On average a document is copied 9 to 11 times – if you multiply 11 copies times millions of pages generated daily, the paper piles really stack up.
  • Paper document filing costs average $20 per copy –filing costs increase in tandem with growing piles of paper – that adds up to a major expense very quickly
  • Large organizations lose a document every twelve seconds, costing companies between $350 to $700 a piece to recover.

In contrast, here are a few benefits of electronic documents:

  • They do not take up physical space because they are stored on a server.
  • You can locate an electronic document quickly through a file search.
  • Electronic documents are shared electronically via email, shared servers, posted on web sites, or other means - which streamlines document workflow.
  • Printing is still an option with electronic content
  • Security is much more enforceable with electronic documents than paper

These benefits translate into a more efficient document workflow process, which means less time wasted, more cost savings and less need for physical storage space. As far as environmental stewardship is concerned, it translates into less paper waste and less need for deforestation. 

However, we haven’t perfected the management of electronic documents. Everyone has received a document that he or she can not open; or opened a document only to find it doesn’t render properly and can not be read. Documents are created in such a vast array of file formats that there is no guarantee all intended recipients will have the necessary file-format support to open the files they receive. In many cases, the target readers' will also need the ability to manipulate, highlight, annotate, or edit data in a digital format, too. File formats also become outdated; it’s possible that some documents won’t be readable by future computer systems or will require a costly and time-consuming conversion process.

Given those challenges, businesses may still hesitate before making a commitment to going paperless. But there is a solution: A zero footprint document viewer utilizing AJAX technology provides document access through any web browser -- any user who can access a web browser can access your content (given that he or she has permissions). A well-designed zero footprint viewer will retrieve documents from the server regardless of their original format and then automatically convert files to temporary, web-friendly formats -- such as a JPEG or PNG -- for display in a user session. Some provide server-side caching and processing that enable users to select specific pages for display rather than download an entire multi-page document.   And there are Zero Footprint viewers on the market that provide the ability to make dynamic requests to a server repository; this enables powerful processing capabilities like manipulation, redaction and annotation in real-time, regardless of platform or location. 

Beyond being a critical component to the successful implementation of a Paperless Office and offering a more environmentally-friendly way of conducting business, the Zero Footprint viewer offers a number of other benefits: It eliminates costly and time consuming batch conversion requirements because it can support files in their original format. It simplifies the user’s viewing process because end-user environments, applications, or document formats do not impede their viewing ability. Those that offer server-side caching and processing deliver specific page(s) from documents of any size in seconds, minimizing interruptions and delays to keep workflows consistently moving. Measurably shorter document processing cycles and increased efficiency means increased ROI.

Now that technology has progressed to the point where the internet connects individuals and organizations across oceans and continents, we have yet another round of rapidly expanding information. Our ability to ensure quick access, retrieval, viewing and processing capabilities needs to increase in tandem; providing quality viewing technology grows in importance as information distribution accelerates and businesses strive to stay competitive.  Businesses worldwide also have more responsibility to incorporate processes that will mitigate environmental damage.  Zero Footprint technology offers an environmentally friendly option that will save you money, increase your efficiency and streamline your workflow - enabling you to accomplish more in less time. 

Given all of these benefits and the opportunity to mitigate your environmental impact, there’s no reason to wait any longer – the time for the Paperless Office is now. 

To learn more about The Paperless Project Coalition or to request a consultation to help you realize your Paperless office goal, contact us today.

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