For many years businesses have been told that they can improve their processes by reducing paper use and going digital in their information flows. For some reason the paperless workplace still does not seem to have traction in most businesses.
Certainly there have been steps taken to reduce paper, often in places like invoicing and issuing of account statements. Sometimes it has been in correspondence since the email has definitely overtaken the formal paper letter for much of the daily correspondence of most operations. Even with these changes the paperless workplace does not seem to be entrenched however.
I sometimes talk about the less paper office instead. It seems to me that this is achievable in most operations and with some effort it can lead to a substantial reduction in costs and also it can lead to a reduction in time expended carrying out daily transactions.
In a recent blog article John Mancini asks the question, "Is a paper-free workplace possible?".
As part of his analysis he suggests there are three key technologies which could go a long way to addressing the way people and their organizations cling to paper processes. The three are: the digital mailroom, portable scanning, and cloud systems. Read John's blog for his take on why these technologies have not been adopted given the advanced level of availability and low cost they enjoy with today's systems.
These three potential changes may not be the only ones that are needed to get an organization on a solid path to less paper but they do offer relatively easy potential for any business to be able to get a start.
Recently, we have been working with a major organization on developing an electronically based workflow to replace a current paper system so that they can streamline a challenging document distribution process. Without going into the details of the system and the changes the workflow will make for the individuals in the organization, I have observed that throughout the several months of design and testing a common theme for the working group has been, "How do you accomplish 'X' if we make this change." 'X' is often a secondary control system that has been put in place to track the transactions through the process so audit or management updates can be accomplished. In a recent meeting we quickly saw that in most cases the electronic system will completely eliminate the need for 'X' type reporting controls since a simple poll of the data inherent in the data base of the electronic workflow will permit the checks to be made without the need to build supplementary control tools.
This type of process change is what can be found in many digitally driven systems if the fundamental analysis is done as the redesign for implementation is worked through. Often the real gains are made in elimination of secondary work which was not helping produce the end result anyway.
While the paperless workplace may not be occurring the less paper workplace is definitely emerging as a primary part of many organizational structures. Find those places where you are doing repetitive secondary reporting for analysis and look to see if by building an electronic solution for the primary work you could eliminate or reduce the secondary load. Make these kinds of changes and you will see significant productivity gains.