The Paperless Office

Kevin Kraft
Improving business operation can have immense effects on the bottom line by cutting down on operational costs as well as streamlining existing tasks. Cutting down costs does not necessarily mean letting people go. On the contrary, improving how your business operates could actually free up good workers to deploy in other sections. Today I will talk about one way to make things easier around the office in the long run: creating a Paperless Office.

Maybe you have heard the term Paperless Office before. The idea of an all-digital work environment dates back to the mid 1970's. Back then they claimed things like the landscape of the usual office would be changed in such a way you wouldn't be able to recognize anymore. Finding a receipt would be just a few clicks away. No more searching through binders. "Is that an unrealistic dream?" you may be asking yourself today. Without lying to ourselves, at this time it may simply be impossible to move all information in a digital format; removing all paper. There are simply too many elements and outside sources, which are not that far. Don't kid yourself though, one day this will happen. Many paper-based tasks can easily be transferred to an all-digital format already. Finding the needed information in an office environment where all information is stored electronically would be so much more efficient than current paper based systems. Large corporations have saved millions of dollars; Microsoft for example saved in the first year alone well over 40 million dollars, by moving from paper to digital processes. There are banks that destroy all paper documents after scanning them and storing them in digital format.

The Paperless Office is so much more than just cutting down paper, it is about the ability to move information as quickly as possible. The ability to easily backup documents, find things easier, track tasks as they move along, have a digital history, and much more.

The topic of backups is an important one, and tends to get overlooked easily. Surprisingly enough, many organizations do not take the topic of "Backups" seriously enough. A complete backup is nearly impossible with a paper based system, but not so with an all digital system. Contracts, Orders, incoming faxes and mail, could be backed up in just a few minutes, depending on the volume. Another positive aspect of the Paperless Office is the security of files, there is no way you can protect a piece of paper with a password; unless of course you lock it in a vault.

There are several ways that you can move towards the almost complete paperless office; however, this is a venture that needs a lot of planning, commitment and in the early stages, time. Don't worry though, once you got used to it you will be able to feel the benefits. Establishing a file naming algorithm and a directory structure are essential if you choose to undertake such a project yourself. Scanning all incoming paper documents, running text recognition software over the scanned documents, and filing them in the correct directory are a good start. Ensure that all these documents are also available to the right people. This will require some form of file sharing structure. It could be in form of an intranet or even just a file server on your LAN.

ScanSoft offers such a software package; PaperPort. PaperPort makes it possible to quickly scan single or multi page documents that can be saved as PDF. It also has an indexing system and other very useful functions. If you have programming resources and a good project management team the development of your own indexing system would be another solution.

No matter how you twist or turn it, everything is moving to a digital world. You don't want to be left behind. Online banking, chatting, instant messaging, intranets, online shopping, e-mail, sms and so much more; even though you may not have noticed, these things are all part of the paperless "office."

The benefits of a Paperless Office are obvious. Can you transfer all documents to others with ease? Could you dissolve your physical office and have everybody work from home? Once the Paperless Office becomes more and more common, offices as we know them today may completely disappear.