Chasing after a paper-free business is a lot like trying to find the end of a rainbow. Why? Because it doesn’t exist. There will always be a point of entry by which paper comes into an organization. Vendors will send contracts. Customers will send purchase orders. Potential employees will bring resumes.
“Going paperless”—eliminating paper usage and managing documents in the cloud or web-based filing systems—sounds hip, smart, and eco-friendly. However, the reality is that paper still permeates the modern office. In a recent study, nearly half of organizations surveyed had made only 5% of progress toward paper-free processes, and 18% hadn’t even started yet.
The good news is that, although “going paperless” is an urban myth, paperless processes within your company are a reality. Many human resources (HR) departments have digitized their travel and expense reporting. AP departments have made payroll paperless. Businesses dealing with shipping orders to customers have moved their document management to digital – and all of them are reaping the benefits.
What’s the big deal about reducing paper?
Paper functioned as the modus operandi in business for a long time, but there are quite a few compelling reasons to support rethinking paper as the foundation of our business processes.
Paper is a productivity killer.
When talented employees have to spend half their day shifting papers from person to person and pile to pile, it pulls them away from what they were hired to do. Folks in accounts payable (AP) spend a large portion of their time on mundane paperwork, redundant data entry, or finding documents instead of doing their actual jobs.
Paper is sluggish.
Paper-based processes can be incredibly inefficient. A paper document can sit on someone’s desk for a week without being routed to the next person, slowing the whole process down. Even if you have a standard routing process for approvals, it becomes hard to manage and enforce without some kind of digital automation.
Paper is costly.
Dealing with paper—from finding and filing to delivering documents— is costly. Not only does hunting down important documents in email or files consume precious time, but maintaining storage for paper documents becomes expensive in the long run. Printing and sending paper documents racks up costs as well, as businesses must continually pay for printing, toner, ink, and postage. In addition, the physical nature of paper could present potentially disastrous security-related costs.
Consider a few statistics:
- It takes about 18 minutes on average to search for a document
- A typical employee spends 30-40% of their time hunting for information within email, documents, filing cabinets, etc.
- A four-drawer file cabinet holds an average of 10,000 documents and costs $1,500 per year
- More than 70% of today’s businesses would fail within 3 weeks if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records due to fire or flood
Why paperless is preferable
There’s an obvious ROI to paperless processes. Storing and managing forms and documents in the cloud or an on-premise document management system means less money spent on paper and storage costs, as well as greater employee ROI from time saved. With digital document management, you can be more productive, managing and finding important information faster. And paperless processes often integrate with your enterprise resource planning (ERP) and line of business (LOB) to support overall usability.
How to achieve a less paper-intensive process
Take a current business process and run it through the following three steps to see if it could benefit from going totally or partially paperless with the help of a digital document management solution:
1. Evaluate your current process
Are your current processes working well without hitting any barriers? Are they taking too long? If there are bottlenecks, identify the problem area and hone in on what exactly needs to be optimized.
2. Identify spots where you can simplify or streamline
Maybe there’s a clearly repeated redundancy in the process that can be simplified; for instance, someone is habitually taking pre-printed forms and re-keying all the information. Or maybe something specific like a purchase requisition requires approval from number of people, and you need to make that process move faster. Perhaps a paper document is being passed between departments and should really be scanned and captured to a digital document management system for greater efficiency. If you start to look, most companies can find ways in which they can streamline data capture processes.
3. Consider starting with electronic
Could you turn that paper-based form into an online form to begin with? You may get to the end of a process and realize that, having digitized most of it, it’d be best to start electronic in the first place. An entirely digital process allows you greater control over enforcing document workflows and approvals, and it gives you maximum efficiency so that business operations can be more quick and easy.
If you want to manage, find, and share electronic documents faster, it can be done and doesn’t have to be painful. All you need is the right digital document management solution.