How to Go Paperless: Your Definitive Guide to Going Paperless in the Office

What Does it Mean?

What Does It Mean?

No matter what office you work in, you’ve heard people talk about going paperless. At its simplest, “going paperless” means: using paper… less. That seems like something you could do with a couple of interns, a scanner, and a shredder. But going paperless doesn’t simply mean scanning documents to your shared network. To solve your paper problem comprehensively, you'll need software that can manage documents better than a filing cabinet or network folders.

So you have to acknowledge two things:

1) Paper causes problems,


2) Your filing system (no matter how organized) slows you down.

Here’s the proof. Do your filing cabinets save you money? Does printing take tedious steps out of your process? Are your paper documents secure? Can you control access? Do your documents help you process and ship orders faster?

If you aren’t using an electronic document management solution (EDMS), you probably answered “No.” And that means your paper processes aren’t helping you reach your business goals.

Here’s a more nuanced definition of “going paperless”: changing workflows to better achieve your goals. The right EDMS will organize and route any kind of file for invoicing, order processing, employee onboarding—any key business processes.

So, going paperless requires more than using paper less or storing documents differently. Digitizing your filing cabinets doesn't make documents easy to find and editable—yet secure with version control. You can’t set up workflows to route documents without manual intervention. That’s how an EDMS helps.

Choosing the Right Document Management Solution

Choosing the Right Document Management Solution

Too often, organizations don't devote the necessary time to research and evaluate solutions. Instead they install a quick fix. But when they realize their software doesn’t fit their needs or is hard to install, they have to backtrack. Take time to research and plan so you end up with a solution that fits your current needs and can adapt as you need it to.

Start by evaluating your current situation. You have to identify your needs both to choose a solution and to prove the need to the decision-makers (more later on getting buy-in). Any solution that streamlines your processes and saves you time will have a price tag. So, identify problems, evaluate business goals, and compel your stakeholders to act.

What costs the most in your paper processes? Postage, paper, printer maintenance, filing cabinets, space for filing cabinets, and—the most costly of all—time. Going paperless will save time and money. Keep reminding your stakeholders of this value. You might want to use our ROI calculator as a proof point.

Where do processes lag? And what keeps the business from achieving goals or meeting requirements?

Identify departments with the greatest need

Each department has processes for document creation, routing, and storage. Understand your organization's document and forms processes by asking your department leaders three questions:

1. How often do you route printed documents?

2. Which business processes include the most paper?

3. How much time does your team spend manually keying information into systems?

The answers can help determine what kind of system you need. For example, does routing printed documents, waiting on approvals, or rekeying information cause holdups? Look for automated data capture and document routing.

The answers also show you which departments need the solution most. Once identified, they can help with decision making. And you’ll know who to support most in the implementation process.

Where are you now?

Our process assessment can help you evaluate your current position and determine what kind of solution you need.

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Find the paper jams

If your business assembles, routes, and distributes documents on a regular basis, paper can bring your processes to a halt in countless ways.

When paper documents and forms route, they can get misplaced or forgotten. You might have to route the same document multiple times. Your purchase order (PO) or invoice might sit at the bottom of a stack for months, costing you either the revenue for the sale or a charge for late payment. If you don’t have automated data capture, your teams will be manually rekeying data, a redundant, boring, and error-prone method. And to top it all off, mailing out paper documents causes bottlenecks and adds to the bill with envelopes and postage.

Identify the paper jams, then try to quantify the difference automation or workflows would make. How many employee hours per year could you save? How much faster could documents be approved? How much could you save on postage? How much more efficiently could you process orders? How much faster could you send your invoices… and get paid? These proof points help with getting buy-in and identify the features you'll value most in a solution.

Figure out where customers interact with your documents and forms

How do your customers interact with documents? Where could you transform the customer experience to be self-serve? Many customers prefer self-service over calling and being placed on hold. Making service requests, data access, and account setup available online could set you apart from the competition. Not to mention it’s more secure to access information in a password-protected environment than sending over email or on the phone.

A powerful, easy-to-use solution benefits everyone involved. It makes your internal processes simpler, which provides customers with faster service. And if forms or document access are part of your customer experience, a professional, simple interface will improve it. Customers will be able to get the information they need and give you the information you need—all without struggling with complicated forms or document systems.

Determine if you need to prove compliance

These days, regulations such as HIPAA, SOX, and GDPR require companies to take documented measures for data confidentiality and integrity.

An EDMS can provide an audit trail of when documents are received, sent, or edited. Built-in security prevents unauthorized access, maintaining data confidentiality. If you need to prove compliance, choose a solution that makes the process painless.

Your Entry-Level Introduction to Document and Image Management

What Could an EDMS Do?

What Could an EDMS Do?

Get to know the possibilities. You can’t pick a solution that does everything you need without knowing what it could be doing for you. While solution features vary, here’s an idea of what an EDMS might include:

  • Electronic document creation
    • Pull data from your database into a PO, invoice, patient record, or other official document
    • Extract data from printed or electronic forms to update your system
  • Workflows to route and store documents reliably, quickly, and securely
    • Set up approval processes for document routing
    • Schedule invoices and reports to go out to customers
  • Form creation and routing
    • Capability to design custom forms
    • Workflows to automate processes like onboarding, invoice processing, and PO requisition
  • Digital signatures and approvals
    • Workflows to automatically get approval from the right people
    • Ink or digital signature capture
  • Connections with ERPs and databases
    • Keep data consistent across different systems
    • Pull data from customer records to create POs or other documents
  • Version control
    • Visibility into who made changes and when
    • Ability to revert back to previous versions
  • Compliance proof with audit records
  • Data capture from existing paper documents
  • FTP and email folder monitoring
    • Pull POs, invoices, and completed forms from email folders directly into your systems
    • Automatically send files from FTP through workflows
  • Tagging and keyword search functionality
    • Tag documents with keywords for organization
    • Easily find and retrieve documents from archival

Take the relevant items from this list and make them into a checklist to evaluate possible solutions.

Get Buy-In From Key Decision Makers

Get Buy-In From Key Decision Makers

Who are the decision makers?

Your buy-in process will have two phases. First you’ll identify people who approve the idea and budget for the project. Keep this group limited to people with authority over IT spending, process changes, or software integration. Use the evidence you've already gathered to prove the need from a business perspective. Point to the steps in your processes where things get backed up. Show the places where an EDMS could help.

Then, to make the financial case, use the numbers.

You’ve shown that the processes need it; now show how this affects the bottom line.

Let’s say you have 250 employees at your organization. Studies have shown that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper each year, and printing a single page costs approximately $.10.

If your 250 employees each use just 5,000 sheets of paper each year, half of what the average office worker uses, that cost comes out to:

.10 (per page) x 5,000 (number of pages) = $500 (one employee’s paper cost)

$500 (one employee’s paper cost) x 250 (number of total employees) = $125,000 in paper costs

In one year alone, you could save far more than a document management solution would cost, in printing costs alone. This doesn’t even take into account the hours saved with a streamlined solution. When your employees don’t have to waste time printing documents, hunting down the person who last had it in the routing process, or looking for a misplaced file, they can stay focused on their value-adding activities.

Once your high-level decision-makers approve, move on to the user base.

Ask your key users (from the departments with the greatest need) and IT people who will deploy the software what they value in a solution. Share the same proof points you used for your high-level users. Fill them in on the most important things for your organization to consider.

Use their feedback to narrow down your options for solutions. Pick 3-5 options that fit the majority of your stakeholders’ needs, then show them to your user team. Ask for feedback, then narrow down the options from there. If your user team agrees on a solution, go back to the high-level group to present the benefits… and the estimated investment.

Your decision-making process may not be linear. At this point someone might bring up a new problem point none of your researched solutions solve. You’ll have to determine if it’s important enough to look for another solution that could help. Remember: it’s worth the time spent evaluating with stakeholders and key users before you buy.

Think about these seven key questions as you check out possible solutions:

1. Can you create and customize documents and forms to fit your needs?

The right solution will help you create personalized forms and reports to fit customer needs or business processes. You can also set up your files to be formatted, distributed, and archived automatically. Different industries have various needs when it comes to forms and documents. Your chosen solution should fit your current needs yet be flexible enough to change if you need it.

2. Will this solution make routing easier? Does it solve your specific bottlenecks?

Remember, document capture is the beginning. You also need to route for reviews, approvals, or notifications. Determine if this solution can speed up processes by addressing your issues. Can you use business rules to route, distribute, and store documents and data? Assess how easily your colleagues or customers can collaborate. Can AP and HR be part of the same digital payroll workflow? Can your shipping department confirm that a customer received their order through saved digital signatures?

3. How will the capture process work? Does it provide the right level of automation?

Automatic document capture feeds the invoice, PO, or other document directly into your system for routing. If you have a high volume of documents coming into your system, you may need a higher level of automation.

4. Will this solution integrate with other back-end solutions and ensure data accuracy?

The information on your documents needs to match up with your back-end business systems. Document capture automation can make that connection for you for consistent data.

5. Does this system give you access to your documents when you need them?

Filing cabinets are not portable. You can’t access those paper documents while you’re on the road or in a client meeting on the other side of town. Choose a solution with mobile routing and reference capabilities if that supports your business.

6. Does the solution come with support for installation and implementation?

There are always challenges with software installation, no matter which system you choose. A dedicated support team or resource center can make all the difference as you get started with a new solution.

7. Will this solution save you time and money in the long run?

Your EDMS should save you money, the longer you use it. And it’s a given that it should save you time. If a solution won’t do either or both, it won’t solve your problem.

Consider your business needs, stakeholder feedback, and the answers to these key questions. Then choose a solution.

Next, you'll determine where to begin implementing and plan to ensure its success. After that, you can define milestones for your internal team and your solution provider to track progress.

Implement and Evaluate

Implement and Evaluate

Working with your IT department and key user groups, introduce the solution in phases. Choose a few groups for beta testing before rolling it out to the whole company. These beta users can tackle the initial challenges and set up processes. Then you can roll out to all users with standards and processes in place.

Typically, Human Resources (HR), Accounts Payable (AP), and Accounts Receivable (AR) have the most paper in their processes. Because of that, they could be the most motivated to get a solution up and running. Once your first user group is trained, they will need to translate their processes to work within the EDMS. This will include recreating forms, documents, and workflows. Allow a few months for this transition, remembering that starting small makes for a smoother process.

Ask yourself: How will you use this system today and in the future? Which users and groups need to be included, and what level of access will they need? What kind of documents will you be capturing?

Improve processes with future changes in mind. And as you make changes, start scanning documents to pave the way for paperless processes.

When Can I Start Shredding and Recycling?

In most cases documents can be shredded immediately after being scanned. You may have to keep some of the documents on hand for a few months before you can shred them, for regulatory compliance. But for the most part, as long as you can reproduce the document from your system, you don’t have to retain the paper. 

Your EDMS will most likely have an option to backup your data to its server. If you already have a daily backup strategy in place for your other server, this should be an easy addition to the process. Another option is to back files up to cloud storage, providing extra peace of mind in case of an on-premise server outage.

Communicate Changes to Your Customers and Vendors

As you figure out your new internal processes, determine how external processes will change. Take note of the benefits and process improvements and communicate these in detail to your customers and vendors. Also, describe how relationships will be different going forward. The external contacts you deal with on a regular basis will appreciate knowing you have a plan. And if the processes are smoother for them, you’ll have greater loyalty and satisfaction.

Watch Your Processes Get Smoother and Less Costly

You've done the work of understanding your situation. You chose the best solution for your organization. Following your phased implementation, sit back and enjoy the benefits! Keep tabs on your teams to make sure they're maximizing for a great ROI. Then watch the bills go down and productivity go up.

Learn More about HelpSystems Document Management Solutions
HelpSystems offers documents and forms management solutions to fit your organization's needs. Our team can help you put together a solution that fits your business perfectly.