The paperless office isn’t a new concept. In fact, for most of us, its been around our entire careers.
The idea of a paperless office was originally created as a marketing message intended to describe the office of the future. It was expedited through ads for items like the 1964 IBM2260 video display computer terminal, and through articles written in top magazines like Business Week. The idea was that as personal computers made their way onto every desk top in every office, and in homes throughout the world, automation would make paper redundant.
The prediction of the PC was dead-on; the forecast of being paperless, not so much.
Yet the concept of a paperless office is still a work in progress. Since about 2000, the use of office paper has leveled off and is now declining. One of the top reasons is the generational shift, and the fact that younger people are more comfortable reading and storing things without the inclination of having a paper backup.
Paperless is not merely the concept of scanning everything paper and converting it into electronic files. A paperless office means having a strategy in place to have the proper equipment, software, systems, and processes to be as efficient and effective as possible. Otherwise it may just be a huge waste of time, and will not improve the functionality of your office.
If your goal is to go paperless in the coming year, or at least increase your efficiencies and reduce paper wherever you can, there are some important things to consider at the beginning of the process.
Being efficient with paperless technology is only as good as the retrieval system. If you can’t access documents when you need them, frustration can easily make you resort back to your old ways. Your first decision has to be how will you store your digital files, and how will they be backed up? Will you take charge, keeping them on an internal computer or network, or will you place everything out in the cloud? The good thing about it is technology solutions are more affordable than ever before. You can purchase terabytes of storage space for a fraction of what it used to cost for a handful of CDs.
The larger your company, the more succinct your system will have to be in organizing your digital files. Will you organize by client name, type of document, department, or by some other method? There is no right or wrong answer to how you organize, as long as you and your staff are consistent with every file. The best place to start is by considering how you currently file. Do you file by year? By client last name? By type of document? In some cases mapping it out first and creating a flow chart may help you see how to file things in an effective manner.
Each file within a category will have to be named individually. You should also spend time determining the overall structure so every employee names in the same way. Names can include the client name, point of contact, date of origination, or services provided. By adding detail to the file name, it can make both searching and browsing an easier task. You can also use indicators to determine course of action. For instance, you may include an “in” by the date to indicate an internal document, or an “ex” by the date to indicate the document was received from an outside source.
If you’re a brand new company, you can adopt a fairly easy process to implement a rudimentary paperless office. But when you’ve been in business for years, where do you begin? There are many different lines of thinking, but for many the easiest place to begin is with a single process, then add other processes as staff become compfortable with each change. Typically, its best to have a set cut off date and adopt the new paperless process going forward. Accept that the old, closed files, do not need to be converted. Simply box them and put them away following normal storage procedures.
Advanced Document Management
For complex processes, companies that have multiple disparate locations, or even plans to implement many diverse paperless processes, it would be useful to explore robust document management systems that store document meta data in a centralized database for search and retrieval (and advanced routing and rules). File-based paperless application do not scale well in these situations.
Every situation is unique, but my team and I have years of experience in these applications and processes and are available to help you achieve the promise of paperless.