Paperless Office Guide

  • Paper generally makes up to 70% of office waste with 10,000 A4 sheets used for every worker each year.
  • Paper recycling rates vary substantially from country to country, e.g. Switzerland 85%, USA 51%, New Zealand 73% and Australia 8%.
  • Every tonne of paper recycled saves almost 13 trees, 4,100 kilowatts of electricity and more than 30,000 litres (7,900 gallons) of water.
  • Our planet is still losing at least 16.2 million hectares (40 million acres) of forests through logging and land clearing.

Contrary to our expectations technological advances have increased the volume of paper generated. We can reverse this trend: The reality of electronic document storage and the less-paper office has arrived. This guide is designed as an entry-point.

Why Do Organisations Retain So Much Paper?

Legal and regulatory requirements demand that organizations retain a significant number and variety of records in the form of contracts, transactional records, employment records, accounting data, research data and in some cases correspondence.

Legal Basis of a Move to a Paperless Office

Most countries now accept electronic communications as legally binding, based on the following two principles:

  • functional equivalence (sometimes called media neutrality): ensures that paper-based transactions and electronic transactions are treated equally by the law; and
  • technology neutrality: ensures that the law does not discriminate between different forms of technology.

The commonly accepted basic requirement for any electronic communication is that it must be readily accessible so as to be usable for subsequent reference. A person must also consent to receiving electronic communications. Consent, however, can be express or inferred from a person's conduct.

Key Issue 1 - Cost / Benefit Analysis

Speed, space-saving, efficiency and cost and even improved disaster recovery are all solid benefits that can be gained from document management systems.

Key Issue 2 - Information and Knowledge Management

Document scanning generates mountains of data. Unless you devise a proper structure and processes for dealing with it, you may ultimately find that the sheer volume of data begins to undermine the advantages that drove you into document management.

  • What are your inputs?
  • What are your output requirements?
  • What will the electronic documents be used for?
  • Will the papers need to be linked with a client-centric filing system?
  • Will you need to integrate document images such as invoices with the accounts payable ledger?
  • Do you need complete access to business records via the intranet?
    (which would necessitate a document management platform that was both Web-enabled, and equipped to deal with security, version control and document classification issues)

Scanned image files just give you a picture of the document and store it in a file. The user or manager responsible for the system will need to determine naming conventions and directory structures for easy retrieval and whether to convert the image files into searchable text with optical character recognition tools.

Key Issue 3 - Workflow Processes

The workflow aspects of the paperless office can take you down many tracks. Do not embark on a paperless project unless you have worked out a clear picture of the existing information flow within your organization and considered how documents will be logged in and out of the database, and how users might raise them for action by other team members, and the authorisation process to clear them for deletion or long-term storage.

Tip: You may just want to replicate the structure of your paper files as everyone is familiar with this.

Key Issue 4 - Training and Management

The following key questions will need to be answered:

  • Who is going to be responsible for running the document management system?
  • Does management have the ability, commitment to oversee the project and have "gentle" enforcement tools to overcome pockets of resistance?
  • And before you work out the projected costs, how much will it require in training?
  • Does your organisation have the right knowledge and expertise to go paperless?
Key Issue 5 - Implementation, Conversion & Input

You will need to tackle the problem using small steps:

  1. Identify what documents are critical to your business and treat those with the respect they deserve
  2. Define your processes for handling documents

On day 1 of the implementation, most organisations begin by capturing new documents as they arrive. It may not be a great idea to schedule the transition around the time of your year end. But once they're up and running, users often discover how little they actually refer to older documentation. This is a useful insight, as it helps to define how much of the old archive you digitise. Prioritising documents that must be saved for legal purposes is a useful first step, and in some cases "active" paperwork can be identified.

It is the older, dormant stuff that poses the biggest question: Do you really need it? If the answer is yes, the decision rests between packing it away in crates, or going through the effort of scanning and filing it electronically. Depending on how densely you pack your files, the estimated cost of capturing the contents of a filing cabinet is between $500 - $1,000.

Key Issue 6 - Storage and Network Capacity

The volume of incoming and stored documents will influence the types of software, scanner and storage you choose. One paperless firm estimates it consumes 1.5-2Gb of storage per 100 users per month.