Moving Closer To The Paperless Office

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The paperless office has been talked about for a long time, yet never seems to even start to become a reality in almost any sector of business. Look around any office environment and you would be forgiven for thinking that the opposite of the paperless office is evolving, with ever increasing stacks of printed reports and greater need for filing and document storage than ever before.

Most companies, and their individual employees, still hold the opinion that copies of documents still need to be retained on file to see and read and a continued mind-set of mistrust of digital storage prevails. This is assisted by many government departments inflicting legal requirements for specific accounting and administrative documents being retained and available for inspection for periods of up to six years beyond their production.

All of this document production and storage is occurring in a time when almost everything we generate comes from a digital system, eg. word processing, accounting systems, digital copiers, etc. and most of these documents are already stored in digital file format on the system that created them originally (Word files, spreadsheets, photographs, accounting systems, etc). Yet there is still a great reluctance to take the final step and commit these paper files into a concise digital filing system and reduce the amount of environmentally damaging paper consumed, as well as reducing the expense committed to vast amounts of wasted space given over to document storage. Much of the resistance to change stems from old and somewhat flawed technology being made available before its limitations were determined. Those who tried digital document storage in its infancy had poor experiences, with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and poor scanning facilities producing less than accurate results in the stored documents; bad characters, poor formatting, etc. The previously poor experiences, coupled with localised, instead of centralised, file access has created a resistance to change that still prevails today.

Try the exercise of breaking down the requirements for a digital, therefore paperless, document storage and management system. The majority of businesses will store correspondence, reports and other items produced on a computer-based word/presentation/numeric software program, accounting and auditing documents produced by a computer-based system, email and fax documents transmitted on most occasions via a computer or digital software and all of these have one thing in common: they are already stored in digital format on the system that was used to create them. Additionally, photographs are either transferred from a digital camera/phone/download/email attachment or scanned (with very good results) into a digital format onto the companys computer network, so these too are already stored in a digital format. Other documentation, generally received from external sources (customers, suppliers, etc.), will not have an existing digital file format in your businesss computer these can be scanned into the system and digitally stored with great accuracy using the advanced software that is now available, and retrieved with accuracy when needed for further reference. So almost 100% of the documentation that your business uses every day can be stored in a digital document storage and retrieval system; eliminating the need for stacks and files of papers; cutting the need for expensive storage space; reducing wasted employee time searching for those elusive mis-filed documents.

So why are businesses resisting the paperless office? In addition to any previous poor experiences with early technology, the primary reason seems to be a lack of coordinated facilities. Most companies have a networked computer system, many have digital copier and printer systems and most have scanning facilities. However, the file storage systems are fragmented and often personalised, the copier/printer facilities are not correctly networked and scanning facilities are sometimes inadequate and localised. The resistance towards introducing and operating a paperless document storage and retrieval system is often down to a simple lack of coordination within the business itself, coupled with a lack of responsibility is it the overburdened IT managers job, the office managers job, the director responsible for admins job, or the Mr Nobody who gets lumbered with those tasks no one else has time or incentive to undertake? Yet a great deal of wasted time and money continues to drain from the business resources while this task remains unaddressed.

A straightforward approach to addressing the introduction of a paperless office can have the whole process introduced in little time with comparatively small set up costs, quickly recouped by the savings generated from reduced paper consumption, reduced storage space and wasted employee time. In terms of personnel, one person should be appointed the task of overseeing the implementation of the system and ensuring that the (probably existing) equipment facilities are correctly networked together into the central business computer network. A reliable and efficient document storage and retrieval software system should be sourced and installed onto the businesss network and set up ready for use by everyone who handles documents as a part of their daily routine. Having created this hardware and software environment, the task of transferring/installing existing files and documents (historical documents already stored elsewhere) should be undertaken prior to the central document filing and retrieval system becoming live (although this could be done retrospectively over a period of time if necessary). The final stage is to roll out the system to all employees from a predetermined date, allowing for any training/instruction being implemented beforehand.

The software for digital document storage and retrieval is the key to its success. Scanning, Archive and Retrieval systems have been viewed by some businesses as a 'dark art' or at least with some doubt and suspicion in the past, where poor experiences of older and less stable systems have caused problems with document retrieval. By combining the facilities of the office digital copier/printer/scanner systems (often referred to as Business Hubs due to their networking capabilities), with the networked computer system a good quality software digital document and retrieval program will allow you to store and find that illusive needle in a haystack. A quality system will incorporate fast scanning speeds, excellent search and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tolerance, automatic document indexing, fast search and retrieval facility with efficient and easy to use Boolean search commands (Google style searching). One such system is PowerRetrieve, available through Business By Technology Ltd., Manchester and Coventry, along with fully trained and experienced consultants and IT advisors.

Three definable supplier areas are clear for the introduction of a paperless office environment: the networked computer system, the digital office copiers/printers/scanners, and the document storage and retrieval software. Each of these areas have their own specialist advisors who can be called upon for advice and assistance, but some supplier companies, primarily from the office copier/printer sector, now have specialist trained IT advisors who can coordinate the introduction of a paperless office system from inception to completion. A specialist IT advisor from one of these companies is of great assistance when working alongside the internal person charged with responsibility for introducing the paperless office system, from the early planning stages through to final implementation. The paperless office is within the grasp of every business, however large or small, it can create a more efficient working environment and immediately recognisable cost savings from implementation.


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