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Six steps to a paper-free workplace

If someone asked whether you’d be interested in responding quicker to your customers, improving workplace productivity and helping the environment, not many businesses would say no. Yet all of these can be achieved by using less paper in the workplace, according to AIIM’s new study, ‘Paper-Free Progress: measuring outcomes’. 84 per cent of respondents have seen ROI on their paper-free projects within 18 months, while the biggest benefits from going paper-free were being able to give a faster response to customers and increased productivity.

Organisations are starting to realise these benefits, and more than half (57 per cent) say they are committed to digital transformation. But the study did reveal that in many organisations, there is still a lot of progress to be made in achieving that. 35 per cent of respondents say that most of the electronic invoices they receive get printed anyway, while 34 per cent agree that most of the documents they scan are unchanged from printer to scanner. 31 per cent admit that their desk is ‘piled high’ with paper. So how can a business best use technology to go paper-free?

Paper overload

A simple fact is that many of us use far too much paper unnecessarily, especially in the workplace. According to sustainability charity WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), the average office worker uses up to 45 sheets of paper per day, of which more than half is considered waste. With more than 10 million office workers in the UK alone, that’s an awful lot of paper wasted.

This has obvious implications for the environment. But this paper overload also has major implications for the smooth-running and general efficiency of an organisation. The biggest benefits reported from paper-free processes cited in our research are faster customer response times, followed by productivity and compliance, then better monitoring of the workflow. In the customer-focused economy that we operate in, being able to respond more quickly to your customers’ needs and questions is valuable in itself.

But when you also factor in the improved collaboration and easier access to information for employees that digitising content can bring, then it is clear to see the potential that going paper-free has to make a business run more smoothly.

Six steps to paper-free processes

One of the biggest barriers to going paper-free is that many people still feel more comfortable using paper for certain tasks, even if is not essential that they do so. But there are many ways that a business can begin on the path to going paper-free, here are six steps to getting started:

1) Start at the top

Our research showed that a lack of management initiatives was a major reason as to why there is still so much paper around. Get your boss on board with going paper-free, and your boss’s boss too. Without senior support, using less paper is going to be a major challenge – with senior support it is achievable.

2) Highlight your paper-free successes

Demonstrating that going paper-free can work / save money / improve efficiencies is a sure-fire way of getting others in the business to do so. If you’ve done it, and it has worked, shout about it and let people know how it has been successful.

3) Get rid of the signatures

One of the most common reasons that people still want to use paper, is because they are wedded to physical signatures for documents such as contracts. Yet often these are not required and using an e-signature solution is an effective and low cost solution.

4) Go mobile

Mobile has helped bring about a major change in the way many of us do business, especially in how we access and manage information and content. Another benefit of mobile is the impact it has had on electronic form-filling, particular using tablet PCs. An excellent way of reducing paper-use is by filling in expense claims on mobile devices, along with the image capture of receipts using the built-in camera.

5) Portable devices speed mobile capture

Image-only mobile applications are more common, with 20-25 per cent of respondents scanning supporting documents, photo images and forms. Only 6 per cent are using OCR/image recognition. Partly this is due to the processing power involved if carried out on the device, although uploading to a cloud image recognition engine can also be used. Rather than using recognition from paper, it is much more efficient to treat the mobile device as an electronic clipboard, entering data onto e-forms directly. Not only does this speed up data capture, but it also reduces the logistics of form distribution and subsequent collection.

6) Workflow systems are a must

In order to implement paper-free processes beyond initial scanning and capture, some form of BPM or workflow system is needed. Nearly a half of our survey (49 per cent) have no workflow capability (or no ECM/DM system) including 13 per cent who have the capability but don’t use it. SharePoint and most ECM/DM systems provide a degree of workflow management and 34 per cent of our respondents use these basic workflows. But more need to do so.

Going completely paper-free is unrealistic, but reducing the amount of paper in the workplace most definitely is not. Doing so can improve an organisation’s processes enormously and technology is a major enabler in this.

John Mancini, president and CEO, AIIM