I attended a meeting recently where one of the topics discussed was the progress toward businesses becoming paperless. Everyone seemed to agree there has been progress, but the completely paperless business might be like Bigfoot. Some people think it exists, some people claim to have seen one but many think it’s a myth.
I don’t think the paperless business is a myth but, like most of the folks at that meeting, we understand completely paperless is difficult and not always realistic, but that doesn’t mean we don’t stop trying. Why, because there are many reasons to drive paper out of businesses:
- Support Green Initiatives
- Disaster Recovery
- Improve Business Processes
- Reduce Costs
- Faster Customer Response
This is a short list of the reasons companies continue to look at ways to reduce their dependence on paper. There is no debate that less paper is good for business, but how do we get there? I’ve got four suggestions that not only reduce paper, but are also sound business practices.
# 1 – Get it out of your offices
Almost every company grew up working with paper and creating paper records, but large onsite file rooms and row after row of file cabinets are starting to disappear from the modern office. The cost of office space and the need to use office space for activities that support a business are the main drivers. I’ve seen a number of our clients either move to new offices or remodel their current space and they don’t want a lot of file storage and paper in their new digs. If these files and documents are not frequently accessed, offsite records storage is more cost-effective and secure. Most medium to large businesses utilize offsite records management companies to store and manage their paper documents that must be retained for regulatory and corporate governance reasons. If you’ve got a really good records management provider, they’ll provide analytics and tools to help get rid of the paper and keep it from coming back to the office. Almost every records management company has some online portal to request records, but that’s not good enough. Look for dashboards that show what departments are sending the most records offsite, when records are due for destruction and which departments are requesting the most records be returned. These are the things you need to know if you are serious about reducing paper and keeping it out of your business.
# 2 – Digital access
If you need to access documents stored offsite, do it digitally. This is frequently called scan-on-demand and most records management companies offer this service, but be sure it’s done right. What you don’t want is documents scanned and emailed to you. There are security issues with this approach, not to mention it fills up network storage space. When a document is delivered digitally it should be scanned and stored in the technology used to place requests or scanned into a digital document management solution. Digital delivery should be faster and more cost-effective than physical delivery and the paper never comes back into your office. Look for practical features in the technology your records management provider offers for digital delivery:
- There should be some notification feature (usually email) when a document has been scanned and is available.
- There should be a secure link to allow the user to access the image, no email attachments.
- The scanned images should remain there for as long as you want.
- You should be able to request on behalf of someone else. Great feature for administrative staff to have documents delivered digitally to the person who actually needs them.
# 3 – Active documents means you need technology
So I’ve touched on getting inactive paper documents out of your business, but what about the active documents. This is where you need the right technology to get rid of paper and automate processes. If you have paper-based processes, documents frequently accessed, documents that need to be shared internally or externally and people who need those documents are scattered across locations then you need a digital document management solution. A few common examples are employee documents, invoices and contracts.
Employee documents will of course be needed by HR, but managers will need access to documents such as performance reviews and training certification. Auditors and attorneys will likely need access to some employee documents from time to time. Let’s not forget about employees wanting access to documents in their files.
Invoices are documents that many companies deal with daily. Receipt, data extraction, approval and payment can be costly paper-based processes.
Contracts is another document that is common in almost every business. There are contracts with you vendors and contracts with your clients. Departments that need access include Sales, Customer Support, Procurement and Accounting. Expiration dates, price increases and renewals are important events that must be monitored and acted upon.
The right document management technology can address the business issues and processes related to these documents and many others. Here are a few qualities that are a must for a digital document management application:
- Easily ingest paper and digital documents and information by scanning, secure FTP, email, fax, upload and integration with other systems
- Workflow to automate processes such as document routing, approval and filing
- Secure access and sharing through links, digital review rooms and controlled access
- E-Forms and E-Signature to reduce or eliminate the need to create some paper documents
- A compliance tool kit that manages retention and legal holds. Audit history and the ability to proactively identify missing and expired documents should also be parts of the compliance feature set
# 4 Compliance and governance
Every company must have a retention program and should follow it. One of the easiest ways to reduce paper in your organization is to follow your retention schedule. If it’s time to get rid of it, then get rid of it. Your information governance program should help you shift to paperless. If digital is acceptable for regulatory agencies and auditors then consider making the switch from paper to digital and disposing of the paper documents as quickly as possible.
While a completely paperless business may remain a goal most businesses don’t quite achieve there is no reason not to follow these four tips because you’ll reduce paper, improve processes and have a more efficient business. As for Bigfoot the most recent sighting was earlier this month, so someone must have heard about a paperless business.