Digital transformation of processes has become a requirement to survive in today’s technology-driven, mobile-enabled work environments. Manual, paper-based processes are error-prone, inefficient, and labor-intensive.
Paper becomes an obstacle to success for organizations striving to increase productivity and the speed at which information is accessed by employees, clients, and partners. The dominance of cloud solutions, an increase in born-digital documents, and advancements in technology have made the paperless office more realistic, easier to achieve, and more affordable with digital forms minimizing paperwork.
However, despite all of these reasons, developing a paperless office system can become overwhelming. I have found that starting with “less paper” and keeping it out of your offices can make a profound difference in the success of a paperless initiative.
I have four paperless office solutions that not only help you use less paper but are also sound business practices.
# 1 – Digitally transform the process to use less paper
Improved process productivity, the need to quickly find and share documents, and the demand for any time, anywhere access to documents top the list of reasons every company is trying to drive paper out of their processes. Going paperless has become part of digital transformation strategies as businesses seek to lower costs and reduce employee involvement in transactional, repeatable tasks.
With a paperless office system, paper documents must be converted to digital as they enter a process so they can be handled by digital workflows designed to take advantage of the increase in born-digital documents. Companies of all sizes are implementing paperless office solutions with tools and features that utilize less paper at every stage of a document’s life cycle.
Here are a few requirements for a paperless office solution that will eliminate paper, and automate the paperless office system:
- Easily ingest paper and digital documents at their entry point and by scanning, secure FTP, email, fax, upload, and integration with other systems. At this stage, the information needed from documents should be extracted using capture solutions and machine learning.
- Workflows to automate the paperless office system, such as document distribution, routing, approval, tracking, and filing. Workflow should include routing data extracted from documents to business applications. Access anytime on any device and sharing through links to documents along with digital file rooms can eliminate the need to print or copy documents. If downloading or printing is required to share a document internally or with external parties, then you have an outdated solution. Security, controlling access to specific documents, and controlling document actions such as printing and downloading are also musts.
- E-Forms and digital signatures to reduce or eliminate the need to create some paper documents. Your solution should enable the use of external or internal digital forms with digital forms minimizing paperwork. Digital signatures are required to avoid having to print documents for a signature.
- Proactive notification of missing and expired documents. Knowing what you don’t have is just as important as knowing what you do have.
- Ensure compliance with audit history tracking and automation of retention schedules.
# 2 – Using the least paper possible in 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 modern offices. 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 file storage is a part of the new digs. Files and documents that are not frequently accessed are moved to offsite records storage which is more cost-effective and secure.
Most medium to large businesses partner with 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 use less 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.
# 3 – Digitally access paper documents
If you need to access documents stored offsite or older inactive documents, do it digitally. This is frequently called scan-on-demand, or digital delivery, 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 filling up network storage space.
Whether a document is scanned by your records management provider, a document imaging company, or your own staff, the document should be stored in a technology designed for document management, preferably with the features mentioned earlier. Digital access should be faster and more cost-effective than physical access and the paper shouldn’t need to be digitized the next time you need it. Look for practical features when a scan-on-demand process is put in place:
- There should be a notification when a document has been scanned and is available.
- You should be able to utilize existing equipment like network copiers or multi-functional devices.
- Routing or uploading to your document management solution should be simple.
# 4 – Information Governance
Every company must have a retention program and should follow it. One of the easiest ways to achieve a paperless office 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 documents are acceptable for regulatory agencies and auditors, then consider making the switch from paper to digital, with digital forms minimizing paperwork. You’ll then want to dispose of paper documents as quickly as possible.
While a completely paperless office may not be achievable or realistic, eliminating paper from business processes must be an ongoing exercise. However, there is no reason not to follow these four tips on how to use less paper because you’ll save money, improve processes, and have a more efficient business.