In the last 20 years it’s a question that has been discussed over and over again: Is this the end of paper? It’s been an ‘if not when’ discussion, so sure have many pundits been that paper will be replaced with new technology, the way many other office staples, such as the typewriter, have.
Less paper, not paperless
There’s no doubt that we’re living in an era of less paper. If you look at the volume of paper consumed globally each year, it’s not that long ago that paper consumption was still on the rise. The explosion of smart devices and the rise of digital have contributed to turning that around.
Many businesses we speak to are looking for ways to reduce their paper consumption, driven by challenges such as lowering environmental impact, decreasing cost, increasing the security of information, or even simplifying the way they do things by removing manual paper processes.
All of this is leading to the ‘less paper’ office.
Paper to digital
When I look at this, as we have with our own ‘war on waste’ program, you can really focus on driving down your dependence on paper.
The first area to look at is converting paper into digital. Businesses generally still have paper coming into the business in various forms, whether it’s paper bills (yes, they still strangely exist!), contracts, or various other documents. Add in the existing paper that’s in filing cabinets etc., then it becomes a sizeable issue to resolve.
Committing to converting paper to digital may have once been costly, however, the reality today is that it is very cost effective. Most likely, you’ll be able to do this using your existing photocopier or dedicated scanning device. There are also options available to outsource and have it scanned for you. Either way, there’s nothing holding you back from going digital.
The win here for business is that your information will now be both more secure and more accessible to the right people in your organisation. It’s more secure as you have it stored digitally and centrally, where it’s protected from threats, including staff accessing paper information inappropriately and natural disasters such as fire or water damage. Digital information stored securely even has the effect of being better for the people who need to access it. Being digital, it can be accessed wherever and whenever you need it. You don’t need to be physically in the office to access the information you need.
Digital vs. manual forms
The next major way of reducing paper is to look at forms. For many businesses, the humble internal paper form still exists as part of a process: The issue is that these forms simply create more paper. Or even worse, the paper form is created, but then scanned in and made digital – when it didn’t need to exist in paper form at all Think about signing documents, we still do this manually in many cases, when the technology is there to do this digitally.
Solutions exist where an entire process, such as a sign off to purchase a product or service, can be entirely automated from creation to final order, including all the steps in between. You can create a digital audit trail, ensuring you know who has signed off and when. Redundancies can be built in, for example, when someone hasn’t responded for a certain length of time, so that a process can continue.
Removing these not only saves you time and money, but makes your employees lives easier too!
There’s a major driver coming that will speed up this move to less paper. As more and more of the millennial generation enter the workforce, they will accelerate the shift: They’re digital natives to whom paper is almost foreign. A great example of this is that my children don’t do projects on paper; they do them using online sources such as blogs. Millennials are used to using a screen over paper and will see it as the norm.
I still like reading more complex documents in paper form, as others in my generation most likely do, but for my children, it will be completely reversed.
Paper still has a role to play
Ultimately, I believe there’s still a role for paper in our current working environment. There are many areas of life where it still adds value.
Will it ever be completely replaced? Yes, most likely it will, however in my humble opinion I can’t see it happening in my lifetime! We all can see the environmental and productivity benefits, it will just take time to change.
For now, paper is firmly part of our past, current, and future in business.