Creating a paperless office gives you a competitive advantage whether you’re at a large organization or a small business. But 100-percent paperless organizations are still relatively rare. What’s holding you back? For smaller businesses, the main advantage of going paperless with a document management or enterprise content management (ECM) system is that it prepares you for disaster recovery.
Even if you have a disaster recovery plan in place, continuing to use paper processes results in ongoing expenses for managing documents, buying supplies (such as paper and file cabinets) and physical space for document storage.Some companies today are 100-percent paperless, usually because they started in the digital era. But these new, “digital native” organizations are still fairly rare, and they still need strategies for coping with paper documents that come in from their larger ecosystem, such as contracts mailed from an attorney. Here are the top seven obstacles that prevent today’s companies from making the paperless office a reality:
A learned affinity for using paper: We’ve been living with paper for a long time, and many people express a preference for reading on paper rather than on a screen. This preference is just a learned behavior, and the solution is better technology.
As interactive screens make it easier to read on a tablet or PC, more organizations are adopting digital document management. While established organizations may still have paper-based routines, Generation Y has fully embraced digital documents, and that trend is sure to continue.
Legislative obstacles: Do compliance regulations require you to retain hard copies of documents for a certain period, or save originals with a “wet” ink signature? These legislative obstacles are often the most difficult to overcome.
The solution here is to do some research and see if your compliance needs have changed. In many cases, electronic signatures are now as valid as a wet signature, but you won’t know until you investigate.
Ease of printing: It’s never been easier to print out documents than it is now, with everything from color laser printing to Bluetooth-enabled printers. Since it’s easy to keep printing documents, there’s less incentive to move to a paperless office — at least in the short term.
While printers are cheap and plentiful now, market forces are likely to push organizations toward a paperless office. If a competitor is using digital document management to drive faster, more efficient processes for creating work products, they’re going to have a competitive advantage.
Perceived cost of digital document management: There’s an initial cost for any change, including switching to ECM. When people are concerned about the increased expense, it’s usually because they haven’t analyzed the return on investment (ROI).
Take the time to measure the impact ECM would have on your employees, processes and other technologies. This allows you to see how your upfront investment in ECM could reduce costs going forward and allow you to scale, driving more revenue without changing your process or people.
Existing technology limitations: If you haven’t kept up with technology innovations, it’s difficult to make the jump to 100 percent digital. For example, if you currently don’t have the tools in place to edit PDFs or collaborate on documents, you’re probably experiencing version control problems. In these situations, especially at small businesses, retreating to paper might seem like a better way to go.
In fact, the solution is to improve your IT infrastructure to the point that your employees are able to collaborate efficiently in a digital environment. Once that’s in place, you’re on your way to a paperless office.
A larger ecosystem that’s paper-based: When you think about your larger ecosystem, you can’t control the companies you work with on the supply or demand side. Even if you create a paperless office, you’re still likely to get paper mail and packets of documents from your attorneys, clients and partner organizations.
The solution is to guard the perimeter of your organization. Anytime paper arrives, you need a strategy for scanning and converting it into digital documents right away, before paper documents have a chance to enter your company’s workflows and processes.
Company culture: If your company culture is a source of inertia, it’s difficult to switch to digital document management, because it requires change. People often resist new technology rather than learning about it because they don’t have confidence that they’ll be successful.
Fortunately, the rise of cloud-based document management is helping many organizations get unstuck. With the cloud, there are fewer barriers to entry: You don’t need to own the system or the hardware, so implementation is less expensive and time-consuming than with an on-premises solution. All you need to get started is a scanner and browser access. In the cloud, you’re able to implement a document management system more rapidly and start seeing the benefits much faster.
In the end, the paperless office is a journey. By identifying and tackling these obstacles one at a time, you’re able to arrive at the paperless office far ahead of your competitors, with all of the efficiency and cost-saving advantages that affords. Learn more about how to remove obstacles to take your business paperless in 90 days.