Q. I would like to better understand what it takes to convert my business into a paperless office. What do I need to buy? What does it cost? etc. — Samuel
A. With very few exceptions it would be impractical to become a true “paperless” organization. But the “less paper office” is certainly achievable.
Converting or maintaining information in a digital format has many advantages. Just think about how digital photography has changed the way we store and share photos. But the stark reality is that our digital world has encouraged us all to consume more paper.
In the early days of the personal computer, it was thought that computers would reduce the amount of printed paper, but the opposite has proven to be true. According to Xerox, from 1995 to 2005 the amount of printed documents doubled. E-mail and the Internet have generated an exponential explosion of readily available information, and we all love to print it out.
There is also a psychological barrier to overcome, because most folks just plain prefer printed pages over electronic ones. Look no further than all of the failed attempts to replicate newspapers online and defunct e-book concepts.
Paper is entrenched in the way most of us currently function, so start by making sure that your desire to go electronic is not going to actually reduce productivity in your business cycles.
Another misnomer associated with “the paperless office” is that it will create organization where none existed before. The reality is that technology is never a substitute for organization. In order to adopt any of the paperless processes, you must have a very clear organizational structure in place to develop the plan, or you will never be able to find anything once it has been digitized.
Filing items in the real world is a physical activity that everyone is familiar with; however, filing documents in the virtual world has little continuity between most users. So you will need to set clear standards and guidelines.
Some of the more benign paperless office processes that you can adopt (or may have already) include using a scanner in place of copiers — which also allows you to electronically transmit the document instead of a traditional fax — and distributing large multipage documents and brochures on CDs or flash drives or via the Internet instead of the traditional printed version.
A side benefit of keeping large documents in digital form is that it’s much easier to make changes and redistribute the information.
If your intent is to convert the boxes of archival paper information that you are storing around your office into digital form, you may be better off hiring a company that specializes in it. Search for “paper storage conversion services” in Google.
If your incoming mail is one of your targets, you may want to consider a company like Earth Class Mail (www. earthclassmail.com), which can take all of your snail mail and convert it to a digital online format. One other thing to remember as you move your information to a pure digital format: BACKUP. Your old paper documents are currently your backup system, so once they are gone, it is critical that your electronic backup system be very solid with lots of redundancy.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show which can be heard at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org