Ever since the first bit of data that was spit out by a computer, the idea of eliminating paper in the office was born but never really took hold. The “paperless office” became a dream that has been hard to adopt even by the largest companies. It has been called “paperless office”, “e-filecabinet”, “document management” and a few others.
The term ‘paperless office’ conjures images of an office environment that runs totally without any paper what so ever anywhere. Where in some industries this can be obtainable but for most companies it is really out of reach. The term ‘reduced paper office’ is a more realistic approach for just about any company regardless of what industry it is in and no matter how large or small the company is. Even home owners can utilize and reap the benefits of a reduced paper office as well.
What really hinders the making of a true paperless office is that there are certain regulatory forms that must be in paper. Not all vendors are paperless and will still send out paper invoices, statements and packing slips. A lot of legal documents must be in hard copy as well as well as many utility bills. So we can quickly see that a true paperless office is a difficult task to obtain. So we have to settle for a reduced paper office instead. But for discussion sake we will refer to the term of paperless office.
Some of the advantages of having a paperless office are:
- Reduce the need for file cabinets and reclaim usable floor space or even reduce the size of your physical location thereby saving on rent and utilities. A smaller place generally requires less to heat and cool.
- Save on printing costs by not needing cases of paper, a stock pile of toner, and buying new printers every few years. By reducing the need for having cases of paper and all those toner cartridges you again reclaim storage space and never have to worry about running out.
- Considering how paper burns pretty easily, by not having paper in the building can increase the chance of reducing the risk of fire and could make a fire easier to extinguish.
- Document collaboration is a snap by having team members able to access the documents instantly. Even across the globe.
- Security can be increased by limiting who can gain access to certain documents by the click of a mouse.
- No more lost documents which is a real big advantage since they will always be available. No more of the ‘who’s got such-and-such document’ scenario which is so popular in many offices.
- Disaster recovery can be greatly enhanced especially if a hosted solution is in place. Mission critical documents can be safely stored and retrieved at any time in the event of a disaster as long as you have an internet connection.
But a paperless office is not fully a bed of roses for there are some disadvantages as well, but a lot of these are easy enough to overcome:
- Security is possibly the most important aspect. You need to be very diligent on who has access to the documents and how secure your network infrastructure is.
- Like file cabinets, storage can be an issue. The hard drive of a computer can hold just
so much data. Here you might think of using a Network Area Storage (NAS) or Storage Area Network (SAN) device where you can add drives as needed to increase the capacity or look at a hosted solution to hold the images. Thankfully hard drives are fairly cheap and take up very little physical room so adding storage to a NAS is really a non-issue.
- If your building is destroyed and your paperless office solution is in your building then you are in as bad a shape as you would be with paper. Here a hosted solution would be the best course of action. Of course you need to review their service level agreement before taking them on to ensure uptime and accessibility.
- Not all paperless software solutions are alike. They each have their own little quirks and learning curves. And they all come in a variety of prices from under $200 to several thousand for custom made ones. Unless you are comfortable with and know databases then you can make your own solution which is not that hard to do.
- There are various documents that due to regulatory constraints must be in physical paper form, but those are dwindling down. Here you will need to consult with your lawyers and accountants to see what physical documents you need to keep.
- End users love paper and retraining will be needed to reduce the amount of paper that they do indeed print. Granted there are times paper will need to be used but with proper training this can be greatly reduced.
Not that long ago only the largest companies could afford having a paperless office. But as technologies improved and computers and scanners have gotten cheaper even the smallest businesses can take advantage of having a paperless office.
Let’s start with a simple office. All the documents that you create on your computer are already in the paperless format as well as digital photos and email attachments which are
stored in a folder on your computer or server. All that is needed is to migrate the documents into your paperless office. As far as paper documents you need a scanner that can create .pdf, .tiff or .jpg images. Most copiers and scanners today have that capability with the software that is bundled with the machines plus the software will run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on a PDF document to make it searchable. These documents then can be migrated into your paperless office.
The fax machine is not dead, at least not yet and many companies still use them. By connecting the fax line to a computer or server with a modem installed, add the appropriate software like eFax® and now all of your incoming and outgoing faxes will be paperless. These can also be incorporated into your paperless office after ‘e-printing’ them.
You will need to research the various fax software package for some like eFax® limit how many free faxes you can make and require you to have a monthly or annual subscription. Plus if you have several computers that you are going to fax from then multiple licenses are going to be required along with the subscription fees. Best way around this is by setting up a simple print server that handles all of the faxing.
A lot of office copiers will have electronic faxing built into them so it might pay to discuss that with your copier supply company.
Of course you need someplace to store the images or e-documents like on a computer, server, NAS or hosted storage. Most importantly you need the paperless office software and selecting one can be a daunting task since there are so many on the market like PaperPort Professional® and others.
If you decide make a paperless office it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software. Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs. In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a very high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.
Of course there are other advantages to having one built and hosted for you. Like uptime in the event that a disaster destroys your building, the host takes care of hardware and software upgrades, the host also backs up the data to help prevent loss on their end.
If you are knowledgeable in databases then you could conceivably make your own version of a paperless office. But you would be responsible for all of the maintenance, upgrades and backups.
If you are up to the task of building your own paperless office you need some form of
database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server, MySQL®, FileMaker Pro®, MS Access®, Oracle® or SAP®. These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access® and FileMaker Pro® standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle® and SAP®.
Next you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system. Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC unless the person who does the database work knows html, especially if you want web access to it. But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup. FileMaker Pro® and MS Access® plus a few others will allow you to create a front end that the user sees.
You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database and the particular DBMS first plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well. None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on. Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost. Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro® that we use on a daily basis. It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure. But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.
And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your documents into
your computer. This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.
And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.
So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle. It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.
For a few hundred dollars any small business or home owner can have a paperless office solution in place. Of course you can still spend thousands for a very robust system that has unlimited storage. Paperless Office technology has been dramatically improved since the early days of computing to a more efficient and user friendly tool. Now anyone can implement one in their environment.