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February 6, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 2:04pm

How to go paperless

Follow these simple steps to truly go digital, cut costs, reduce waste and save the world.

By Duncan Macrae

If this is the digital age, why is there still so much paper around? Despite talk about the ‘paperless office’ and even the ‘paperless NHS’, hard copy documents are still our comfort blanket even though they are expensive to print and store, often difficult to locate when needed and can cause major delays and inefficiencies which impact on customer and supplier relationships.

However, taking digitisation to its natural conclusion involves more than just clearing untouched files and avoiding printing. It could mean transforming an entire operation. So how can a business bite the bullet and go paperless?

CBR met with Glenn Gibson, product marketing manager at Hyland Software, a creator of OnBase enterprise content management, to find out.

1. Think beyond just scanning, otherwise the whole project will only have superficial benefits. Using an enterprise technology application such as enterprise content management (ECM) means the whole initiative will have far-reaching and long-lasting advantages, for the entire lifecycle of your information. ECM will help take control of all your important documents, not just the ones that originate as paper, such as emails, faxes, pdfs and Microsoft Office files so on.

2. If you are scanning any forms, there are form recognition engines which can lift the information directly from them. However, if any of these forms are "yours," consider replacing these with electronic forms. Even forms filled out by people outside your organisation (customers, constituents, patients, students etc.) can be turned into electronic forms and put up on your website. In doing so, you completely eliminate the cost of printing and distributing the forms, and speed up the process as you receive the completed form seconds after it is submitted.

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3. Remove paper, but don’t remove access. There are many scenarios to consider beyond the user-friendliness of the software provided by ECM vendor. Will the content be integrated directly with the core systems your employees work in? Will it be available through mobile devices for key decision makers who spend time away from their desks? Will the system provide off-line access for employees who work in the field with no reliable network connection? Will this need to be made securely available externally to your customers, students, constituents or patients? Ensuring everyone can access exactly what they need, when they need it, wherever they are is critical to the success of your project.

4. You may not need to scan everything. You should ask yourself what the purpose of digitising the documents is. If it’s to free up storage space, then great, scan away. If it’s to protect the information from the paper being at risk of fire, flood, rodents or decay, that’s another reason to scan everything. If neither of these are the primary concern, you may not need to scan everything. Some organisations choose a "scan on demand" approach, where they leave everything on paper, until someone needs to retrieve a file. When they retrieve it, they scan it and then work electronically. Others choose a "day forward" method where they realise the historical records are only kept for legal purposes, are there if they need them, and choose to leave them where they are.

5. Decide if you need to perform all the scanning yourself. There are scanning bureaus who can perform your scanning for you, sometimes this is a cheaper and more efficient option, worth considering.



6. If your processes do require your own people to scan documents, no one should be doing much, if any, data entry. There is technology available, often called "advanced" or "intelligent" capture, which effectively can read the documents, understand what they are and pull the relevant information from them. As the people are often the most expensive part of the process, this technology pays for itself rather quickly.

7. Don’t underestimate the culture shift. Accept that ‘paperless’ will affect employees in different ways according to their roles. Often companies who make this shift provide each employee with dual monitors so they can see everything they need to side by side. A less visible shift is in work style, some employees take a long time to get used to scrolling around electronic documents, instead of holding the paper in their hands. Treat it as any other major transformation project, using all your change management skills where possible. Install all new equipment well in advance to enable staff to get used to them and to iron out any glitches before any paper-free go-live date.



8. Adopt a staged approach if at all possible – moving at first to a ‘paper-light’ environment to test processes and attitudes. Start small and add functionality gradually. What today might be just a document imaging and retrieval system, tomorrow can be a powerful business process improvement system delivered across an entire enterprise.

9. Don’t underuse your software investments. Maximise ROI by using this as an opportunity to examine your processes. Where appropriate, develop streamlined methods to help speed response time to customers. Eventually ‘paperless’ can be made even more powerful by automating repeatable business processes and by seamless integration with established core applications.

The road to achieving a paperless environment can seem daunting, but by following these guidelines your organisation can tackle the project head on in a strategic, well-planned approach.



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