Paper free progress toward a more digital workplace

Since the mid 1970s, we’ve been hearing about the drive to move toward a more digital workplace.

Back then, neither technology nor organisations were ready for this transformation – but today, the push to digitally transform business has shifted from a technology perspective to a more business-centric approach, with paper-free processes becoming an opportunity for many organisations.

What’s more, businesses are increasingly breaking their addiction to paper.

This much was concluded from a recent worldwide survey carried out by AIIM into the progress of how 200,000 of its members were moving towards a paper-free workplace.

The results are promising.

Two-thirds of respondents say the demand for paperless processes in their organisation is going up, while for half of organisations the amount of paper being consumed is decreasing.

Meanwhile, digital inbound documents are increasing, and when we asked an equivalent group about their paper-free progress 12 months ago, 18% said they were paper-free, but it’s now 25% – meaning 1 in 4 knowledge workers say they work in fully digital environments.

How are people progressing in specific business functions?

Paper use in HR is well down around recruitment (49%) and employee lifecycle (48%), while paper use is also decreasing for 41% of our membership in accounts payables and 39% in accounts receivables.

Finally the greatest paper reductions are seen in records management by 39% of respondents, while for 27% the greatest reduction has been with technical documents.

The benefits of this are clear. Faster customer response is the biggest benefit (50%) followed by higher productivity (42%), while 36% indicate some ROI on paperless technology investment (typically, enterprise content management) of between 3 and 6 months. Some 6% expect ROI in less than 6.

Some processes do feel better on paper

The once elusive concept of paper-free business operations is a real possibility finally, with a lot of progress made over the past 12 months. However, a note of caution is needed – for while interest and motivation toward a paper-free business environment is increasing, there is still a long road ahead.

Only 25% of our 2016 respondents indicate they run a fully paper-free environment.

The reality for many is that paper still has a big part to play in most workflows and day-to-day business activities.

For example, tasks such as review and approval still tend to require physical interactions with paper-based information. 65% of our sample say they are still signing contracts, booking forms, and more on paper, and 51% indicate that they regularly scan documents, in order to archive them, not actively route them round colleagues and departments.

This is despite the fact that those organisations that are eliminating paper are seeing return on investment rates as high as 44% within a 6 month period.

Not only is paper-free possible, but it can be done in a short period of time depending upon the scope of the actual project. In these cases, the success of smaller projects drives additional and eventually enterprise-wide projects.

But why isn’t this happening everywhere? Why have we still not got to the paperless office?

Our relationship with paper is complicated, it turns out. People like to hold onto a physical piece of content, preferring this for note taking, sharing, even signature capture.

Meanwhile, change management and executive level support remain a challenge when it comes to being paper-free.

Our respondents cite a lack of awareness when it comes to paper-free options (39%) – a gap indicating a need for education on how to approach and initiate a paper-free project. And while interest in getting off paper seems to be growing, there is still a lack of management initiatives to move away from paper – management indifference is cited as the main blockage by 47%.

Retain paper only where it really helps

An important aspect of all this is the realisation that capture is the first step in being paper-free, whether it is digitising paper using scanners, or transferring paper coming in the front door into digital information immediately and maintaining it in digital form.

Best practice tells us this is the first step to securing the information ecosystem.

It’s also clear that cloud enhances this by enabling the remote workforce to engage, taking operational efficiency, productivity, and responsiveness to new levels of paper free productivity.

The verdict has to be that a lot of progress has been made and real benefits are accruing by our increasing use of digital – but that some workflows remain stubbornly impervious to the paper-free push.

The CIO should be encouraged by this reality, however, as what it shows is that the more we can limit paper to where it really helps and is most natural, the more chance we have to flush it out from where it isn’t helpful, in particular in filing and record keeping.


Sourced by Bob Larrivee, chief analyst at AIIM

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...