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How to build a successful paperless office strategy
Shifting an organization to be a paperless office starts with finding the right tools to digitize content and establishing the strategy and processes that promote staff buy-in.
Moving an organization to be fully digital is no simple task, and it requires the right tools and a paperless office strategy to ensure success.
The transition to a paperless office is more than just capturing paper-based documents into a digital format and storing them in a network. The move requires workflows that take advantage of digital content that can move around in the software application from individual to individual -- mimicking traditional paper-based processes.
Choosing tools for going paperless
Transitioning an organization to be paperless is a two-pronged effort: digitizing in-house records and documents, and employing a platform to handle incoming digital content.
For the former, an organization can turn to a scanning tool that can assist in digitizing documents and indexing the information to be searchable and accessible to users across their devices. Looking ahead, organizations can stop the flow of paper documents into their offices by redirecting users or customers to a digital platform, such as an ERP or web portal, to capture the information that previously was written, printed and submitted on paper.
While separate tools exist that cover the individual tasks of going paperless -- document scanning and management, user access controls and more -- more commonly, organizations may choose to invest in an enterprise content management (ECM) platform that has those tools and more.
There are several ECM platforms that organizations can use to help implement a paperless office strategy. These platforms can be integrated into existing on-premises environments or hosted via the cloud. Some of the platforms available include the following:
- Hyland OnBase
- Microsoft SharePoint
- Nuxeo Content Services
Consider processes as important as software
Going paperless is more than just scanning documents or changing the way users interact with different documents. The move to a digital world means users will rely on a computer screen or mobile device to interact with content. To ensure the initiative's success, the company must evaluate all the changes that implementing a paperless office strategy entails, which can include the following:
- how an organization will handle incoming data, whether it's continuing to accept paper documents and scanning them into the system later, going completely paperless or using a hybrid approach that offers a smoother -- albeit slower -- transition;
- understanding where and how data is currently being stored -- centrally or across multiple offices, employee-owned cloud-based services or locally on a user's device -- and how to map those locations to a unified system;
- digitizing any approval and review processes where a paper document is being moved and changing that to using an application to approve documents; and
- determining who will be able to access the data and how they will be able to through permission levels and identity access management
Beyond evaluating how a paperless office will change day-to-day operations, an organization must also consider how the change will affect employees and methods for ensuring user buy-in.
Get user buy-in
When a business decides to move toward a paperless office, one of the key areas that will contribute to its success is the users themselves. Ensuring that the staff is on board with the change in their workflows and processes will help drive the implementation of a paperless office.
Getting user buy-in requires demonstrating the benefits and how productivity and efficiency will improve for the business and employees. Organizations should be encouraged to hold open forums where employees can voice their questions and opinions. An open forum can help instill the idea that a change of this scale is a collaborative effort.
With employee buy-in, management can better understand the current practices and how they will change with a paperless office strategy.
Understand the costs of a paperless office
Eliminating paper within an office may not be a huge cost saver after considering some of the high costs associated with the software and hardware necessary.
A paperless office requires physical hardware such as scanners, digital storage, servers to run the software back end and software applications to manage the scanned or digitally created documents. The cost varies depending on the company's size and its vertical. For example, electronic medical records systems for healthcare can be very expensive, while manufacturing organizations may be able to opt for a generic document scanning software to capture and index scanned forms.
Outside of the technology, there is also the human capital cost associated with the time needed to scan legacy documents into the new digital system.
Despite the cost of investment, a paperless office strategy can still be a net gain. Organizations should expect several efficiency gains from being able to search and analyze data in a digital format, which may make the cost more bearable.