Many of us have heard about it, the fact that you are reading this article shows that you are interested in it. "Is it realistic to have a "paperless office"? What are the benefits of a "paperless office"? Besides, as you read this you are more than likely surrounded by paper. Paper has blossomed into an integrated part of our everyday business and personal life, and has become woven into our mental framework. So is it really possible to achieve a "paperless office and why should you? Please join me in examining these questions in a 3 part series "So You're Considering a Paperless Office." In part 1 we talk about what you should consider when thinking about a paperless office. Part 2 examines if it is realistic to have a paperless office and the true expectations you should have. Part 3 discusses finding the right paperless office system for your organization.
SO WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF PAPER?
You can touch it, write on it, and easily pass it along to others. For the most part it is relatively inexpensive and very abundant. We all use it, from business interactions to grocery list, without a doubt paper has become an integrated part of our everyday life. Paper appeals to our sense of touch, we can grasp it ("put our finger on it") and proclaim we "have it in black and white." It requires very little training to use and is extremely easy to manipulate. So why stop a good thing?
Actually, the same qualities that make paper so favorable causes major disadvantages. For example:
Paper can be Easily Lost or Destroyed
Over Time Paper Requires Massive Storage Space
Although Paper is Easy to Physically Move Around, It Requires Person to Person Interactions
Paper is Exceptionally Easy to Copy
PAPER DISADVANTAGES EXAMINED
The very trait that makes paper appeal to our sense of touch is the same trait that makes it a liability. Just think about that last time you've misplaced or lost an important document and the time spent frantically trying to find it (not to mentioning others who have assisted you). Was it thrown out? Accidentally shredded? Placed back in the wrong spot? The ease at which we use paper makes it very susceptible to the fast moving environment we work in. The physical properties of paper, its thin, lightweight and flexible nature are highly desirable traits, yet these make it very easy to lose, misplace or destroy. Once a paper document has been destroyed you can never get that document back. Of course you can re-create it or use back up paper copies. But is having duplicated copies a good thing? Sure it provides you with a backup "in case", but there are several associated hazards with having that. A major problem with this involves documents that contain confidential information such as client or employee records. In these cases a strict accountability of all copies is needed, and maybe required by state or federal law; therefore each individual having a copy must adhere to the same standards for securing this information. Getting people to adhere to these security measures may prove difficult if not impossible at times. A serious violation could be something as innocent as leaving an open file on a desk or leaving it unattended in a conference room. Even the highest levels of our government experiences problems controlling the release of confidential information. Remember, all it takes is one careless or disgruntled employee to open the door to disaster.
For the majority of us, the paper we use is very thin and occupies very little space when kept within moderation. However, over time, this quickly turns into excess requiring massive amounts of storage space. To accommodate this need, we tend to pack it into file cabinets, desk drawers and other crevices we find that will get it out of our way until it is needed again. Since paper does not have the ability to automatically delete itself theses piles grow quickly. Remember when you had just one file cabinet? Has that one cabinet now morphed into a dedicated file room and offsite storage facilities? What about your own personal workspace. Has your working area transformed into the paper monster?
While paper's physical properties makes it easy to lose, misplace, destroy or piled up, it also requires person to person interactions to transfer. Have you ever needed a file from a co-worker who was out of the office that day? What do you do? Like many, you probably raided their cubicle or office hoping to locate the necessary files. Or have you ever worked outside of the office or moving between multiple office locations and realized that you forgot an important file? Sure you can have the information faxed to you but is that really an optimal solution? In most cases, the answer is no.
I remember several years back while working as a manager for a healthcare management company that had an entire room dedicated to file cabinets in addition to several of the hallways. My daily duties involved sharing confidential files with several people throughout the organization and locating information scattered throughout the mass of file cabinets. While the job was very rewarding and challenging, few days would pass by that were not hampered by the inability to find files that were either misfiled, sitting on someone else's desk or just flat out lost. Although we had instituted the use of a sign in and out sheet when taking files, this was rarely used. As a result, we lost valuable time on a daily basis.
THE REAL BENEFITS OF A PAPERLESS OFFICE
While it is relatively easy to calculate savings from going paperless by looking at your current offsite storage cost, employee time spent transferring and locating files, and rediscovering office space previously used for storage, the real benefits of moving away from a paper based operation far outpaces these calculated cost. To truly understand these benefits and what they mean to you and your organization, ask yourself:
?How important is our data? What if we lost it all tomorrow, could we maintain our operations?
?Is our data worth protecting from unauthorized usage? Should all employees have access to all information within our organization? Is it important to have the ability to know who as "accessed" our data?
?Are we able to quickly access and find information? Is it necessary to have remote access to our data?
?Can we benefit from never losing a document to an accidental deletion?
All these questions point to one main question:
Is it Important to Have the Ability to PROTECT, LOCATE and ACCESS your Data at All Times?
If your answer is yes, then the paperless office is something you might want to strongly consider. But is it realistic to have a paperless office? In part 2 of this series we examine the hurdles to having a paperless office and the true expectations that should be established.
In part 3 we will discuss "Finding the Right Paperless Office System for Our Needs"
(About the Author: N'Gai Cobb is the Corporate Director for Future Filing, LLC, (www.FutureFiling ) a paperless office system that is designed to give small to medium sized companies a paperless office tool that is generally only affordable to large Fortune 500 type corporations. You can reach him at ncobb futurefiling or call 1-800-291-7129 x701.)
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