Many of us probably still have some lying around somewhere. You know, those little binders packed with people’s business cards that we’ve kept accumulating through the years. Never mind the fact that we rarely – if ever – used those cards. The fact is we kept them, ostensibly “neatly arranged” in those little binders. Gah. Talk about useless.
Years ago now, someone first came up with the idea of mini scanners and associated software that was specifically designed to allow people to get rid of those little cards and instead scan them into a program that kept them all electronically. It made sense. You could have them all collected in one place and no longer need the physical cards – unless you decided to keep a few to use as bookmarks. They’re really ideal for that.
Most of us will also admit, of course, that once we scanned in those cards we never used them again.
So, zoom ahead to 2017. While the example I just cited might be somewhat obsolete, the idea behind it is still pretty solid. All of us are constantly looking for ways to get rid of paper – especially at work. Think about how much paperwork floats around your organization that really serves no purpose. Or, worse, think about the paperwork floating around that is very important, but is so easily misplaced. Indeed, there is merit to making those documents electronic. Neatness, access and easy “share-ability” are good things. And in case you’re wondering… yes, I just made up a new word.
Paperwork starts out as being an essential part of most operations (from permission slips to invoices to transcripts to HR files to admittance forms), but after a while, what good is it? Sure, the data is still good, but the physical paper itself just becomes burdensome. In a business environment, it can actually become a compliance nightmare.
It gets in the way of getting important work done and increases costs.
While it’s probably not realistic to think we can completely eliminate paper, it’s very doable to eliminate paper versions of documents no longer needed. And therein lies the magic of enterprise content management, or ECM. As soon as you scan, capture and index all the data electronically, you can ditch the paper.
The Three Ws of Paperless: Who, What and When
So how do you get to a paperless state? Or, toward it, anyway? Thinking about your business, you can start with these three proven pillars:
Which department to try first? Consider targeting the most influential areas – departments with either the largest quantity or the most mission-critical records. You may find some areas you can tackle on an application level versus solely a departmental level. Human Resources, Accounts Payable, and Accounts Receivable, for example, are excellent places to start that create a high impact of productivity once electronic documents are available for instant accessibility, promoting collaboration, data sharing between systems and easy auditing. Experts estimate that employees spend five to 15 percent of their time reading information and up to 50 percent searching for it.
The conversion to digital records can significantly alleviate the cost associated with managing all of your organization’s content, including not just retrieval time, but storage and purchasing costs (read: paper and copier toner). Once you’ve identified the areas that have the most to gain from using ECM, you need to assess the business content flowing in and out of those departments.
From loose pages in file cabinets and mail, to digital content like email and their attachments, it’s a good idea to identify the file formats and business processes these documents support, along with the systems and users who need them. Identifying and really understanding this information is helpful in that it can help you identify where you are. You need to know that before you can move forward most effectively.
Think about the life cycle of the paperwork those departments see. How is it used? How often? By whom? Identify a plan for each step along the way from creation or receipt to collaboration to archival/retention. This will help you identify when to capture and how to index (apply keywords, security, automated folders, workflows and so on). This is part of your document management strategy and provides insight into – and control over – business processes. Armed with that information, you can more easily address issues surrounding productivity, service, costs and more.
Ideally, it’s recommended that you work toward completing two to three high-impact areas/departments before kicking off a new area of focus. Once you’ve mastered the small scale, the larger-scale stuff isn’t quite so daunting.
Becoming agile at eliminating paper takes some weeding out of the things that are no longer useful. It can seem overwhelming in the beginning, but once you hit your stride, there is nothing like the feeling of success.
One final word of advice. Go ahead and throw away that business card for “Ralph’s Clown Balloons & Birthday Entertainment.” You’re not going to use it.
Besides, clowns are creepy.