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Can a paperless office become a reality?

Can a paperless office become a reality?

When I first started work, the internet was in it’s infancy, laptops had black and white screens and computing had just reached the stage where it was widely affordable through-out the workplace.

As a result, people were heralding the imminent arrival of the paperless office (and have been ever since), the effect however was quite the opposite.

Far from achieving the paperless office, cheap computers and printers made it easier than ever before to produce large volumes of printing with HP Laserjets spewing out acres of forests across the planet. Emails were being printed so that they could be read and disposed of, invoices were being printed in triplicate so that sales could have a copy, accounts could have a copy and another copy could be folded up and posted to the customer and endless amounts of scrap paper was produced due to accidental prints or printer malfunction. In addition to the printing costs, storage and disposal costs have also spiralled, not to mention the environmental impact. So is the paperless office a myth, a work of fiction written by Douglas Adams that only exists at the end of the universe? I don’t think so.

At Dynamics Consultants we think we’ve ‘nearly’ cracked it (sorry Mr. Postman). Email is already taking business from the Post Office at an incredible rate, but then how can you compete with a service that is virtual instantaneous and almost free.

Our Document Sending Solution for Microsoft Dynamics NAV already handles most of our outgoing documents, with invoices, remittance advices, orders, quotations all automatically going out via email and copies archived as required, we have a pdf printer as the default printer on our computers to avoid accidental prints, we have no fax machine, no franking machine and 1 really slow printer that hardly ever gets used.

All users are given 2 monitors so that they can easily cut and paste from one application to another and the meeting room has a computer and screen so that agendas, minutes, presentations etc. can all be viewed electronically. In addition to the office, smart phones now make it possible to take information out of the office with you to view on the road and remote working enables all the facilities available in the office available to you from home or a customer’s site.

So, has Dynamics Consultants achieved the paperless office. Not quite.

We have been going for 5 years and during that time we have amassed a "staggering amount" of 5 lever arch files of filing – although close, not quite paperless. So what do these 5 files represent – well mostly Purchase Ledger invoices with the remainder being signed agreements. We have an answer to the Purchase Invoices, about 40-50% of our invoices arrive electronically and we have added out Document Receiving solution to our system so we can drag electronic invoices into NAV for filing against the Posted Invoice.

The solution also allows us to scan a document into the system via the fast, duplex desktop scanner in real time whilst processing the invoice and also OCR’ing the document to enable content searching – the originals are then just placed in a box ready for disposal. When the rest of the world catches up with us so that all incoming documents arrive electronically, we will then only have to find a solution for signed documents (we’re working on it)!

What steps can you take towards creating a paperless office?

A lot of companies see the task of reducing the paper load as too onerous to tackle and so end up just not bothering. It can be achieved in small steps though, here are a few pointers.

1.Put the systems in place to help reduce the paperwork now!

a.Ensure your system can store, and just as importantly, easily retrieve electronically stored documents.

b.Ensure you can easily send out documents via email – one of the biggest barriers to adopting a paperless approach is because it is easier to print and get someone else to post than to email. Systems that produce the document and automatically attach it to an email remove this obstacle.

c.Ensure that any type of file can be easily converted to a pdf. Most Office products now have a send as pdf option, and for everything else there are pdf printers that fill the gap.

2.Setup generic email addresses – e.g. accounts@ - so that changes of personnel do not mean time consuming notifications to customers.

3.Educate new customers / vendors to work paperlessly from day 1. It is easier to start by saying ‘which email address do you want me to send the invoice too?’ rather than ‘how do you want to receive the invoice?’

4.Start off with the big wins! Work on your most prolific 10 customers / vendors each week, don’t waste time chasing Customers for email details if they don’t buy anything.

5.Ask yourself – do I need a hard copy of that? Do you need to keep copies of Sales Invoices if your system will allow you to reprint them or if you can keep a copy printed as a pdf.

6.Ensure users can do there day to day tasks without needing a printed copy. Multiple screens are a great aid towards this and facilitate better efficiency. Most users are resistant to the idea of multiple screens, persuade them to try it for a few weeks and most are then reluctant to give them up.

7.Use technology in meetings - notes taken in a meeting on a laptop are much easier to distribute after the meeting and less time consuming than handwritten notes. Update meeting minutes on a visible screen so that you get buy in and agreement from all attendees.

8.Ensure it is easier to do it right than to do it wrong! Human nature follows the path of least resistance, putting the printer at the other end of the office can sometimes be enough to get users to change their printing habits.

There is a price to pay for this near paperless progress though, I now have to buy paper for the children to draw on.

Tom Jenkins

Tom Jenkins is the Managing Director at Dynamics Consultants. As well as having a strong product knowledge, his strategic knowledge of industry and the business landscape helps him to provide thought leadership to a range of vertical sectors. 

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