How to Go Paperless in the Office
Going paperless in an office environment may sound intimidating, especially for a well-established business where processes are based on the routing and storage of hard-copy documents. The truth of the matter is, going paperless is not a difficult goal to attain. In fact, it is easier to do today than ever, and the benefits to going paperless are significant.
Steps to Going Paperless in the Office
As is the case with any significant change to business processes, understanding the process changes required to go paperless is key.
Most managers are familiar with the concept and benefits of delegation, and delegating is important in the case of a major business process change like going paperless. Outsourcing the process to professionals who specialize in paperless document storage and retrieval can make for a smooth and flawless transition. The outsourcing professional can also help you with transitioning from the paper-based approval workflows that are driven by routing documents for physical signatures to a process driven by digital content. Each case is different, but the process for going paperless can be straightforward.
- Consider which document management solution is right for your business. Should the server be in-house or is a cloud solution better? There are benefits, risks and costs associated with either approach. This question often comes down to your corporate IT strategy and existing infrastructure. In addition, you must always evaluate your internet bandwidth when considering the performance of accessing documents from the “cloud”.
- Determine those documents that can be stored digitally and which original hard copies must be maintained. This decision will require a review of your corporate document retention policy and potentially a discussion with an attorney.
- Store generic forms and other business templates in a Cloud storage or Intranet solution, ensuring they are accessible in one central location.
- Set document permissions and access levels. Make sure to consider all employees and security levels. For example, some documents may only be accessible by certain employees; others may provide read-only access to some employees and edit access to others. Make sure that you have a solution for maintaining these permissions as people and roles change in the future.
- With your plan in place, next you will have to consider the actual conversion of documents from paper to electronic versions. In many cases today, the documents already exist in electronic formats such as email attachments or PDF files generated by your business systems. Consider options for uploading electronic documents without ever printing and scanning them. Existing paper documents must be scanned in order to convert them into the electronic format you choose and uploaded onto your server or into the cloud.
- A big and costly consideration is whether you will handle the conversion task yourself or outsource it to a professional firm. Largely, this decision is dependent on the volume of documents that will be scanned and the in-house resources, expertise and technology available. Professionals can often scan and index your documents for less when you consider the true cost of scanning documents internally. For internal processing, management, labor, and floor space costs, must be considered as well as the cost of the hardware, software and associated annual maintenance fees.
- Your staff must be trained on the various processes surrounding document generation, storage, retrieval, and editing. Quality control is another area to address when implementing internal scanning.
The Benefits of Going Paperless
In today’s competitive and cost-conscious environment, it is hard to overestimate the advantages. Here is an example of how it can benefit you.
- Conservation and the environment are both driving factors for many office managers. Even if this type of corporate activism is not your goal, it can be an unintended side effect that you can tout to your customers.
- Documents are easier to find access thus increasing employee productivity. Searching a database on invoice numbers or keywords saves an innumerable amount of time versus going through multiple filing cabinets, file folders or digital folders, especially when the document could have been misfiled.
- Paperless offices can save on supplies and overhead costs. If your organization is paper-heavy, it can save on printing costs as well as overhead expenses like external storage and office space.
In the long run, going paperless will benefit most organization by increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and can indirectly give you an edge over your competition.