Only one major obstacle stands in the way of a PaperLess office – and it is not technology. It is resistance to re-structuring business processes to accommodate such a switch. That should not come as a surprise. Business has relied on paper documents for thousands of years. Even today, with computers on most everyone’s desk and email fast becoming the leading mode of business communication, paper maintains a firm foothold. Check out most any business office and you will still see desks with overflowing copies of emails, memos and reports scattered about. The irony is that much of that paper is copies of documents already stored in computers!
Just redesigning a business’s workflow and eliminating all the redundant paper handling will enhance the bottom line. Most of the technology – hardware and software – is here today and is proven technology. A conversion now is even more alluring because prices for paperless equipment – computers, scanners, storage device and software – have dropped markedly in the past five years.
Steps to Go PaperLess
Once an organization opts to go paperless, it should create a planning committee with representation from most of the affected departments. Its initial task will be to determine whether the company’s information technology (IT) infrastructure is capable of handling the extra burden. While it’s helpful if some members have a technology background, it’s more important that each member understand the details of how the business operates and how paperwork flows in and among the various departments. Once the committee assesses the organization’s IT capability, it next must decide how paperless it wants to go; that will determine how comprehensively it will have to re-engineer its workflow and IT equipment.
For example, you can start small: converting just the accounts-payable department. An oversimplified workflow path will probably look something like this: First the paper invoices will be hand sorted and stacked in a scanner, where that information is digitized and stored in the computer. For verification that data would then be transmitted to the appropriate managers’ computers and, after approval, passed back to accounts payable for eventual payment.
You may not realize it, but your organization probably has already taken its first steps toward a paperless office. Consider how much raw data are already in digital form either already in your computers or flowing in from various sources such as remote computers, handheld personal digital assistants, telephones, remote cash registers and wireless laptops. So the only data that are likely to need conversion are from the never-ending flow of paper.
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