Worldwide, the promise of the paper-free enterprise has made the rounds for decades. While digital transformation is still on the horizon and drifts nearer, many voices doubt whether paperless ambitions will ever come to shore to create real change in our organizations.
The AIIM Industry Watch Report titled “Paper Free in 2016 - Are we there yet?” tells a different story. While there is still a long road ahead, interest and motivation toward a paper-free business environment is increasing, and AIIM research finds that a quarter of respondents already indicate running a clear desk/paper-free workplace, and 43% say paper is decreasing in their offices somewhat to rapidly.
Today, the approach to digital transformation has shifted from a technology perspective, and paper-free processes have become a focal point and opportunity. What holds us back, however, is the human factor, still the primary reason for paper use in handling, reading, and note taking. Also, there is still a lack of management initiatives to move away from paper, and not enough understanding and awareness when it comes to paper-free options.
Looks Good on Paper
The reality for many is that paper still has a stranglehold on their day-to-day activities. For example, most of the processes they are tasked with – like review and approval – still require physical interactions with paper-based information. When we asked our respondents to describe their office or organization, 65% say they are still signing contracts, booking forms, and more on paper, with 51% indicating they regularly scan documents but only to archive. (Figure 1)
Figure 1. Which of the following would describe your office or typical offices in your organization?
More Possible than Ever
Despite the challenges, the once elusive concept of paper-free business operations is today a real possibility. The only remaining question is one of barriers. What is preventing the organization from eliminating the paper? Are there regulatory or legal requirements mandating paper be used and maintained, or is it a cultural issue where staff and management are more comfortable with the paper than the digital information?
To gain insight into the barriers holding your organization back, it may worthwhile to assess your current state against a baseline, for instance the AIIM Industry Watch Report titled “Paper Free in 2016 - Are we there yet?”
While it may be optimistic and unrealistic to think that all business processes and transactions will be paper-free in the near future, it is realistic to identify processes where paper can be removed. Greater knowledge of your existing systems and operations can help you optimize current paperless processes or determine the best jumping off point for a new paper-free initiative.
Most importantly, change management and executive level support must be addressed early. Determine leadership and involve all stakeholders wherever possible. Strive for a clear vision and direction to answer the why, when, where, and how paper reduction and paper-free processes can and should be implemented.
About Thomas LaMonte
Thomas LaMonte is an AIIM Market Intelligence Analyst well versed and credentialed in the fields of ECM, ERM, and BPM with a heightened focus on solving the operational problems of today’s businesses.