The paperless office is only a dream, and we should be setting our sights a little bit lower.

That's how Doug Miles introduces this year’s AIIM Industry Watch report on document management, specifically on paper-free processes.

Even though office workers are mobile, computer literate and aware that paper-free processes improve productivity and lower costs, most organizations are still struggling against the tide of paper documents that clog offices and stall business processes.

AIIM — the Association for Information and Image Management — is a global community of information professionals.

Get Agile

However, all is not lost, Miles said. Enterprises need to change the rules of engagement in this ongoing war on waste and pointless printouts by focusing on paper-free processes that either eliminate or reduce the use of paper.

This is an interesting shift in strategy from the industry watch papers on the same subject over the past five years. Year after year, we have followed the research from AIIM and year after the problems repeat themselves: poor records management, poor C-Suite engagement and poor document strategy development.

This year's report, Paper Wars: An Update From The Battlefield, reiterates the same problems. And now, Miles is calling for a change in strategy — a move that we have already seen with across the more agile document management vendors like Alfresco, Docurated, Hyland (now OnBase) and M-Files.

Leave your bloated, overweighed systems behind and go agile. "We have been fighting the paper wars for a very long time. These days the technological weaponry is cheaper, better, faster. The office troops are mobile, agile and highly computer literate. The rules of engagement have legitimized scanned copies and digital signatures," he stressed.

AIIM president John Mancini, in a blog post about the report, questioned why we're still so stuck on paper:

One would think after 20 years of talking about paperless offices that we would have made more progress than we have. The truth of the matter is that while paper consumption -- and paper infused processes -- are decreasing, the rate of decline is still somewhat slow."

C-Suite Apathy

Mancini said one of the biggest obstacles to paperless offices is the lack of engagement by senior management. When asked whether they had a specific policy to drive paper out of the business, only 35 percent of responding organizations said yes, he explained.

To reduce or eliminate paper, management needs to set the stage and give employees permission to use tools like electronic signatures and digital records.

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Docurated CEO Alex Gorbansky reiterated that message, noting that the report highlights the "significant disconnect between executive level corporate imperatives and the realities on the ground across many large enterprises." To realize their corporate mandates, organizations need to look for operational best practices from their peers, including the use of electronic signature, he told CMSWire

Efficient and Economical

It goes without saying that electronic records save space, improve fundability and reduce waste. Yet billions of unnecessary paper copies are still printed around the world every day, Miles said. "A very strong case can be made for all-digital processes in improved productivity and lower costs, but the biggest impact is on speed of response — response to inbound mail, response to bottlenecks, response to regulatory changes, but above all, response to the customer, citizen or client," he noted.

“Business-at-the-speed-of-paper” is not acceptable any more in a world of instant file shares, mobile, social and other collaboration technologies.

The Problem With Paper

This year’s research reflects responses from 366 AIIM members surveyed between September and October.

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Geographically, 71 percent of the respondents come from North America, 14 percent from Europe and 15 percent from the rest of the world.

Today, we will look at the use of paper in the office at the moment and later in the week at the problems and solutions that paper and paperless processes can solve. Although 21 percent or organizations report paper use continues to climb, 33 percent said use has remained stable — and the remainder report a decline.

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Why so much paper? The biggest driver is meetings, according to 59 percent of respondents. Then there’s signatures, along with documents respondents print simply to read offline or out of the office. While it seems tablets have become ubiquitous, office workers still seem to prefer paper copies to password-protected digital documents.

Title image by Dino Borelli  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.