The paperless office is still to a large extent a dream. But the possibility of developing paperless processes is a very real opportunity, according to this year’s AIIM annual industry watch research.

The findings are contained in AIIM’s Paper Wars: An Update From The Battlefield. AIIM — the Association for Information and Image Management — is a global community of information professionals. The research is the result of a global survey of 336 AIIM members between September and October of this year.

According to Doug Miles, report author and director of market intelligence, paper documents are still clogging offices and stalling business processes even though office workers are mobile, computer literate and aware that paper-free processes improve productivity and lower costs. But the news isn't all bad.

Save A Tree Anyone?

The number of organizations that say that the amount paper being used in their business processes is decreasing and now stands at 46 percent, as opposed to the 25 percent that say the amount of paper is increasing. In last year’s survey 41 percent said the amount of paper in processes is decreasing and 19 percent reported it was increasing. In all this represents a negligible change over the two years.

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Breaking that down even further, the research shows that larger organizations are making much faster progress with 55 percent reporting a decrease in paper use, a net difference of 41 percent in respect of the organizations that are reporting an increase.

It is hard to pinpoint why this should be the case, but it may be because smaller companies have less money to invest in new technologies. However, Miles also points out that scanners and other kinds of capture technology are widespread and that many documents now arrive electronically anyway.

On top of that, more than half of this group are 100 to 500 employee organizations, where significant numbers are employed in administration and process-based operations, which in themselves are costly operations. Introducing paperless processes here would surely result in significant savings.

Paper Reduction

The introduction of paperless processes can also have significant impact on storage and storage costs, including physical storage. Over the past year, the average amount of floor space taken up by physical files has fallen from 15.3 percent to 13.5 percent.

If this is not a huge reduction, it is going in the right direction. Scanning and imaging technology is becoming easier to access so the need for physical files should in most cases disappear.

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From the figures presented here, it seems that the message is getting through, albeit very slowly, with a substantial number of businesses still depending on physical files for many business processes.

Asked how successful an electronic system would be in dealing with this problem, those that responded estimated that the introduction of such a system would reduce the dependency on paper and floor space for that paper by half, providing a saving in floor space of 7 percent.

Scanning and Capture

Scanning and capture technologies are not just about saving on floor space, although at current commercial rental rates for office space that in itself is a fairly strong motivator. However, the real business gain from these technologies is their ability to pull information into the enterprise system in such a way as to be findable again in the future.

AIIM has been asking organizations about this since it started reseating this subject. Every year the answer is the same.

Organizations look to scanning and capture to provide improved search ability and easier sharing of business documents. In the current climate where collaboration is a cornerstone of processes in most business organizations, the importance of scanning and capture cannot be overestimated.

There is a very long discussion about this in the report itself, which is a must anyway for organizations trying to develop document management strategies.

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However, a few things are worth noting. The first is that many documents are photocopied before they are scanned, especially in outlying offices that are not connected to the main organization network.

Two thirds of scanned documents are kept after scanning suggesting a lack of faith in the scanning process or the ability organizations to store documents. Photocopying also suggests a lack of faith in in the longevity of electronic archives, or a misunderstanding of their legal position, and simply results in warehouses of documents that are not necessarily compliant with standards in operation in given industries.

Miles adds that precautionary copying may also be used where document scanning is outsourced, but again, unless continuous access is needed, a close audit trail of the process should be sufficient for assurance.

Paper-Free Processes

Asked how far their organization was towards the goal of paperless processes, 44 percent feel they are only 10 percent down the road to achieving that goal, including 14 percent that haven’t even started planning in this direction.

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The figures show that 9 percent are planning to introduce their first paper-free process, while 23 percent report that they have no paper-free processes at all. About 17 percent of organizations are updating processes at the rate of five or more per year, with some even undertaking 10 or even 20 per year.

It is also worth noting that they are not just the large organizations or government agencies. They are of all sizes and industries.

Mobile Capture and Cloud

Capture, though, is still developing at a rapid rate and like other technologies it is changing with the new possibilities offered by cloud and mobile computing. Miles points out that development of cameras on mobiles has greatly improved and that the capabilities of scanning from mobiles have improved with them.

However, there are still some major issues with mobile and enabling workers access content from their mobiles. This includes concerns about capturing information outside the organization and sending it into business siloes inside the organization.

Tablets will also change the way capture is carried out and opens up a lot more possibilities. According to the research if only 6 percent of respondents say that half, or more of their employees are currently using tablets or digital clipboards for filling forms, 53 percent believe that they will be doing the same in five years’ time.

Moving Forward

To move this forward there needs to be change in the way businesses do what they do. As a parting shot, Miles also points to a number of things holding back the development of paper free processes and, by extension the paperless office> While he offers a wide ranging discussion around these issues they can be summed up as follows and in this order:

  • There needs to be a will or mandate to introduce these kinds of processes
  • There needs to be physical signatures on contracts
  • Staff prefers paper for handling and reading documents and content
  • Lack of understanding of paper free options
  • Suppliers and customers continue to send paper
  • Legal admissibility will be compromised

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There are other reasons too including in last position the costs of implementing scanning or capture options. Even the quickest scan of the list shows that a lot of the issues blocking this kind of work are at C-Suite level and could be overcome with the right attitude.

In the meantime, progress is slow and will continue to be so for the coming year and it seems unlikely that much will have changed when we visit the subject again in 12 months.