We had dreams of a paperless workforce. By now we should have laser rays shooting out of our eyes that can scan, decode and upload relevant information into our bionic brains, eliminating the need for us to handle paper documents of any kind. For many of us, that simply isn’t the way it worked out.

Freeing Ourselves from Paper

Not only do we still print out our emails (you know who you are) or keep a fax machine around, according to a new report released by AIIM, paper is still leaking into the business despite our best efforts to eliminate it from our professional lives. The report, The Paper Free Office - Dream or Reality? provides the results of a survey of 477 individual members of the AIIM community.

AIIM, supported by a host of other companies who actively support paper-free solutions, designed the report to highlight what’s working and what isn’t for companies in their pursuit to integrate paperless solutions. While AIIM and their supporters are heavily invested in the plight of the paper free office (after all, it was the Ottawa branch of the AIIM First Canadian Chapter that celebrated October 27 as World Paper Free Day), they are most interested in better understanding how companies prioritize their paper needs and wants.

Less Paper Consumption, Scan-to-Archive Dominates

First and most importantly, there is less paper floating around offices, especially among the biggest organizations. And while the consumption of paper and the number of photocopies is decreasing in 35% of organizations, small and mid-sized organizations are making little progress.


Most companies aren’t actively using scanning and capture as a routine part of the process, either because they don’t have access to the right technologies or because they are more focused on scan-to-archive. The researchers noted that:

only half of those organizations who capture text and data from scanned forms and documents actually link it into the process, as opposed to using it for routing through the process or indexing for archive.”


The Cost of Paper vs. Paper Free

When we think of the paper that currently exists in our offices, for every document that is securely stored in the cloud, there is an amazing amount of paper that still exists because it’s hard for us to think of it in any other form -- like invoices, brochures, faxes and mail (both out-going and incoming). But it’s not outrageous to think that it could be effectively captured digitally, which would not only make it more accessible (especially for those who work out of virtual offices) but also better archived and managed.


The researchers remind us that all these paper forms incur costs related to printing, distribution, mailing, collection and sorting, whether they go on to be scanned or are used directly in the process as paper.

So what is the benefit of going paperless? Respondents indicated that they were most interested in the better searchability and sharability of documents that scan and capture technologies provided, as well as improved process productivity and reduced storage costs.


Learning Opportunities

And what about the customers? As much as organizations can expect to improve efficiency and cut costs, how much does going paper free impact customers? Perhaps more than we give credit for. The survey showed 70% of existing users consider that scanning and capture has improved customer response by a factor of 3, and nearly 30% are seeing response improved by a factor of 10.

Closer to Paper Free

How do you get to be paper free? The study highlights two key components to going paper free -- digital mailrooms and mobile capture. Both technologies aim to reduce paper, while making existing logistical processes more efficient.

Build a Digital Mailroom

The term “digital mailroom” generally refers to a mixture of incoming mail that is scanned and routed internally, as opposed to the more dedicated sorting of specific forms or coupons for scanning to a single process. Forty-one percent of respondents operate some form of digital mailroom, either as a centralized operation, perhaps with high-throughput scanners or as a distributed operation at
branch offices.

The primary reported benefit of the digital mailroom approach was a faster turnaround time to customers, as well as immediate availability of the latest communication, whether that is by letter, email or fax.

Invest in Mobile Capture

Whether they know it or not, most of the enterprise has access to a mobile capture device, be it a smartphone or tablet device. Accordingly, in 38% of organizations, some form of portable capture device is in use. Portable scanners are the most popular, used to capture paper forms and supporting documents such as receipts, certificates and most recently, checks, while smartphones and cameras are used for capturing photo-records.


Mobile capture also presents opportunities for electronic signatures. Over 80% of respondents using mobile capture have applications that would benefit from mobile signature capture.

Will We Ever Achieve a Paper Free Office?

Who knows -- some organizations are well on the way, while others may be contented to balance paper and digital assets. However, for those that aim to strategically integrate scan and capture solutions so that they can effectively increase productivity, improve customer responsiveness, while decreasing costs, AIIM and its supporters hope that this study will not only highlight the current landscape but outline the journey ahead.