Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reaction from a Tweet . . .Clarification on Paperless Office

Today I was going through my saved twitter searches. As one of them is "paperless” I am often bombarded with everything from "I haven't used a pen in a year", to bank statement errors after someone switches to new “paperless" billing, to today's find, which may be my favorite.

"A paperless office makes about as much sense as a paperless bathroom"

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? This leads me to another favorite quote.

"Try being informed, and not just opinionated."

Perhaps that was harsh- perhaps not, regardless, it does indicate that more education is needed in the "non-scanning geek" sector.

And the biggest problem here is that the concept of "paperless", while useful for a myriad of reasons, is more about the authoritative record of a company, and less about saving trees- though, properly implemented, reducing the resources consumed is an ancillary benefit, as is space-saving, and reduced risk of loss.

Ultimately, the paperLESS office is just that. .. LESS paper- as it relates to corporate information and records. This should not be confused with paperFREE offices, which might, as AfantasyDiva contends, be as useless as a “paperfree” bathroom. (I’m sorry, we don't accept cash/ checks for payment- we're paperFREE here. . ..)

There IS a place for paper, even in a "Paperless office". . . paper has some benefits, including portability, and that the only hardware requirement is your eyes. Incoming documents are often paper-based, and cannot be controlled, which contributes to the existence of paper whether a paperless office system has been implemented or not.

In continuing on my "twitter journey" I see that many people complain about the proliferation of paper, which seem to worsen after implementing electronic routines to replace formerly paper routines ( ie, email instead of a letter, or an e-form instead of a paper form). Some companies have implemented “mailroom” scanning, where every incoming paper document is scanned, and routed electronically. While it's true that this can reduce the risk of loss, it is also easier to recreate these documents in paper format, which means that discipline becomes the key to a successful "paperless" initiative. (There is no reason to look for the original copy if you can simply press "print" and recreate a duplicate of the original.)

So how does one control the amount of reprinting that takes place when it is often faster to simply print a copy than seek the one you know you already have?

We have implemented two different methods to address this:

1) Restrict the amount of paper they are allowed to use within a certain time period, or

2) Restrict the print function

At one large client, we implemented a system to capture and manage emails that were formerly printed and filed as a part of a client record. While this addressed the issue of retention and completeness in a customer record, the old habits of the employees of printing the emails to read them were hard to break. Finally, we offered the following solution. Each employee gets 500 sheets of paper per year. They can use it at will, however, once they have used that, they are responsible for bringing in their own. The unnecessary waste stopped once the employees felt the pain in their own pockets.

The second option, restricting the "print" function, stemmed from privacy regulations, such as HIPAA. Because of the sensitive nature of medical records, if a record was going to be printed, it could only be printed for certain reasons, such as a need for insurance reimbursement. While it would be simple to restrict all users from ever printing, this left no room for exceptions. With an advanced audit trail, anyone printing a record is prompted for their reason for printing. Because they have logged in, the system can report the users who are printing electronic documents, and their reasons for doing so.

Initially, this functionality was an advanced audit trail function, which could cost a significant amount of money. With the advent of all inclusive BPM products such as Laserfiche Avante, and Rio, this functionality is now included at a more reasonable price point, reflective of the number of users in the system.

Doing this requires planning, processes, and procedures- acceptable reasons for printing must be defined, and users must be trained to be comfortable with an on-screen replication of what they used to be able to hold in their hands. This can take time, however, is rewarded by easier user adoption of a completely new way of doing business.

Ergonomic advances, including double monitors, resolution, and magnification can be used to ensure a user's ease in transitioning to this. As with any change, involving the users, understanding concerns, and setting expectations are all among the more critical pieces of a successful "paperless" initiative. Expounding on the benefits to the users, and "selling them" that changes to their ways of working will be beneficial to them personally, will all assist, and keep the amount of redundant paper down, hopefully, resulting in a win for everyone, a more productive office, with fewer wasted resources.

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