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The ways businesses produce, consume and distribute information has changed forever. Most of this has been driven by new technologies that have led to a reduction in the amount of information on paper and an increase in what is stored digitally.

The change has also been driven by pressures for greater environmental accountability and a need to reduce costs. As such, it’s no wonder businesses are playing closer attention to what they print.

One aspect that’s not often associated with printing is productivity. While there’s been a shift away from traditional printing habits, many organisations remain stuck in a ‘twilight zone’ where there is some adoption of digital technologies but also a heavy reliance on paper-based systems. For example, a business may have a sophisticated CRM system in place but still use paper-based processes to track the delivery of goods. In many cases, the barrier toward further adoption of new technologies is cost. Document management systems, for instance, can be extremely expensive to implement for a small business.

That isn’t to say such systems don’t boost productivity. So how then, do you go about making the right choices and invest in technology that helps reduce inefficiencies without forking out huge sums of money?

Printing identities

A good place to start is talking to your employees about how they produce, consume and distribute information at work. Your employees are at the forefront of your organisation’s operations and are well placed to help you identify inefficiencies. When it comes to printing, it’s worth investing time in auditing what your employees print, how often they do it and how much they print. Doing this can help reveal distinct printing personalities.

Generation Zero (printing)

Take a stroll through any university campus across Australia and you’ll no doubt be blown away by the number of students using laptops, iPads and other technology devices. In the US, a recent study found 73 percent of university students cannot study without technology and seven out of 10 students use a keyboard to take notes rather than a paper and pen. A staggering 98 percent also own an e-reader of some kind.

These students will soon become your employees. These Generation Y and Z students are the ones driving technology change and the shift away from paper-based processes. In the workplace, they are the employees that will attend meetings with an iPad to take notes, then upload a recording of what was discussed. Their use of technology is ingrained in their way of life and they expect and demand a similar type of experience in business.

Moving back to the productivity debate, investment in technology is a must for these employees. Expecting these ‘digital natives’ to use archaic, paper-based systems will reduce their productivity output as they will be using tools they are unaccustomed to. Can you imagine asking a 21st century executive to type all of his reports on a typewriter? The documents would take an age to produce.

Depending on the industry in which your business operates, this generation of employees may make up some or the majority of your workforce. In any case, asking them how they like to work is extremely valuable as it can uncover inefficiencies in your current set up. When it comes to printing, for instance, you may discover that ‘Generation Zero’ print documents very infrequently so a multi-function printing device will be a better option than separate colour and black and white printers that stand idle for most of the time.

Paper Lovers

At the other end of the spectrum are ‘Paper Lovers’. Despite what technology is introduced to the business, this group still insists on using paper systems wherever possible. They are the people that love a hardback book and consider reading a classic such as Wuthering Heights on an e-reader akin to dancing on Emily Bronte’s grave. At work, their notes will be taken with a pen and pad, and they insist on taking up three draws in the office filing cabinet.

A typical misconception about ‘Paper Lovers’ is that they are exclusively the older generation. In fact, many 20-something and 30-something employees can also be termed ‘Paper Lovers’. That’s because it’s not uncommon for young employees to enter the workplace and be immediately introduced to systems and processes that are heavily paper based. As such, they become dependent on this way of working from the outset of their career. This can create challenges for businesses as it means they become accustomed to processes such as printing every document to proofread, without considering whether there is a more efficient, cost effective and ‘greener’ way to do this.

Hybrids

‘Hybrids’ are likely to be the majority of your workforce. They like using technology where possible but often find themselves often using paper based processes. They are conscious about what they print but still print more than necessary. They are likely to have tried embracing technology such as using an iPad for note taking but prefer the simplicity of a pen and paper.

The challenge with ‘Hybrids’ is that very often their work is duplicated across paper based systems and digital based systems, proving extremely inefficient. For example, they are likely to take notes in a meeting with a pen and pad then type them up afterwards. Having said that, ‘Hybrids’ are usually very receptive toward business efforts to reduce printing, and embrace new technologies when introduced. They can also be good ‘champions’ of an organisation’s ‘print less policy’ and help get others on board with the mission.

Striking the balance

Once you’ve audited how your employees create, share and store information in your workplace and uncovered your printing personalities, the next step is to tackle any inefficiencies you’ve found. We recently worked with a business that was keen to tackle expensive and inefficient processes connected to the delivery of goods. Under its current setup, the company was using an external logistics company to deliver goods to customers and manage proof of delivery. All signed delivery dockets were stored by the logistics company before being returned to the company up to four weeks later. Because of the time lag, it meant if a customer queried an order it could take weeks until that issue was resolved.

Implementing sophisticated digital technology to overhaul the paper-based delivery process was not an option. It was too expensive and would require the business to run extensive training to get its ‘Paper Lovers’ workforce up to speed. The company therefore struck a balance by installing a solution that involved placing scanning devices at the logistics company’s warehouse. Now, when a delivery driver completes their daily run all documents are scanned on-site so all information is recorded centrally and available instantly. Any missing delivery dockets could be tracked in real time. This meant all deliveries were completed and recorded within one business day. The delivery docket has a barcode so the information can be automatically assigned to customer with no human intervention.

Key the success of the solution in improving business productivity was gaining a deep understanding of how employees were working with current processes and pinpointing exactly where small tweaks could be made. In this situation, the business understood that moving completely away from paper-based processes wouldn’t work for its employees so instead implemented a step-change that while not involving a huge financial investment had a huge positive impact on customer service and productivity.

Printing, productivity and people

The current pressures to improve productivity are huge but they needn’t involve implementing large scale technology projects or a complete overhauling of existing processes.  In some situations small changes can have a big impact so the next time you’re considering how best to tackle productivity don’t forget printing but more importantly, don’t forget to talk to your people.

Matthew Coad

Matthew Coad

Matthew Coad is Solution Services Manager at Upstream Print Solutions, a leader in managed print and document solutions.

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