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The paperless office – here finally?

Paperless OfficeThe key driving motivators behind the philosophy to work within minimal paper are the economic imperative, enabling technology, generational shifts bringing about new attitudes, and increasing importance placed on green initiatives.

The average company spends a huge amount on paper and paper-related products each year, with some estimates suggesting that print costs represent up to three percent of total corporate spending. The checklist mounts up: paper itself, ink, printers, mailing and postal costs, and physical document storage.

Pressure to improve productivity

Studies show that most office workers lose up to 500 hours a year looking for documents; on average, professionals spend 50 percent of their time looking for information.

The average organisation:

  • Makes 19 copies of each document
  • Spends $20 in labour to file each document
  • Spends $120 in labour searching for every misfiled document
  • Loses one out of every 20 documents
  • Spends 25 hours recreating each lost document.

Understandably, any solution to such wasted productivity, as presented by a less-papered office approach, clearly gains traction in the current economic environment.

Technology makes it easy and affordable

Today’s technological offering is affordable, easy to use, produces demonstrable gains in productivity, and can be integrated with existing business systems. This is true of both scanners and software, making it far more attractive for businesses to work towards a less-papered workflow solution.

Generational shifts: It seems that those old habits that previously hampered the shift to a paperless office are now dying out with a new generation of office workers raised fully in the digital age. “It’s a generational thing,” says Greg Gibson, in charge of North America office paper at International Paper (IP), the world’s largest paper-maker. “Older people still prefer a hard copy of most things, but younger workers are increasingly comfortable reading on screens and storing and retrieving information on computers or online.”

Green initiatives: Today’s businesses are increasingly motivated to implement effective initiatives to reduce their environmental impact and carbon footprint. Cutting the paper trail is consistently at the top of the list of green initiatives business can take. Digital document management is a key method for achieving a less-papered office, and in doing so, reducing paper consumption.

Digital document management: Working towards a less-papered office will require businesses to develop and implement a digital document management system suited to their organisation. Digital document management systems are software applications that capture paper documents and a variety of electronic files while providing for their storage, retrieval, security and archiving. The document management process begins with the conversion of paper documents and records to electronic files.

[Next: Benefits of digital document management]

Benefits of digital document management

Save time: Maximise your peoples’ time acquiring new customers and meeting the needs of current clients instead of searching for information.

Increase profitability: The up-front costs incurred in implementing a digital document management system are more than offset by the long-term savings resulting from lower paper-handling costs, and the reduction of filing, duplication and retrieval costs of off-site storage. According to research conducted by the Gartner Group, a digital documentation management solution can reduce your organisation’s overall document-related costs by 40 percent.

Increase productivity and efficiency: Increase productivity and efficiency by putting the right tools, and the right information, in the hands of the right people.

Increase communication and collaboration: Document management systems make it easy to share documents electronically with colleagues and clients over a network, on CD or DVD, or securely over the web. With digital documents, you can view the same documents simultaneously.

A quality document management system

Digital document management represents as significant advance over storing information on paper. No longer just ink on a page, the document becomes active content after processing by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. This enables the employment of search tools, which provide full-text search, template field searches, and a visual filing scheme that permits users to browse for documents.

Usability is critical in encouraging rapid staff acceptance and in reducing training expenses. It is important that the graphic interfaces for common operations, such as search and retrieval, are clear and easy to use. For a document management system to enhance business operations, it must accommodate all the type of documents: paper, electronic, fax, audio and video, that are part of an organisation’s processes and procedures.

There are three ways to bring files into a digital document management system:

  • Scanning or imaging (for paper files)
  • Importing (for archiving electronic documents and files)
  • Conversion (for creating unalterable images of electronic documents).

There are three primary ways of indexing files in a document management system:

  • Full-text indexing, or indexing every word in a document. To enable full-text indexing, the software must have the capability to perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
  • Template fields, or indexing through keyword categories of documents;
  • Folder/file structure, or indexing by associated document groups.

Annotations permit users to append or remove information about a document without permanently changing the original image. Once documents are brought into the document management system they must be reliably stored. To address concerns about the future readability of documents and records, document management systems should use non-proprietary image and text formats, such as TIFF or ASCII.

A quality system makes it possible for multiple users to access the same files at the same time and aids in distributing documents to authorised individuals both inside and outside the organisation over an intranet, by email or through publication to the Web, CD or DVD.

Workflow modules can increase the benefits of a document management system by automating the routing of documents to various people, eliminating bottlenecks and streamlining business processes. This added functionality is crucial for large offices, for organisations with central and branch offices and for organizations that plan to expand their system.

A rigorous security system should permit every authorised person to perform required duties (whether from desktop, laptop, the office, a remote location or over the web) without compromising the integrity of the database, system or network.

The time is right for organisations to start working towards a less-papered office, with the benefits of increased productivity, profitability and environmental protection now readily achieved via off-the-shelf software.

–Vicki Rigg is channel sales manager Asia Pacific for Nuance Communications (http://australia.nuance.com), a leading provider of off-the-shelf products that deliver everything you need to create, convert, edit and share PDF files.

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Vicky Rigg

Vicky Rigg

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