Imagine a business world completely devoid of paper. No stacks of the stuff cluttering desks. No filing cabinets brimming with invoices dating back several years--or more. No yellow stickies clinging to computer screens. This was the promise of the paperless office, which would rely solely on electronic means to generate, organize and retrieve business materials previously bound to paper. Most of us have given up this dream, realizing it's not realistic to wean our employees--let alone ourselves--off paper. And, let's face it, some processes just work better with a good old pad and pen.
There is a continuing movement, however, toward implementing more paperless activities around the office. By creating what's known as an electronic document management system, companies convert many paper materials, such as business documents and faxes, into electronic versions. In its new electronic document or database format, the information is easily accessible to employees across a network.
An obvious benefit of implementing such a system is a hefty reduction in paper costs. Although the evolution of computers was supposed to reduce our reliance on paper, in most businesses, it's actually increased paper usage. According to information technology research firm IDC/Link, printing and copying expenses typically account for 6 percent to 12 percent of a company's annual revenue.
Yet the main benefit of adopting a more paper-free environment is increased productivity. A highly organized system that pools your business's resources drastically reduces the time spent finding information. Rather than having to hunt down a misplaced fax or search for a filed document, the data is readily accessible from your desktop. Document management systems also foster collaboration on projects because people can easily create, share and review electronic documents. What's more, employees can take better advantage of the wealth of knowledge that already exists in your company. "An electronic document management system allows businesses to reuse and repurpose information and work other people have already done," says Ian Campbell, director of collaborative and Intranet computing with International Data Corp., a Framingham, Massachusetts-based provider of information technology data, analysis and consulting.
Keith Parsons, 37, and Ed Krach, 35, have learned firsthand the time-saving benefits of a paperless office. The partners own a small technical training and marketing firm, Ryan, Parsons & Krach, in Orem, Utah. During the past two years, they've acquired four scanners, all connected to their network, which they use to quickly scan client data, magazine articles and technical journals into text for quicker input and sharing.
And that's not all. Electronic document management systems typically lead to improved customer service because they provide better access to information needed to serve clients.