What I know about … the paperless office
We use a lot of office paper and it costs big money.
According to Government figures, Australians consume on average 210,000 tonnes of office paper annually. If you include the costs associated with handling, transport, printing, storage and disposal, then the cost of each ream of paper rapidly adds up. Figures vary, but the true cost to a business of paper, after adding handling, printing, storage and disposal, can run from 25 – 30 times the initial cost of the ream. Reducing the amount of paper we use, means that businesses can save significant amounts of money.
The era of the paperless office is not nearly as close as we might think.
A Business Week article published in 1975 forecast that all offices would be entirely digital by the mid-1990s. We are now nearly halfway through 2014 and still have a long way to go to meet this forecast. In fact, according to the GreenBiz Group’s 2013 State of Green Business Report international paper consumption is projected to increase. A recent report in Europe found that only one per cent of European businesses had achieved the goal of a paperless office (where paper is absent, or at least greatly reduced, with information stored and transferred electronically). I believe the statistic would not be that different for Australia. Even though technology is moving rapidly, there is still a huge demand for paper documentation.
The most significant barrier to going paperless is the ‘fear’ of change.
The major barrier to moving to a paperless office is not cost, but the fear of change. Change management, with respect to people, processes and policy, is therefore imperative if a business wishes to move to a paperless system. Whether it’s through meeting employee expectations, training the information technology workforce to handle complex cloud projects, or re-educating CIOs and IT procurement staff (who are more used to purchasing products as opposed to cloud-based services), the ‘stop points’ must be identified and understood, before effective change programs can be developed and implemented.
A business does not need to create a physical document in this day and age to be legal, unless it wants to.
Technology such as mobile devices, cloud storage, electronic document management systems, automated workflows and integrated back-office processes to name just a few, greatly reduce the need for paper usage. There is also growing global acceptance of the legal permissibly of digital documents. The use of e-signatures (images of signatures, other marks or even typed entries added to electronic documents to serve the same function as signatures on paper) was originally legalised in Section 10 of the Electronic Transactions Act 1999. However, 15 years later – and despite a wealth of options for using e-signatures – a survey by Adobe Systems has found that only around two per cent of Australian businesses are currently using them.
Technology will continue to lead us there, but we might have to wait for Gen Z to start work, before the paperless office is a total reality.
Technology will continue to encourage the concept of cloud computing, with standard items such as the photocopier and scanner evolving to survive – offering such default options as ‘scan-to-process’ and ‘scan-to-cloud’ (instead of printed output). I’ve heard it said though that the only thing that could ever bring about a paperless office is if paper costs went through the roof. I believe, however, that as more of Gen Z move into mainstream business, we will see a greater reduction in the decrease of paper in the office. After all, this is the first generation that has grown up in the world where the internet and digital technologies have always been there.
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