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Is your office ready to go paper...less?

Mike Feldman, President, Large Enterprise Operations, Xerox Corporation
Mike Feldman, President, Large Enterprise Operations, Xerox Corporation

Mike Feldman, President, Large Enterprise Operations, Xerox Corporation

The idea of a paperless office has existed for nearly 40 years, yet during that time the practice of printing has risen.

With the advent of new technology, the amount of paper we use at work may finally have started to fall, but it’s not doing so at any great rate. So, why aren’t we meeting the paperless goals proposed decades ago?

Exploring the main reasons that people print can point to the barriers that prevent an enterprise from taking up fully digital processes. Is it possible for organizations to reduce printing by removing the barriers–either completely or at least partially? Or, are the barriers unbeatable?

Barriers do exist, and paper has a few affordances that are genuinely difficult to replicate digitally with current or near-future technology. Yet, most of what we like about paper we can replicate digitally–if there’s a will to create new enterprise solutions.

The disruptive innovation of mobile technologies provides an opportunity to change behavior in today’s workplace. But convincing people to transform their paper-based processes into streamlined, digital workflows requires proper engagement about change, ensuring that new processes are as easy and natural as possible.

Why do we print?

Whether through necessity, preference, or a combination of both, office workers print documents in order to:

Read: until recently, there were good reasons why people preferred reading documents on paper than on screen; portability, readability and annotation. The increased use of devices changes the game. We need to take advantage of this trend in order to make document availability much more instantaneous.

Annotate: in an ideal world, where on-screen annotating is a universal capability that is as convenient as possible, will any tendencies remain to annotate on paper? It’s likely there will be some, but only for very specific situations.

Digital annotation will become the norm when digital scribing techniques become very similar to writing in that they barely interfere with the act of reading.

Sign: more than 70 percent of respondents in an InfoTrends study indicated they still rely on paper for capturing signatures for loans and savings/investments.

Electronic authorization takes root when organizations fully digitize all of their business processes that involve signing and authorization, and make the e-signing process simple for users.

Share: digital has long been the preferred avenue for sharing. But the physical attributes of a printed page can make content really stand out particularly as digital sharing becomes more prominent.

Save: the technology to help store documents digitally is growing rapidly. We’re already seeing industrial-scale scanners with intelligent character recognition and electronic systems for applying indexing and metadata for subsequent retrieval.

"The potential upshots of mining, literally, tons of paper data into electronic systems are enormous. This is the promise of ‘Big Document Data,’ and it’s perhaps the single biggest driver of changing print behavior within organizations."

Digital disruption

The consumerization of information technology–including the dramatic rise of smartphone and tablet technology and the world of apps and cloud-based services in the workplace–has introduced new capabilities and behaviors. The tidal wave of change has only just begun to be felt. But the trend of people using multiple devices, and expecting a high level of computing functionality when away from the office, will become much more strongly embedded.

For example, IDC predicts that 37 percent of the worldwide workforce will be mobile by 2015 and Gartner predicts that this year, 90 percent of organizations will support corporate applications on personal devices.

Moving from paper to a digital world

The disruptive innovation of mobile technologies invites the shift of document usage from paper-based to electronic. Examine the way employees handle specific, daily tasks, and reengineer them so that the steps can be achieved electronically. The key is to make the processes as easy and convenient as possible, for both knowledge workers and those less tech savvy.

The behaviors of reading, annotating, signing, sharing, and authorizing–are common to anyone who uses documents in a lot of their work. But they also appear in just about every step in a structured business process facilitated by people. A human resources process, or a product lifecycle management process, for example, will require people to read, comment on, add to, organize, make decisions about, distribute, authorize and save specific types of the document at specific points in the process.

But mobile technologies can now provide a similar user experience interacting with paper digitally as one can in hard copy. So, workers are recognizing they can begin to remove paper from their business and provide an equally positive experience for the user.

So, what drives change? First, it’s critical to assess and understand document analytics within a business because in order to remove paper, it’s important to identify how paper is being used. Otherwise, how can one provide a solution that’s going to enable the business to work more efficiently?

Second it is important to provide intelligent information capture solutions. In today’s world, everyone’s scanning, but one of the problems with scanning is that in some cases you move the paper landfill to the digital landfill. Intelligent capture recognizes what is being scanned, and understands that it needs to extract relevant information from that to then enable action to be taken around that image as part of a workflow process. We call this “Documents in Motion” and it’s really about trying to drive business process improvement from he content as opposed to scanning and storing information statically within a system.

Organizations that take on the less-paper challenge have much to gain. Certainly change has risks and can be disruptive; but there’s a reason people have looked forward to the less-paper office for so many decades: the promise of a more efficient, productive, collaborative and sustainable world of work.

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