At least as long ago as the 1970s, industry analysts were forecasting the imminent demise of paper in the workplace.
Yet it hasn’t happened.
What is preventing us from reaching this objective and what can be done to overcome these restraints?
Technology isn’t the problem
For at least half a century we have had the ability to scan paper and then work on it electronically. What was once called “Data Processing” and is now more commonly referred to as “Information Technology”, has also had on the table integrated enterprise-wide systems that were capable of operating in an almost totally paper-free fashion.
One only has to think of a multitude of solutions involving voice recognition, optical character recognition, document scanning, document transformation and of course the global internet, to see that we have the tools needed to do the job! Many of these are also perfectly capable of delivering the latest GDPR compliance.
Unfortunately, though, one of the most common obstructions to achieving more integrated and paper-trail free operational processes has been the disconnected approach to implementing such solutions.
Process design and re-engineering is critical
An old saying in IT is that “automating a bad process doesn’t make it a good process. It just makes it a faster bad one”.
The fact is that significant numbers of organisations continue to implement local and “parochial” DP solutions for individual components of their overall business processes. Whilst an incremental approach is often lowest-risk, that needs to be conducted in the context of a top-down integrated set of process designs for the entire organisation.
If that isn’t the case, the result can all too often be lots of individual automated processes which haven’t been designed with respect to each other or the total end-to-end enterprise-wide process chain.
Trying to subsequently “bolt” together solutions, which were originally sourced and installed with only one section of the total enterprise process in mind, frequently results in a nightmare. Gaps can arise, incompatibilities between different solutions can rear their head and all too often the sad result is that paper is introduced in order to deal with the shortcomings and process flow gaps arising.
All of this is typically avoidable.
If the total life cycle processes of an enterprise are modelled, they will be found to be largely cohesive even if their inter-connectivity is currently driven by paper.
If those processes are re-engineered and an integrated end-to-end solution installed, then the vast majority of the paper can be eliminated.
Today with modern scanning technology, including that available on many smartphones, even paper entering into the organisation from outside can quickly be digitised and added to such an integrated system.
True, in some cases paper may still need to be produced to be sent outside of the company. Where it is required, sophisticated cost-effective printing solutions can now be located anywhere in an organisation or anywhere around the globe.
Some organisations have blamed their sluggish progress towards a fully integrated and largely paperless operation to be attributable firstly to inadequacies in the technology or secondly to a lack of the capital required to invest in it.
The first of those propositions is increasingly difficult to substantiate. The second may be being driven perhaps due to a failure to understand the costs arising through the inefficiencies that can be inherent in many paper-based processes.
For many organisations that are holding back, it may be time to think again.