The Case for Paperless in 2020
Going paperless has proven to drastically reduce operating costs, reduce strain on our environment, and improve efficiency. Businesses that commit to digitizing documents benefit from increased security, collaboration, and agility.
Yet, there remains institutional, infrastructural, and personal resistance to committing to a paperless office. In fact, only about 18% of companies are “paperless.”
The benefits of going paperless are many and the challenges are few. Those who adopt early reap the benefits exponentially. These benefits, as well as a simple way to make the transition, will be addressed in this paper.
Paper: The Challenges of 2,000-Year-Old Technology
Paper-based processes put business small and large at a severe disadvantage.
Companies reliant on paper suffer from slower communication, more security breaches, higher overhead costs, and more process inefficiencies.
Here’s a brief look at the toll paper is taking on your company as we speak:
- The Real Costs of Paper: According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the average company spends $20 in labor to file each paper, $120 searching for a missing document, and $220 to recreate a lost document. That means a company with 1,000 employees wastes up to $3.5 MILLION per year searching for and re-creating lost documents.
- Overhead Costs: Current estimates show filing cabinets (a few hundred dollars each) account for up to 70% of ALL OFFICE SPACE. Companies that digitize their documentation could effectively DOUBLE the size of their office without adding a single square foot of space.
- Paper Consumption: The State of Minnesota estimates the average worker consumes 10,000 sheets of paper a year. That’s upwards of $100 per employee per year, meaning a company with 100 employees spends roughly $10,000 on sheets of paper alone.
Now you must factor in time wasted on document management. Non-productive information work such as re-entering documents into computers cost US companies an estimated $1.5 TRILLION dollars in 2018
And the old fashioned filing cabinet isn’t just wasting time and money, it’s putting sensitive data at risk.
61% of data breaches at small and medium-sized businesses are due to paper records. It makes sense though, right? It’s inherent to the technology itself. A paper version of a contract or other sensitive document could easily be misplaced, put in the wrong drawer, or given to the wrong person.
If it were a digital record, it would be password protected, so only those with permission to view it could gain access (more on that in the next section).
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that faster, more secure, and more efficient technologies are readily available and already in use by competitors.
Think of it this way:
Transporting goods by horse and carriage was perfectly fine in 1845. But if you were still doing it in 1945, companies using the railroad, cars, or even planes would easily put you out of business.
And yet, 82% of companies still have not embraced a paperless workplace.
Why is that?
Why Don’t We Live in a Paperless Utopia?
Despite the clear monetary, efficiency, and security advantages of a paperless office, adoption has been slow at best.
For one, humans don’t like change.
Many small business owners take the attitude of “I’m doing just fine without it. Why do I need to change”?
Other industries, such as the legal industry, have long-standing traditions that are difficult to break.
But that’s only one small piece of the issue.
Other hurdles to a totally paperless office include:
- Government Regulation: Some jurisdictions require traditional signatures for certain documents.
- Costs of IT: A small business with a few employees might not have the funds or time to invest in buying software, converting documents, and training its employees.
- Internet service: The FCC reports that nearly 19 MILLION Americans still do not have stable internet access.
The Benefits of a Paperless Office
Imagine if every document in your business—every contract, every tax form, every report, every bank statement—was stored in one central location and accessible from anywhere on any device at any time.
You’d never have to wait for a signature, pay to replace a lost document, lose business due to printer malfunction, or pay another red cent for file cabinet space. Instead, you’d just open your phone, press a button, and watch as the document is automatically filed away into the proper place or sent wherever you needed it.
Now imagine that each and every document in your business were kept behind a cryptographic wall and protected by computer-generated passwords that only the right people possessed.
Now imagine that all of these super secure documents were automatically backed up by an eternal digital copy, so that no fire, disgruntled employee, or human error could ever jeopardize its existence.
And that’s all on top of saving you tens of thousands of dollars per year or more.
Ready to go paperless?
We’ve already detailed the financial benefits (money savings) of going paperless.
But going paperless in 2020 is like installing a telephone in your office in 1920: you’re catching up to the modern world:
- Instant Sharing: Once you’re paperless, anyone in your company can instantly upload, access, or share any document at any time. A business traveler can upload an expense report in real-time. Or HR can correct a mistake on a contract in a split second BEFORE it becomes an issue. You’ll never waste time waiting again.
- Improved Security: While there are some security concerns with digitized documents, they pale in comparison to paper ones. As soon as a document is digital, you can protect it with a password, monitor all changes, and protect the information from physical theft.
- Automated Backups: Going paperless removes the need for copying documents. When you store documents in the cloud, they exist in perpetuity. Most services even offer automated “backups” where they store information for you in case of system failure. That way you can access your documents as if nothing ever happened.
- Saving the Planet: Paper accounts for up to 26% of municipal solid waste in landfills. And pulp and paper mills generate the 6th most emissions in the USA. Cutting back on paper improves business AND protects the planet for future generations.
Paperless Case Studies: Early Adopters vs. Slow Adopters
Despite “slow” adoption from most businesses, many forward-thinking companies and even entire industries have successfully implemented paperless policies and seen massive success.
Ⅰ: The Medical Industry
UK National Health Service (NHS)
The NHS has fully committed to digitizing patient records, referral letters, and intra-provider communication (e.g. patient notes) by 2023.
This is part of a broad-reaching strategy in the NHS to bring more personalized care to individuals remotely. An initiative that has already produced great results for people stuck at home from Covid-19!
North Bristol Hospital (UK)
A state-of-the-art medical facility in Southmead Bristol dedicated itself to an electronic patient record delivery system.
Previously, medical records were stored in a massive directory costing the government upwards of $250,000 USD per year.
Not only that, records no longer need to be retrieved days in advance, nor do employees need to waste time rushing back and forth between the two facilities. We’ll never know how many lives going digital has saved, but there’s no doubt it’s working.
The United States Security and Exchange Commission (SEC)
The SEC has recently mandated that all mutual fund shareholder reports previously sent by post shall now be accessible online.
This move will not only save the SEC $1.5 BILLION dollars, but it will also save 2 MILLION trees every year.
The United States Department of State
The Department of State has now streamlined immigration by making all Immigrant Visas accessible at the port of entry.
Now, anyone migrating to the USA under an Immigrant Visa no longer needs to carry a paper visa, drastically reducing human error, employment expenses, and wait times.
Ⅲ: Construction and Manufacturing
The Austin Company
This international firm of construction management companies switched from paper to digital documentation, saving hours of time per home inspection and freeing up employees to focus on more valuable tasks.
Before digitizing their quality inspection services, each inspection took roughly two hours. Now, through the use of tablets and phones, each inspection takes only 15 minutes.
The iconic cosmetics and personal care brand pioneered paperless manufacturing in its industry.
They implemented a single system to integrate operations across the world and committed themselves to paperless manufacturing. Today, they have 30+ plants connected and sharing information, resulting in better quality, transparency, and product tracing. They even increased “first time right” production by 10%.
Unicredit Bank Serbia sought to improve customer service and reduce transaction times by implementing paperless policies at over 70 branches throughout the country.
As of today, these policies (including eSign at the cash desk) have resulted in improved transaction security, immense cost savings from paper and printing, and faster, smoother customer service.
Going paperless not only saves money and protects the environment, it drastically improves business efficiency, performance, and customer service. And few, if any, “real” barriers to its universal adoption exist aside from unfounded fear or unwillingness to change.
It’s clear: Those who adopt a paperless system will survive, and those that don’t will either adopt when it’s more expensive and more complicated, or won’t survive.
How to Transition to Paperless: A Step-By-Step Plan
Transitioning from paper-reliant to paperless is far simpler than most businesses realize.
In a recent survey, some of the most common reasons for using paper were lack of management initiatives, the need for physical signatures, and lack of understanding of digital options.
All 3 of these issues are very easy to overcome.
In fact, there’s a strong chance that your employees are already using most of the technology they’ll need in their future paperless office, and that your company already has most of the digital infrastructure in place.
If there happen to be any holes in your technology, most of them can be filled easily by apps or online services, many of which are free.
For example, it’s entirely possible to use an app like Evernote to scan important documents and directly upload them to a free (Or paid) service like DropBox. If you’re a small business, you could go completely paperless in a few short weeks or less.
First, a Few Things You’ll Need
Nowadays, there’s a more convenient digital option for nearly every paper option in your business.
Meeting agenda? Just create a document in a note-taking app and share the link in a company chat.
Contracts? Just use digital contracts, eSign it (Legally enforceable), and store it in the cloud.
Feedback forms? Create an eForm, email it to your staff, and let them fill in their answers by typing on the computer.
Here are some of the most common digital weapons in the war on paper. You’ll be happy to know that many are FREE or very reasonably priced.
- A Scanner: If you’re a large company with complex needs, it’s best to buy a quality scanner. If you’re a smaller, simpler business, you will only need a scanning app on a smartphone. Just use the app to take a snapshot of a document, receipt, or form, and you’re good to go.
- Cloud Storage: Trade in your filing cabinet for Google Drive, DropBox, or whichever cloud storage you prefer. These services store all of your data securely on their own servers (Think of them like digital filing cabinets). Again, smaller companies will do just fine with a free service. Large companies with sensitive data may want to use a professional data-storage service.
- PDF Software: This gives you the ability to create online forms, use eSign, protect documents, and store/share all of your company’s data in one click. Creating a PDF puts your sensitive documents under lock and key, while improving company agility. Soda PDF is currently being used by thousands of businesses across the world to create, edit, secure, and store even the most sensitive documents.
- Note-Taking Apps: Note-taking apps like EverNote allow employees to take notes in real time. Think of them like a digital substitute for a notebook. Encourage your employees to use them in all meetings.
- Company Chat Service: Services like Slack or BaseCamp make it extremely easy to share and collaborate. Sign up for one of these services and make a dedicated company chat to keep track of documents and all other company happenings.
And lastly, you’ll want to dispose of all unneeded records. We highly recommend a professional paper shredding service in your local area. They’ll destroy and recycle everything securely and provide a certificate of destruction.
Did You Know?:
Now that you know what you’ll need, here’s how to make the transition as quickly and pain free as possible.
Step 1) Take Stock of All Paperwork
This is where most of the heavy lifting will happen.
Separate all of your documents into 3 categories:
- Unnecessary: Shred it.
- Accessible: These are documents that are essential to your business and must be kept ready for quick retrieval. Scan and upload these to your cloud service (Be careful, though. We’ll cover that in step 2).
- Archived: These documents might be needed but don’t need to be ready at hand. Feel free to store them on a local drive (On your premises) or in the cloud.
Step 2) Classify According to Security
Now that you know what will stay and what will go, you must determine which documents need added security.
All documents that are deemed sensitive should be stored OFFLINE. DO NOT store them in the cloud. This leaves them vulnerable to hacks.
Most data services are extremely secure, but none of them can match the security of simply leaving your data disconnected from the world and hidden away safely.
Step 3) Get Your Infrastructure Set Up
Refer back to the beginning of this section.
You’ll need a scanner or scanning app, PDF software, storage, at least one note taking app, and a group chat service.
Step 4) Create and Implement Your Initiative
The most common obstacle to going paperless is lack of management initiative.
Your company will only go as far as you take it. So it’s on you to implement the strategy and get everyone to buy in.
First, let everyone know that you’re transitioning to paperless and just how easy it really is. Scan and upload documents, share them in your group chat or project management service, and create documents in PDF software and share rather than printing.
Here are a few other things to consider:
- Make digital notes MANDATORY in all meetings. No Notebooks.
- Set strict printing limitations.
- Create a simple protocol and post it up around the office.
- Encourage employees to go green by creating contests and giving prizes to which department is the greenest.
With Soda PDF, it’s possible to create editable, securable documents and immediately upload them to the cloud. It even comes with optical character recognition, meaning you can instantly search documents for key information, saving hours of time. If you’re interested, we offer a free trial.