Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Paperless Office

In a slightly risky proposition, I've started writing this article without any clear answers, hoping that I will find them as we go. The question? What is stopping the paperless office?

It's been somewhat of a buzzword for years and it makes sense, on paper (Ha Ha, see what I did there?!). It would save trees, it would minimise clutter, it would speed up searches, it would minimise loss in the event of disaster. To elaborate...

Saving trees: not to be overly 'green', but it's basic maths. Less paper = more trees. More trees = good. So there's that.

Minimise clutter: this is basic business sense. Clear desk, clear mind and all that.

Speed up searches: now we're talking. If I want to find one piece of information that I know was posted to me at some point in the last year, that's going to take a significant amount of time. If I want to find something that has been emailed to me in the same period of time I can probably find it inside of five minutes. It doesn't matter how good your filing system is, if I am equally systematic in my method of electronic storage, I will find it first.

Minimise loss: this is quite a biggie actually. If your office burned down now, what would you lose? If your answer included anything that you consider important and of which the only copies are now ash, you could be in trouble. A good electronic backup (one that is safely stored off-site, either via removable drives or cloud storage) will allow to set up at another location and continue with minimal disruption. In other words, it may well save your business.

So why, in the 21st century, is this still a dream? Let me think...

I suppose there's a comfort factor to paper. As humans we are often rubbish with change and committing to purely an electronic method appears to a step too far.

There's a perception of speed with paper. If someone phones up and says to me 'can I give you a phone number,' I'm going to grab a sticky-note and a pen. It's unlikely I'm going to open a document on my PC, type in the number and save it with some meaningful file name. Effectively, as soon as the computer is off I've lost access to that information. But aren't tablets changing that? Or phones for that matter?

Then there's signing stuff. If I need a document signing I'm going to post or fax it. This probably goes toward explaining the otherwise inexplicable survival of the fax machine, mid-20th century tech. Digital signatures - not a name but a code unique to you - exist but have never really taken off. And again, tablets could be the answer as it is possible to sign an electronic document, as most of us do when we receive a parcel.

Why else is the paperless office not happening? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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