6 Steps to Converting to a Paperless Office : Reducing Expenses & Bettering Efficiency
Over 50 years after marketers coined the term ‘paperless office,’ the concept largely remains a myth.
The ever-increasing utilization of electronic capabilities, with the capacity to eliminate the need for paper, is exponentially rising across most industries. Further examination reveals detailed findings indicating that businesses can indeed expect significant benefits from the implementation of paperless initiatives, particularly when back-office processes are scrutinized. The automation of back-office processes undoubtedly renders invaluable efficiencies, which are directly correlated to increased profitability. Studies also indicate that a joint workflow and document management system can even reduce operational expenses by as much as 15 percent, even in the first year of implementation.
Despite what could be practically considered concrete facts illustrating myriad benefits, many business entities have yet to consider, let alone adopt, the paperless approach. Whether it’s generating collateral to hand out at the company booth during a trade show, the need to print out a contract to get a “wet signature,” or simply because some people at the office still feel more comfortable reviewing and editing a printed document, many organizations will never truly go 100% paperless, or at least not any time soon. With this reality in mind, striving to become “paper-light” is not only a more realistic approach and strategy, but it eliminates the unnecessary over-reliance on paper as a primary medium for information management. It facilitates faster access to documents, it helps employees work smarter and more efficiently — and perhaps most importantly — it enables businesses to make better decisions and provide a better service to their customers by enabling them to be more responsive.
After we spend some time describing different strategic paperless options in this post, we are going to identify five items that your company can take to facilitate the decision to implement, or not implement, a paperless initiative that can reap many benefits.
Introducing the (Nearly) Paperless Office
Innovative technologies and approaches to thinking are rapidly altering how paper is used- this is on both the business level and personal level. Some customers are already familiar with online bill payments and already using online services, electronically-signed contracts and providers as a means to simplify finances. They are also already remotely depositing checks. eSignatures and the capability to capture imaging have almost completely eliminated the necessity to walk into a store or firm for services and information on those services. Furthermore, document management applications of the electronic sort are making older filing and storage systems a mechanism of the past.
More alterations happen on a daily basis all the time in the business world. For instance, home or head offices often use automated workflows to finalize reporting to compliance. Oversight tools, document management system tools and instant notification alerts are the norm now. Businesses are using their online transaction abilities to streamline client account management in order to accommodate 24/7 transactions; while those same clients receive electronic transmissions to deliver confirmations, statements and prospectuses (when applicable.) Advisory firms consulted for this post, across the board, identified three major trends in the marketplace which are contributing to making the paperless workplace a viable reality:
- A marked demand increase for the availability of advanced technologies: new workflow processes, eSignature readily availability, mobile phones and talents, on top of other electronic applications, prove a point- that there is no shortage of new and reliable technology. Also of note is how most of this innovative technology is available at reduced cost points when compared to the past, which makes the technology more tangible and realistic, and hence give the green light to pursue paperless initiatives.
- Acceptance rates increasing: despite anti-money laundering and “know your client” mandatory regulations, more and more businesses are using eSignatures and electronic money movements. Fast followers are benefiting from the reality that most of their peer competitors are only beginning to introduce paperless capabilities.
- Electronic app exposure: Expectations are rapidly changing as customers become more familiar with paperless office initiatives. Essentially, clients are getting used to the new idea of operating a business in a paperless fashion.
Key Takeaways from Stakeholder Research
Research has indicated that companies taking steps towards becoming paperless are a good place to start when trying to identify trends related to the paperless office. Head offices are taking big strides in the paperless office area, and continue to pursue more ways to be paperless. Companies which are already paperless review new initiatives with caution, usually beginning with a detailed cost/benefit analysis to get an accurate picture of initial seed money needed and ongoing expenditures, potential positives for all parties involved and potential expenditure savings throughout the organization. These businesses are seeing many positives as a result including, but not limited to, the following:
- Increased efficiencies
- Cost reductions
- Saved time
- Eliminate copying, printing, distributing, and storage costs
- Quicker reporting turnaround
- More advisor tools
- More reliable security
"Your digital documents can be stored, retrieved, indexed and searched much faster than paper ones."
5 Key Moves that Can Make a Paperless Entity a Reality
Diligent research has identified five steps a business should consider, in terms of becoming a paperless company:
- Prove your case immediately by virtue of opting to begin the transformation with an initial project with high impact
- Save up to 15% in expenditures by automating workflows
- Place essentials, such as eSignature and eDelivery, at the fingertips of customers
- Enhance employee training on using new technologies
- Advocate adoption by utilizing incentives that showcase benefits
It is a well-known fact that adopting the alterations, so to become a paperless company, is not easy. Therefore, it is best to start adopting those initiatives expected to garner the most efficiencies first.
Prove your case immediately by virtue of opting to begin the transformation with an initial project with high impact: always clearly articulate the benefits expected from going paperless- begin with an initiative you believe will easily advocate your cause. When the choice to go paperless is made, take the path that allows the business to jumpstart paperless strategies. Do this by considering the opinions of the business’ largest stakeholders- this will emphasize that those stakeholders are very important people to support the business and ultimately help the business become more successful.
Save up to 15% in expenditures by automating workflows: reviewing and optimizing ordinary activities on a daily basis is part of the route to obtaining a successful workflow management system. Automated processes are often the primary drivers for speed and positive efficiency opportunities.
Place essentials, such as eSignature and eDelivery, at the fingertips of customers: eSignature and eDelivery are very quickly turning into “must haves” for companies seeking to streamline processes. These two “must haves” are one of the first things a company should implement because they eliminate the number of days normally involved with obtaining numerous signed forms, while also directing those forms to relevant parties for processing.
Move to online applications: Cloud-based applications let you share data easily with clients and suppliers. There’s no need to worry about different file formats. So discuss some key applications with the companies you work with – see if they’re willing to use the cloud too. Some useful cloud-based applications include:
- Google Docs to collaborate on documents
- Dropbox or Box to share files
- Basecamp for simple project management
- Evernote to take digital notes
- PayPal to transfer funds
The more areas of business you can move to the cloud, including accounts and outsourced payroll systems.
Enhance employee training on using new technologies: It can only be expected that critical and specific training is needed to allow for movement for employees up the learning curve and increasing their comfort with completing tasks in a new way. Note that different individuals learn in different ways- this means that a company must consider using multiple methods and multiple sessions to implement new processes.
Advocate adoption by utilizing incentives that showcase benefits: Old habits die hard, as the saying goes. The time and resources needed to acquire knowledge concerning a new application can slow down an implementation process. A business should be prepared to do the following:
- Start the adoption process with the introduction of easy-to-use applications
- Address roadblocks immediately
- Outline the benefits of transitioning
- Get creative
In the beginning, a reluctance to adopt new systems exist, just as is the case with habits. This is normal.
Going forward, applications in electronic forms are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, they are often considered necessities should a business desire to be on the cutting edge of its industry. Opting to have an open mind regarding the many new advancements in technology is key for operating a successful business; otherwise, a business risks exposure to very large disadvantages. Thomas Huckabee, CPA of San Diego, California is a full-service accounting firm where all your technological options can be explored.