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Whatever Happened to the Paperless Society?

Interesting article this month in Financial Executives magazine on “Whatever Happened to the Paperless Society?”  Predicted in 1978, we clearly are not there, yet the case for going paperless offers a long list of benefits most of which will result in cost savings as well.  It’s a moving target and it is moving forward.  Chaz Miller, director of state programs for the Environmental Industry Associations in DC, wrote that it is doubtful that society will ever become paperless “…but a less-paper society is inevitable”.  Automating paper-intensive operations is a core part of business today and the benefits of improving performance and reducing costs go hand-in-hand with a company’s green initiative.

Gartner Group now predicts printing costs account for 1% to 3% of the revenue in today’s corporations, while others maintain that paper use is growing 6% to 8% per year.  Business processes such as Accounts Payable don’t account for all of this paper, of course, but removing the need for it is an important step in reducing paper within the organization.

Other common corporate sustainability initiatives encompass eliminating paper cups, turning off lights, and recycling. Transforming paper into electronic documents is at the forefront when it comes to eliminating paper. Solutions that create electronic records, databases, and purge paper records not only give bragging rights for sustainability initiatives, but also improve productivity across multiple areas of business. At the same time, they can save companies large amounts of money.

There are integrated value-added solutions available today that overcome the obstacles. This is especially good news for companies running SAP. Business processes are expected to run lean and green, and key processes such as Accounts Payable, Human Resources, Order Processing – paper-intensive ‘poster processes’ – have become ripe areas for change.   What is also a huge incentive is that with the effort to reduce paper consumption can come numerous benefits to improve processes and deliver cost savings.

An AP department that runs with optimal efficiency and accuracy will diagnose bottlenecks in seconds, generate minimal waste and keep vendors and partners happy with fast inquiry responses and timely payments, and provide real-time information to make informed decisions. But there’s more: without paper, constant trips to filing cabinets are replaced by a mouse click; lost and misplaced documents are eliminated; space that housed filing cabinets and unfathomable numbers of boxes is reclaimed; and no longer is there risk of loss from fire and natural disasters.

Why go paperless?  Among the many advantages paperless systems offer to businesses are:

  • Save time and eliminate waste. By eliminating manual keying of information, double entry and the risk of mistranslating information is also reduced.
  • Accuracy. Everyone receives the same information at the same time.  There are no more ‘old versions’.
  • Consistency.  Ensures that information is reliable and is extremely helpful when it comes to audits, ISO9901 reviews, etc.
  • Paper supplies and Postal costs. These cost savings can immediately affect the bottom line.
  • Storage space and files. Decrease in space requirements for file rooms and people to maintain files as well as boxes of files, off-site storage facilities, and more.
  • Sustainability. Supports corporate initiatives to do their part to save trees, reduce their carbon footprint, and help the environment.

With businesses under pressure to work faster, smarter and greener, organizations can reap significant benefits by implementing best practices in business process automation. The one caveat is that organizations must be willing to accept change and a paradigm shift to move toward a paper-free environment.  There are big benefits whether or not we ever achieve a state of ‘paperless’.

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      Author's profile photo Jason Lax
      Jason Lax
      People that grew with paper still hold a printed document with greater perceived value than a digital one. I still feel the need to carry around a notebook even though I can easily enter everything on my phone...I just like the feel of a pen or pencil on paper. ("The Medium is the Massage" comes to mind...)

      If there is any chance for 'less-paper' society it will probably be with the coming digital generation that didn't grow up with the simple pleasures in life such as holding a printed album cover or going to the corner shop to get Sunday's NY Times & coffee (paper cup) to take home.

      I'd also like to add that governments are often a barrier to going paper-less due to outdated regulations, such as in the financial sector for example. Banks are notorious: when I open a bank account or get a new credit card I'm handed a stack of 50+ A4 pages to sign - and then I get my own copy in return! (I'm not kidding.)