The phrase "paper-free office" ought to be a cliché by now. After all, it's been with us for years. But it has remained, for most businesses, something to aspire to, rather than a reality.
There are signs, this New Year, that the status quo may be changing.
For one thing, we're all more paper-free than we used to be. As I scan the midmarket company where I'm sitting right now, I still hear printers, still see piles of paper, and Post-it notes, and even inter-office mail. But rows of filing cabinets are a thing of the past; communication takes place overwhelmingly by email and instant messenger, and non-confidential information is increasingly stored in the cloud.
Even so, estimates suggest that average office worker still "uses" as many as 10 thousand sheets of paper per year. Now, we all feel sorry for the trees, of course, but there are business imperatives to reduce the amount of paper generated and stored.
Welcome, then, the Paperless Coalition, a loose federation of enterprises that just launched #Paperless2013, a new push to go paper-free, both to help the environment and save time and money.
All the motives for reducing paper production and consumption make special sense for the midmarket. Nothing could be less agile than a business founded on warehouses of documentation. That much is obvious. But server huggers are with us always, and paper huggers too: The people who just won't entrust specific tasks to technology. But as Joseph Walla, CEO of Paperless 2013 sponsor HelloFax, says:
For the first time, it's easy to sign, fax, and store documents without ever printing a piece of paper. It's finally fast and simple to complete paperwork and expense reports, to manage accounting, pay bills, and invoice others. The paperless office is here--we just need to use it.
HelloFax is walking the walk: "Throw away your fax machine" is its unexpected motto. Paperless2013 is also supported by, among others, GoogleDrive and Fujitsu ScanSnap, each of which are heavily invested, of course, in the migration from paper to the web. Also involved, Manilla, the online bill and accounts organizer -- ironically, a company that derives its name from a hemp-based paper product.
What's holding businesses back from becoming genuinely paper-free? Here are my guesses:
- Habit. We've always used paper for this; if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
- Document retention concerns. Whether for operating purposes or regulatory reasons, there are some files companies are just nervous about entrusting to the cloud.
- Here's a depressingly bad reason: patent trolls seeking fees for using scanners.
That's my list, and it's not very impressive. At least document retention concerns have some legitimacy -- but that's a matter of ensuring that your digital storage is appropriately secure, with solid disaster recovery strategies. That's something that should be a priority in any case.
So how about it, midmarket? A 2013 with no paper -- none at all? I'll believe it when I see it.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution