Emerging Tech

Paperless office: Achievable or out of reach?


One of the benefits that was touted early in the evolution of computing technology was the idea of the "paperless office," a term that was coined in the 1960s. Since then, technology has gotten more powerful and plentiful than even the biggest optimist predicted, yet virtually every office in the world has as much paper as ever. That is not to say that the paperless office is impossible, as shown by a new law office that designed their business from the ground up to be paperless. It certainly seems that building a paperless office is easier if you build it from scratch, as you are not tied to legacy paper.

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There is no shortage of systems that advertise the ability to convert to a paperless office, just Google the term and you will see over 600,000 hits, including many sponsored links from companies hoping to sell you their solution. The split between paperless and papered office proponents was illustrated in June, when Canon entered the market and just two weeks later ABC Office introduced a new typewriter, albeit one with many computer-like features, such as spell checkers, processors, and memory. At the same time, Google's new offering, Google Apps, has drawn rave reviews from many, including PC World, which said, "Printouts may never die, but if Google has its way, the office-less office may become a reality long before the paperless one does."

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ABC Office Announces The Addition Of New Typewriters (eMediaWire)

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We started our paperless office initiative in 2003 and have yet to achieve no-paper nirvana. Of course, we are an educational facility with records going back 40 years, so we are still in the midst of scanning student records into our document imaging solution. In the business office and HR, most documents have been scanned, but the offices still run nearly as much on paper as ever. Many of the workers will print scanned documents because they would rather read hard copy and then shred the printouts than read the information on a computer screen.

Has your business moved forward with a paperless initiative? How far have you gotten? Have your employees bought into the concept, or are they still printing everything before they read it? Join the discussion.

19 comments
Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

for about fifteen to twenty years. Legally, we're a very long way from it. Many laws require the original paper documents, with the original signatures that can be examined by experts, to be kept and provided at court if needed. Other laws just require the original records to be kept. It's far too easy to amend electronic records today, and that knowledge came out just when the courts were about to accept electronic record keeping as the primary. Now many laws insist on the original format records be kept, and some cases insist the final be on paper to limit the opportunities of false changes. More an more intra office work is now paperless and done by corporate email than written memo. So that's a step towards it, but a full paperless office is not legally possible at the moment.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Producing and modifying hardcopy has been around for a long long time. Unless your printing all your hard copy with the degree of security features included into money printing then your hosed anyhow. A hash signature of a digital document can be encrypted into a storage database; if the document does not match the hash function check then it's been modified. The irony is how much faster law could work with digital copy. Lookups and document sharing alone would show an advantage. It's more important to be able to charge the client for each staple and paper clip though. Everyone else is walking to work with a little notebook in there backpack but the lawyers still drag two foot thick bags of paper to the court buildings.

gerryfoley1
gerryfoley1

In academe, a lot of course material is now available on line, including such things as course requirements, assignments, etc. The strange thing is, we still print hardcopy of much of this material to hand out in class (there is a university rule that formal assignment requirements and subject outlines should be presented to students on paper). So there's been no saving on paper whatsoever in this respect. However, a lot of reading material that might have once been issued on paper is now accessed by students on line, so there's been improvement in that respect. Students may read material on their monitor, or print as they see fit.

Andy J. Moon
Andy J. Moon

...the initiative has to extend from top to bottom, no matter what environment you are in. In the example you cite, the university pays to print the handouts that the students use in class. This issue can be mitigated, but the technology has to extend. In the classes I have taken lately at the University of Houston/Clear Lake, the instructors have their content online, but most students print out the PowerPoint lectures to take notes on. If the students had tablet computers, they could take notes on the slides themselves without printing the slides. I don't know if paper costs could even come close to justifying the university paying for tablets for all students, so for now we will probably continue to see loads of paper wasted.

weslarson
weslarson

I'm currently taking an English Composition class (still working towards that degree...). It's an online class and I just realized that the only paper I've used in the class is what the textbook is printed on. All writing assignments are turned in electronically. I would normally print a proof copy, mark and edit errors, revise, print again and repeat the process, usually multiple times, wasting many pages (not to mention expensive ink!). But with this class, it's been totally paperless. This same model could be migrated to classrooms. If classroom instructors treated all classes as if they were online classes, but with the advantage of seeing each other face to face, most college classrooms could very easily become paperless. -Wes Larson

rduelist
rduelist

The biggest driver toward a paperless office in the manufacturing arena is the growth of 3D CAD applications. We are starting to move toward pure model driven design that goes directly to manufacturing. The capabilities of the CAD packages simply cannot be transfered to paper. There are still occasional power point presentations with snapshots from the drawings, but the basic drawings are simply not useful on paper, and are exceptionally useful electronically. On the other hand there is still a group of people who do documents by printing out from a word processor, handing it to a typist who types it in and then scans it for electronic storage. Incredible!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Perhaps electronic paper will make it more possible. The issue seems to be those constant needs to carry printed information from one person to the other and nothing yet compares to paper. There are also those people who will do anything to not have to read off a computer screen. Perhaps being able to reuse e-paper will make the difference.

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

I like the idea of e-paper and hope the technology catches up to the need.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

From the first time I saw a PDA with extending screen on Earth; Final Conflict (hey, there isn't always something good on tv so I make due). They're are products hitting market now with B/W ePaper and colour paper is hot on it's trail. Let's hope the stuff catches on right quick.

EM1109
EM1109

Solution: (2) monitors. More often than not, people are printing things to compare to other things on the computer screen. Not a complete panacea, but with monitors as cheap as they are. . .

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

I have used multiple monitors for quite some time and, while I don't think it is necessarily a causal relationaship, the usage of these monitors has coincided with a drastic reduction in the paper I generate. These days, I only print when my boss tells me I must.

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

I have used multiple monitors for quite some time and, while I don't think it is necessarily a causal relationaship, the usage of these monitors has coincided with a drastic reduction in the paper I generate. These days, I only print when my boss tells me I must.

wallowamichael
wallowamichael

I have two monitors, and all my staff has two monitors. I make them pay for printing things out (comes out of the party fund) - lots of printouts = cheap beer on BBQ night. This only works until we have to take information to another person in the organization, or another site, entirely. Therefore, we have thin clients with dual monitors and projectors set up in conference rooms, libraries, and other common areas. We can show electronic documents to others without having to print things out. Setup and getting people used to it are a pain for 12-18 months, but after that it's pretty smooth sailing. I've even considered removing the printing charge, since we've been on the same ream of paper for about six weeks now...

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

In the early 80's, I converted a calibration standards lab to paperless. The biggest investment was time to enter all the information needed for standards tracking into a massive database. Our records have to be traceable back the life of the instruments, in some cases 10 years. Once the DB was loaded, it had to be kept up to date daily. NBS was impressed once the info was entered. Eliminated 16 five drawer file cabinets, put in storage unless physical tracking proof was needed. Made for more room for work benches and equipment stands.

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

We have reduced the amount of paper we have to sift through as many student records, business office documents, and HR records are kept in a document imaging solution, but by no means have we eliminated paper completely. There are still thousands of student records documents to scan and the employees will need further training before they will be able to function completely without paper. How are your initiatives in this area going? Do you have buy-in from management and staff? Has upper management put forth a goal of going paperless to try to move that direction?

DocuMentor (Doc)
DocuMentor (Doc)

This post http://blogs.zdnet.com/doc/?p=111/ is interesting and hopefully useful for ya. I'm blogging on ZDNet covering Document Management, Managed Print Services and paperless is a huge part of it. Join in if you can. Cheers. Doc the DocuMentor.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

every time there is a meeting, everyone prints out an agenda, and of course, the one who called the meeting prints out a copy for everyone. That's the example that's first and foremost on my mind. But Also, report after report is generated. Copies with trends and summaries for senior managers, more specific details for mid-level managers... more granular reports for the front-line folks... We've elimated a good deal of paperwork, but with that has come the ability to access more and more data, and as a result, generate more paperwork than ever.

Andy Moon
Andy Moon

It seems as if all the gains we have achieved through paperless initiatives has been offset by the prevalence of employees printing emails, memos, or other documents that could just as easily live in a digital form.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

There's the "print out the obnoxious email to show the boss". The print out of code to go over it with a highlighter (guilty) The print out of memmos, agendas, spreadsheets, reports, et cetera, which are read once then discarded (you should see the size of our recycling bin!) oh, and there's more too... :D

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