Inc. Magazine's Kevin Garcia published an article today titled "How to Switch To A Paperless Office", which got me thinking about my recent projects along these same lines. I am currently in an ever increasing project to obtain paperless nirvana in a purchasing department, and I thought I would share some points that I've learned along the way. Were you to hire a consultant to help you with your paperless endeavor, they would likely have you spending many thousands of dollars buying new hardware and document management software to help you get a handle on your paper. And for some people (or groups), this approach will work. But for many, this is too much too soon. Many are resistant to change and this is like taking a drink from a fire hose. You'll get wet and knocked on your backside in the process. So here is an approach to get you started.
Start Small Pick one or two people who will pilot the initial project for you. A very small group will be able to make decisions about process and procedure much quicker than a larger group or even a committee, which would get bogged down in the details. And start small from a scope-perspective as well. Do NOT try to eliminate ALL paper right away - it won't work. In the purchasing department, we started off scanning contracts, but kept the paper copies as a backup. This got people used to the idea of scanning without the worry the documents were going to go away.
Progress Slowly How quickly you progress will be defined by you and/or your group and some may proceed at a faster pace than others. It is important that you proceed at a pace that allows people to adjust to the change, but move as quickly as allows. You will likely start slower and pick up momentum after the initial success. We started with contracts being scanned AND filed, moved to scanned and discarded and have now gotten to the point where most contracts are signed electronically and a piece of paper is never generated. Over a period of 18 months, we have reduces paper consumption by over 66%, and in an office that just three years ago did EVERYTHING still with paper and fax.
Get Decent Equipment We went with HP4345 multi-function machines that do printing, copying and faxing and we have two - one at each end of the office. They can do double-sided scanning and sends the scanned documents right to a shared folder on the server. Some like using email for this function, but I feel that it clogs up your inbox or email system.
Set Standards We have a standard naming convention for everything that is scanned and different documents go in different directories. We have not yet progressed to implementing a document management system, but honestly, we are able to function very well with the document and folder design. I can easily find contracts signed by the supplier name and tell you who it was for, when it was signed and who signed it just by looking at the file name. Throw some file-level indexing in and we've been able to easily find just about anything we've scanned in in the last 18 months.
Ask the Hard Question And that question is "Do I need to save this at all?" Too many people save stuff they just don't need to save. Do you need every version of a document, or just the last one? Do you need to save all those emails? How about credit card and bank statements? How often do you need to refer to those? Can you not get reprints (or in today's world, an scanned copy) from your bank or credit card company? How many more types of documents can you eliminate? How about invoices you've sent out? You can always reprint from your accounting system and then you don't need to store the paper!
By the way, in case you're wondering whether I walk the walk and talk the talk, here is a picture of my office desk. And yes, this is what it looks like pretty much all the time. :-)
These are just some ideas to get the brain juices flowing. If you would like some coaching around what is possible in your office, please contact me.