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Move Over Cloud Documents, Paper Isn’t Going Away!

2 min read

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Dave Johnson

Neither the march of time or the digital age have eliminated our need for paper. Overwhelmingly, people of all ages prefer hardcover books and other reading material over digital copy. Also, businesses, despite efforts to go paperless, have found paper still holds an important place in their daily workflow. As a result, the term ‘paperless office’ is now better defined as ‘paperless light’.

How is going ‘paperless light’ working out for small to midsize businesses? Wakefield Research and InfoTrends focused on small to midsize companies and found that:
• Seventy-three percent of business owners and decision makers at companies with fewer than 500 employees print at least four times per day.
• Companies spend as much as $27,000 per year on document management processes to support an average of 5,000 pages printed per month.
• Legal, education and healthcare sectors most often require paper use.

Sometimes paper just works better.

Randy Danzo, group director for InfoTrends says, “Companies use paper as part of their workflow and transactions for legal processes and compliance with internal and external standards. Paper is the lowest common denominator to capture and store this information.”

Also, paper just plain works better in certain business environments. Domtar Paper VP of Sustainability and Business Communication, Paige Goff, points out that printed documents are easier to read, pass around and take notes. She also says traveling to rural or remote locations where Internet access is sketchy, makes having hard copies smart planning.

Mobile devices increase our reliance on printing and scanning.

Now there’s a twist no one expected! Scanning makes documents like PowerPoints, forms and other material accessible on mobile devices and available for printing when needed. Ken Weilerstein, Research Vice President at Gartner says, “Paper is portable, universal and a familiar way to share and annotate documents. It’s easier to read long documents on paper than on screen.” He also points out that paper is preferred for contracts. A personal signature on paper is still more trusted than digital signatures.

By now it was predicted that scanners, copiers and fax machines would be on the garbage heap along with CDs and DVDs. While use of paper has been greatly reduced, businesses have evolved to a more ‘hybrid’ approach to managing digital and paper documents.

InfoTrends breaks down printing, scanning and archiving to two categories and both appear to have print staying power. One category is referenced as ‘in the moment’ printing needed for sharing information. Category two is more ‘transactional’ for departments like HR, legal and financial—often using printing and scanning for new hire information, scanning purchase orders or printing new contracts.

Faxing, while much closer to landing on the garbage heap, is still useful in bridging the divide between large and small businesses. It’s also considered a more secure communication tool for highly regulated industries like healthcare and the financial industry. Ken Weilerstein, research vice president at Gartner says, “Before you can do away with faxing, both parties have to agree on how they will communicate, and enterprises lack the clout to force their customers to abandon faxing. As in the case with other ways to eliminate paper, they just don’t always find it worth the trouble.”

Paper and digital require balance.

Businesses are moving to ‘paperless light’ recognizing that paper has its place in the workflow and is not going away anytime soon. Look to the latest generation of printers and copiers with embedded processing power and software to automate tedious manual entering of forms. Other documents like contracts and correspondence can be scanned and quickly found when printing is required.

No matter what the industry, achieving the right balance between paper and digital document management processes will increase productivity, reduce costs and set a path for a stronger competitive edge. Maybe the adage, “everything old is new again” is ringing true with paper.

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